Among ExPats, Japan is referred to as “Asia Lite.” While shopping one gets confused as to location- there`s more English signage than Japanese and random animals of various size and denomination don`t cross the road along with the pedestrians. Cars drive in the same direction, even stopping at red lights. It could be any American city. (Except Seattle where leash laws are in place for chickens or Boaz, Al where they`re not)
Since Tokyo is so American, other Asian countries, from China to Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, have Sodom and Gomorrah type reputations, inferior in every way, home to the rudest and most crass people. Entirely made of dirt. Mighty vats brewing pestilence ready to lay siege on the arriving traveler.
Since China is the current economic power house capable of copying everything but democracy, it is the heralded poster child of all things bad. Mix in bad feelings from thousands of years of fighting with the neighbors and no one has anything nice to say about China.
With this as our expectation, OS#2 and I left for China prepared to be killed on one of the sub standard Chinese manufactured trains or planes, choked by pollution, assaulted by rude, anti-American Chinese people, or poisoned with bad food.
We hadn`t flown out of Japanese air space before Air China let her safety colors fly. The safety video was still reviewing rules and regulations when we landed in Beijing four hours later. It was the in flight entertainment. OS #2 and I watched fascinated as a woman demonstrated the appropriate technique for removing high-heeled shoes and ear rings in case of a water landing. While I envisioned beating the person between me and the door with my 5 inch Jimmy Choos to speed the exit process, Air China imagined a scenario of deflated flotation devices. OS#2 was asked to place both feet on the floor and raise her window shade for take off. I expected an announcement:
“15A- have they finished loading the bags? We`re ready to push back. Please advise a crew member.”
The pilot spoke English, the video covered every possible scenario for exiting the plane including via toilet, we didn`t smell smoke- the two of us gave Air China a safety rating of “Good Enough.”
But the people. Oh the people. Wherever we went, people pulled in the welcome mat and slammed doors shut. Just look at the pictures below. Going out of their way to be rude, they followed us through the sites grinning ear to ear, asked the guide our names and where we were from, wanted us to pose for pictures, practice their English, or thank us for visiting.
Hmph. Just like a bunch of New Yorkers if you ask me.
While on the subject of people, let me clear this up right now. The military police are truly nothing to worry about. Several friendly guards paraded around Tiananmen Square -like the furry hatted men at Buckingham Palace.
Here I am about to goose one for fun.
It was so much fun I decided to do it again. The next soldier was much more friendly. He was so tickled he asked for my number. My passport number. He also wanted to see it. And just to make sure he could find me again in this city of 22 million, he requested my American Driver`s license. So thorough, he wanted to see my Chinese Visa to see how long I`d be in town. He made sure to get all my particulars. The picture just doesn`t show off his sweet side.
Chairman Mao on the entrance to the Forbidden City. The real Chairman Mao was actually on the opposite side of Tiananmen Square in a glass coffin. If I`d had my glasses cam I may have been able to sneak a pic but at that point I had been assigned a military escort. The North Koreans have learned what a tremendous tourist draw General Mao has been and are now working on a similar site for Kim Jong Ill. I wonder when they`ll realize that tourists are a key component to success in the equation.
Wait- I`m off topic and headed toward politics. Back to it.
Since OS#2 and I were certain to face certain death or imprisonment in this communist haven, we rolled the die and ate their notoriously poisonous food. Supposedly only a trip to Mexico is a better guarantee of death by diarrhea. It was here that we lost our guide.
Fatal or not, it was certainly delicious on the way down. Since OS#2 and I survived until dinner, we kept the breakfast bars stashed and took another gamble. The genuine Peking Duck. In Peking. Which I didn`t know was Beijing until this trip. Apparently I am as ignorant as others claim.
I would have loved a better picture but at this point everyone in the restaurant was taking a picture of me ogling the ducks. Having never been the center of attention I was unwilling to give up the spotlight, OS#2 saw it differently, pulled a giant hook out of her purse and yanked me out of the restaurant. As I was mid pose, I had to snap on my way out.
The Chinese do work all the time diligently holding fast to a Communist culture robbing them of all fun. Therefore, a toboggan ride was installed at the Great Wall to encourage Chinese tourists to get to the bottom and back to work as soon as possible. I couldn`t take pictures on the way down because OS#2 was not convinced she actually wanted to go down via toboggan. I offered to go first in case crashing in to me was the only way to slow her descent- I needed to hang on. Next vacation I`m adding the helmet cam to the packing list for situations just like this….
Contrary to what the Chinese claim, the Mongolians were not kept out by the Great Wall. As you can see, even their savage reputation has been exaggerated over the years.
Pollution? I could see everything within 50 feet of me just fine.
All kidding aside. Expecting other cultures to behave like your own always creates a disappointing vacation. The saying “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” best describes the attitude travelers need to adopt outside one`s own culture. Being open, non judgemental, and keeping a sense of humor will also prevent the natives from viewing you as your country`s negative stereotype.
We loved China.