An Observation on Chinese Culture: Part 2

An Observation on Chinese Culture: Part 2

Bicycle People

“Hello, which way is it to Turpan?” A shrunken, elderly woman drowning beneath her carelessly strapped on helmet asks, her bony hands resting casually atop the handles of her old bicycle. Tightly rolled packs and boxes have been firmly strapped onto it, filled with only the bare essentials necessary for basic survival.

Ablajan, our Uygur guide, driver and now friend, prattled out directions in a confident Chinese; and off she went, a fragile shadow peddling down the highway at a moderate pace, with everything she owns in tow.

We saw her again on the highway two days later, still riding consistently towards Turpan – a 70 year old lady carrying out the lead role of an adventure film, unannounced as a way of life.

I gazed in embarrassment from the comfort of our air-conditioned car, and couldn’t help but be filled with admiration. Not for her determination, for I doubt she had anything to prove, but for her independence. There she was, a tiny symbol of freedom working slowly down the road – unaffected, and ignored by those rolling by on faster wheels.

To be Chinese is to be Better

“I absolutely love China, it has that special something you can’t find in America, and it will always be home to me.” Gushed a bespectacled white lady on TV in English, dubbed over in a shaky mandarin. She goes on to talk about how wonderful life was growing up in a small Chinese village in Anhui, and how she is so warmly welcomed every time she returns to visit.

The most accepted form of discrimination would have to be the cost of entry tickets to tourist sights, printed in bold colours under two columns – local and foreign. The prices are non-dependent of earning abilities, but on the colour of your passport.

A driver also tells me that some restaurants put up ‘no Japanese allowed’ signs, which apparently attract more local Han Chinese patrons. Perhaps a twinge of emotion from the Second Sino-Japanese war a mere 70 years ago still remains. The Japanese can apparently still dine at such outlets, but they would have to make it a point to keep their mouths shut the entire time.

Face Value – Moral Trump Cards

“Can you ask this woman to stop pushing against my chair?!” Frustration was awash in the voice of a passenger. A bewildered SilkAir trainee stewardess did manage to get the two Chinese women seated behind him to cease their furious battle against the recline of his seat, but they launched new missions throughout the rest of the flight.

Pressing the call sign urgently, the middle-aged woman complained that his reclined seat was preventing her grey-haired mother from getting out to use the washroom. The old lady stood there looking triumphant, for in Chinese culture, respect is immediately conferred to the elderly, and was an excellent trump card.

They kept up their ruckus for over an hour, before finally realising they could move to the empty seats at the back of the plane and lounge in comfort. Their presence was only resurrected during the plane’s descent, when they started a primitive ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaah’ sound ritual, in an attempt to prevent the explosion of their eardrums.

Face Value – Roles of Authority

In many of the Chinese hotels, cute stickers of vulnerable looking creatures with shiny, pleading eyes, were pasted on surfaces with text bubbles requesting the cooperation of guests. “Please use the floor towel, I am scared of being dirty!”

This approach might work with certain guests by subconsciously taking on the helpless, subservient role, and not one that might suggest that the guest is lesser in authority.

It also led me to believe that the Chinese must be very dirty, if such requests were so commonplace. That, or every hotel just purchases the same stickers from the same manufacturers since their competitors are all doing so.

Their hardworking nature more than makes up for it however; the housekeeping staff cleans everything up with methodical efficiency every morning.

Averting Responsibility

Presenting my Ctrip or eLong booking printout, coupled with a foreign passport at hotels,
was a sure catalyst for panic amongst the counter staff. “You will have to wait for an hour while we make all the necessary copies of your documents!” “I don’t know how to handle your reservation!” “It is not my duty!” And so the game of whose-job-is-it-anyway begins.

In Xinjiang at least, foreigners are only permitted to lodge in hotels that are marked 3-stars and above, with more paperwork needing to be done. A little banter would ensue between us, before the general manager would be called in to put the fire out. She would generally enter the scene with a breezy step, apologise on behalf of her staff, then proceed to handle our check-in professionally.

Yes I would be glad for having such a simple task finally cleared, but I would also wonder why such an informed manager refused to train her staff to handle these standard procedures on their own.

Interesting Reads:
1. Good Old Days of Er Ba Che (China Daily) –
2. Bicycles in China (Fred Strebeigh) –
3. Photos: China’s History of Bicycles (The Urban Country) –
4. Chinese Companies ‘Rent’ White Foreigners (CNN) –
5. Second Sino-Japanese War: Japanese Invasion of China (1937-45) (Historical Boys’ Clothing) –

Part 1 can be found here: An Observation on Chinese Culture: Part 1

Journey Jot

Journey Jot

Jots from a $1 travel notebook.

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