China round up

Well we’ve certainly had some extreme views about this place. Here are our well considered notes after we got over the initial shock.


Yes we have quite a few things.

It’s bloody Cheap
yay for that. Beer and food were unbelievably cheap. Full pints were 16p from a shop as were those gorgeous roasted sweet potatoes. In fact, everything was really cheap and not too marked up for foreigners.

Lots of history
The history of China is much more in evidence than it was in Japan. I’m sure that as Chinese development continues some of that may be lost but the Chinese do seem to recognise their history as an asset and are looking after it well on the whole.

The great wall is truly amazing, as are the terracotta warriors. Neither are over restored and so have retained their original charm. The same cannot be said for the forbidden city in Beijing which has been painted a very garish fluorescent red! Some of the back streets in there were interesting though. Pingyao was full of beautiful old Chinese buildings and Xian was dotted with them also.

Karst limestone formations
These things are truly amazing. Have a click on our picture links to see for yourselves. One of my old University lecturers, the very eccentric Jan Bloomendal, used to go on about them all of the time. It always made me want to visit China to see for myself, I was not disappointed. The scenery at the bottom of the karsts was lovely too, rice paddies with water buffalo. As it was spring so everyone was out planting.

Off the backpacker trail
Although there were quite a few tourists it gave us a bit more of a challenge. The same can be said for Japan too where there were less tourists still.

Dare I say it? Food
Aside from that evil noodle soup in Nanning it was gorgeous. My favourite things being chilli beef pittas and roasted sweet potatoes. The standard was usually very high. We did get a little sick of it by the end of the three weeks as it’s universally oily. That said, i think we’ll struggle to find any Chinese restaurants in the UK the are up to scratch now. It’s nothing like the stuff in China.

Well then. That wasn’t to bad was it? Here goes on the not so good stuff…..


It’s overwhelming in North East China, by far the worst place being the port of Tianjin. I remain absolutely and utterly appalled. Severe Smog in Beijing, water courses absolutely filthy. I found many of the streets to be repulsive and smelly too although John doesn’t feel quite so strongly about that one. The price of development eh? I wonder how modern China compares to Victorian England. I think it’s industrialised at a much faster pace but would welcome comments from anyone who knows more about this.

Partly might be a reason why there’s so much rubbish all over the place, however, it is socially acceptable to litter. Lots of people’s jobs seem to happen outside. We cannot believe how much welding goes on in the streets of China, you have to be careful where you’re looking sometimes or you might get blinded. Activities on the streets are quite interesting in themselves, the only problem is that if there is a pavement there’s no room to walk on it. The roads are crazy with a whole range of vehicles with very little regard for traffic law, it was usually difficult to enjoy a stroll as you needed your concentration to avoid being flattened. China works to the tune of endless car horns too.

The overcrowding was probably the thing that got to us the most in the first week or so. There is simply no escape! It gets on top of you after a while and is perpetuated by the lack of polite co-operation between individals. There are scrums rather than queues and a lot of people just concentrate on looking after number 1. Getting across the road is a nightmare, nobody gives way and zebra crossings are completely meaningless. This is in contrast to Japan’s society from which we sailed. The two nations people couldn’t be more different if they tried.

Persistant Hawkers
I do feel sorry for them as many are very poor. We did buy things from some but there are just too many of them, you get absolutely mobbed. I’ve been told that this was common across Asia but the ones in Vietnam just ask and if you say no and smile they let you be on your way. Not so in China, smiling is not really as helpful there for some reason. Most of the people trying to sell us things simply would not take no for an answer, some of them followed you for quite a while too. It’s a bit stressful for me and irritating for John (we react in slightly different ways). There were some breaks from it but in the touristy areas it’s pretty unbearable. The strange thing is it acually makes us less likely to buy things, especially in shops where you get hassled. It ends up that you daren’t even look at the goods for fear of attracting unwelcome attention.

John tells me that the Hawker intensity in China is similar to India and isn’t quite as bad in the other parts of Asia he’s visited. Phew.

Getting around
This is related to the overcrowding. The long distance train tickets are so sought after that most of the tickets are bought by touts. Getting them on the black market can be a little bit nerve wracking as you don’t know whether you’re coming or going. That means you feel trapped in a crazy overcrowded city with no certain means of escape. It does something funny to your brain sometimes.

It had to be in here. It’s not really the spitting it’self that’s really discusting it’s the all too audible means of summonsing it. Absolutley revolting. Not so bad outside on the street it’s really when you have to share the same sleeping quarters as a person with this filthy habit that it gets to you. Apparently the city of Beijing is having a crackdown on it in time for the olympics. GOOD!

Right, that’s that off my chest. Here’s one or two quirky things.
Not good enough to make the good category. It would perhaps be a little strange if I said one of the countries best features were it’s toilets anyway! Apart from the first one, which was utterly disgusting, they’ve not been all that bad. We were lucky that there were not too many insects about, that always makes toilets worse. In New Zealand there were a couple on the government campsites that were unusable due to insects buzzing around inside the hole in the ground loos. Dont fancy any of that lot near my bare backside thankyou! (apols for disturbing mental images…) Anyway, i’ve seen far worse toilets at British music festivals.

Chinese people like being out on the street (well, we didn’t check to see if all the houses were full too actually), apart from the welding, street chess and cards are popular. Cooking outside is another fave.

Overall the Chinese were a joyless lot and didn’t smile very much. We didn’t feel treated differently though, they weren’t particularly nice to each other either. John thinks that quite a few of them might just be miserable. He’s perhaps right. There were a few notable exceptions to this although the overwhelming majority of the friendly people we met were women and children rather than men. We’ve counted 3 nice men we met. I’ve also mentioned that the basic manners are different to Europe. That takes some getting used to.

The last comment on China is that although we were not enjoying ourselves for much of the time we were there we do feel very rewarded for the trip. It was a massive learning experience and a great challenge for us. It’s what travellings all about and is much different to being on holiday. We’re exploring and and looking forward to finding out more about the world in Vietnam although maybe we’ll give that noodle soup a miss!







3 responses to “China round up”

  1. Dave Cant avatar
    Dave Cant

    You both sound like you are having a wonderful time. I have read all your posts and regualrly check your photos, which are stunning. I am completely fascinated. Thanks for the periods of respite from the UKRLP (I bet you weren’t expecting to see that acronym again Viv) and for allowing me the opportunity to drift away from the daily grind.

    Long may your fun continue…


  2. Higton avatar

    Unlike Dave, I’m sick of all this moaning clogging up my inbox. Stop it…

    Oh alright then, I’ll admit to be jealous. But not for long! July 13th looms, which will see me jet off to Costa Rica for a bit. Thanks for the China stuff. I was excited by that future trip, however I am now less bothered. Perhaps I’ll skip it and go to Vanatu instead.

  3. Gabrielle avatar

    At last someone has told me how to respond to your blog – Andy Hob! Have found it all fascinating and love your honesty!! Having been to China I found that diary really interesting. Which bit of the Great Wall did you walk? We went up at Jinshanling and walked west for a couple of hours. A very quiet area and we were quite alone except for a Mongolian couple who followed us at a discreet distance and when we parted produced cards etc for us to buy!
    The family reunion was wonderful but I did miss you. Deb and John did a great job telling us about Azawady and I’m selling raffle tickets to all my Cambridge friends! We also had to sponsor Johns (Dad) slim!!
    Lots of love to you both Gabes xx