First impressions of China

14 09 2011

By Phil

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, does that means China gets one billion chances? Let’s start with the good – every personal interaction we’ve had with a Chinese person (with the exception of taxi drivers, who let’s face it, have more than their fair share of grumpy bastards than most professions) has been positive. Beyond the people connected with tourism, random people have pointed us to the right bus, helped us order food and given us their (sometimes crying) children to hold for pictures. Yes, the vast majority of people here stare at us, but it’s clearly from curiosity and not hostility. Bar none, a smile and a wave are returned by even the most taciturn looking person.  Everyone is appreciative of our attempts to speak in Chinese, sometimes comically so. “Knee how” (hello) and “Syeh syeh” (thank you) are usually met with polite smiles, but anything beyond that seems to blow their minds. I’ve said “boo kah shee” (you’re welcome) and had people widen their eyes to dinner-plate dimensions and laugh as if to say “OMG HOLY SHIT HE CAN TALK LOL.” An actual sentence, like “jyeh-sheh whoa-deh thai thai” (this is my wife) almost caused this one lady to have a heart attack in surprise.

Now the flip side of this is that “impersonal relations” can be frustrating. The two worst examples are smoking and spitting. China has more smokers than the entire population of the US; 60% of Chinese men over 15 smoke. And they smoke anywhere and everywhere – restaurants, taxis, buses, hotels, tourist sites, in front of No Smoking signs. It’s annoying to me but deadly to Whitney who has asthma. One guy caused her to have an asthma attack by smoking next to her on a bus with no open windows. He must have never seen an inhaler because it took a Chinese passenger to translate the concept of “Stop smoking next to the dying woman” to get him to stop. Barely 20 minutes later he was smoking again, this time at least holding it out of the one window that could open.

Overall, it’s a facinating, ancient, dynamic culture!

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