The land of the rising sun has provided us with many things over the last two days. Delicious sushi and beer, orderly street crossings and clean air to name just a few. But one of the most exciting things for flashpackers like us has to be the uncensored and incredibly high-speed internet we have at our hostel. We have had our Mainland Southeast Asia highlight video finished for weeks but despite having a VPN we were unable to get it past the Chinese censors and uploaded to Vimeo. Check it out below, and if you have not yet seen the first two episodes you can check them out here.
Also be sure to to check out our guest post on the Art of Backpacking here. The post details our experiences and features some of our best pictures from Expo 2010 in Shanghai. We will soon have a post here highlighting the different sustainability efforts we saw at the Expo, but this post gives our overview and recommendations if you are planning a visit to Shanghai and the Expo. Be sure to leave a comment on Art of Backpacking with your thoughts.
This post is part of a series on our experiences while traveling independently in China. Click here to read Part One: Language and here to read Part Two: Food
The people are pushy and rude. And you can forget about personal space.Sorry, folks, but after nearly a month in China I can tell you that there is no way around this one. You will be pushed. You will be cut off. And that cute old grandma over there? She’ll throw you an elbow in a heartbeat if you come between her and that bus.
You will also have your Western sense of personal space violated in any and every crowded public space. We experienced this for hours on end during our two days standing in line at the World Expo in Shanghai. If there is an inch of space between you and person behind you, the line is too drawn out. Instead of withdrawing from contact, it seems to be sought after.
And it wasn’t just us. While eating lunch outside the Terra Cotta Warriors museum in Xi’an, we witnessed what to us was the most bizarre scene. A young Chinese woman is sitting on bench eating her lunch. Other empty, equally shaded, equally scenic benches surround her. Along come three elderly Chinese women, who all decide that it is time for a rest. The three of them squeeze onto the bench where the young woman is eating her lunch. The young woman packs up her lunch and moves the 3 meters to the next bench to eat her lunch in peace. Thirty seconds later, the elderly women leave.
So how do you deal with the constant chaos and touchy strangers? We decided that rather than get upset about what is really nothing more than different cultural norms, to take the approach of cultural anthropologists and make stuff up about why the Chinese do what they do. Rubbing up against us? Must be that touching a Westerner is good luck. Cars that plow into crowded crosswalks? Perhaps they are just doing their part for population control. Rushing the gate at the airport as soon as it looks like they might begin boarding? Everyone is so excited to be flying for the first time they cannot wait another minute.
Adjusting you perspective is the key to enjoying your time in China. You are not going to instill Western norms of personal space in the 1.3 billion Chinese. So instead of having them wonder why that white person (you) is so upset standing on the crowded subway, stand back (in the arms of a stranger) and enjoy the ride.
Chinese tourists take the most interesting vacation photos. From the ubiquitous 2 finger victory sign, to jumping in the air, to positioning themselves and the camera to make it appear that they are holding the setting sun in their hands, they are very creative when it comes to snapping a vacation photo. We have been witness to this vacation photo creativity throughout Asia, but the Chinese seem to take it to a whole new level.
Note the grandmother's arm coming across Amy's neck
Outside the Vietnam Pavilion
Then there are the attempts to pose with white tourists, and we have both been the object of Chinese grandmothers and random strangers wanting a picture with us. After a couple of requests for pictures with us we started turning the tables, also asking for a picture in return. With all of this creativity, when Chinese tourists share their pictures with friends and family back home they have to be filled with great stories. And once we gave it try it was fun, and kind of addictive. At first I was somewhat reserved in my poses, a quick 2 finger victory sign before the shutter snapped, but high up on the city walls in Xi’an I went for the mid-air jump photo. And thanks to Amy’s skill with the camera we caught this little gem.
Although the Chinese have been impressive with their creativity and enthusiasm for photos, at the Forbidden City in Beijing we got a small taste of what maybe in store for us in Japan. While waiting for our tour guide we started talking with a group of Japanese high school students that had lost their teacher and were waiting for her at the North Gate. Before we left on our tour of the Forbidden City I suggested we get a photo with them. You would have thought I offered each of them a $100 bill. Enthusiasm for pictures does make taking them a lot more fun. So expect a bit more creativity from us in our portraits for the rest of the trip. I wonder if the Australians and Kiwis will think strangely of us with our new photo posing ways?