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First of all, there is no tipping in China. However, the
idea is just beginning to enter the culture and mentality. The local
Starbucks now has a tip jar at the register, although I could never really
get my head around the idea of tipping for filling a cup with coffee for
carry-away. At some of our favorite Western restaurants we do leave tips,
though not the 20% that we leave at our favorite places in the Western
Hong Kong and Mainland China have different electrical
receptacles. You have to buy a converter for one or the other, if you
have electric or electronic devices from one or the other. Voltage is
No one drinks water from the tap, but there are plenty of
sources for bottled water, large and small bottles. Sometimes, you
will actually be charged for a glass of water at a restaurant or cafe, but
that practice is not the norm.
Smoking is ubiquitous. Few establishments, Starbuck, a
counter example, do not permit smoking. Just ask: ďJar, kuh yi choh yen
ma?Ē: "Can I smoke here?" Marlboroís cost around •10 per pack.
It is actually considered to be a politeness to offer
someone a cigarette. So, if you smoke, surprise someone, and offer
them a cigarette for any occasion, and accept one, yourself, when offered.
A nice hotel can cost around •300/night, if you are smart.
A suite across the street from us costs •300/night. Western-oriented
hotels will charge Western prices. They play on the fact that they
are "Westernized", whatever that means, although you can find comfort and
luxury at a Chinese hotel for 1/3 to 1/8th the price. Hong Kong prices are Western prices:
even a bed-sized room in a dive costs around $40/night.
Beds in hotels, in China and Hong Kong, are, in general,
very hard, translation: un-sprung and unpadded, and it is difficult to
find a comfortable bed, but you can at least request one and try your
Better restaurants will cost you •100, give or take a few
hundred, per person whether they are Chinese or Western-chef restaurants.
Food prep standards are not what they are, in the West. In Hong Kong,
restaurant prices are, basically, exactly what you would expect, in the
People, especially, those from Guangdong Province
(including Guangzhou and HK), eat just about everything. I have had
frog, snake, pigeon, and Sun Fish, to name a few. Although eating
dog is banned in Guangzhou, I still see half-a-dog hanging on the rack at
the local markets outside of town. Be adventurous, and try something
Another Chinese eating habit that you might not have seen
at your local Chinese restaurant, in your own country, is that they like to
keep the bones in their prepared food. While you might be used to eating
chicken breast or filleted fish, in China, chicken, fish, frog, snake,
fish and anything else with a skeleton will be served chopped into bits
with the bones still inside. It can be a tricky business biting into
something on your plate for the first time. My first fish dish, in
country, left me with bones in my tongue, gums, and cheek, on the first
bite. Be careful! My own experience tells me that, if you get
fish at a restaurant, get a whole fish and get it fried: when fried, it
usually comes off the bone much cleaner.
If you are out with a group of people at a restaurant, the
custom is for everyone to use their own chopsticks to pick food from the
various dishes. It is said that that is one of the reasons for a
large incidence of hepatitis.
My Jewish Mother once almost had a fit when I put an olive
pit back onto the disk that came with the salad that it was in. She
wanted some of my salad but not my germs. Here,
people just spit things, like bones, onto the table without the assistance
of a napkin. Dorothy, you're not in Kansas, any more.
When you are away from home, in a foreign land, it is
always comforting to find things from home. When I first got here.
We were taken as a group to town, by the head of the college where I teach
finance. We went to a "Western Restaurant", and even though I love
noodles and other Chinese food, I was excited. The menu had Italian
and Mexican. It really sucked! Now, sometimes, I meet other
people who come to town and find those restaurants. They actually
think that they are good, but it is mostly that those people are
unfamiliar with Chinese, and they don't really know good food, and they
are just so happy to find the familiar. Translation of Western
Restaurant is: we make food called Italian and American, but it is not
very good, and it is certainly not Italian (but I am) or American (again,
I am). Even Pizza Hut is completely different from what it is in the
U. S. There are good Italian, French, Middle East, Indian and
American restaurants where you can get a T-bone steak. Some of them
are overpriced, but many are reasonably priced and really good. It's
hard to find Mexican, even though a few restaurants say that they have
Mexican food, or Spanish. There are many other country foods that I
have not really seen here ... I really miss good Mexican!
Good mixed drinks are also difficult to find. I have
had a few good Martini's, but the Margarita tasted nothing like those that
we would have at the Sunday afternoon Margarita parties by the pool that
we used to have when I owned a country inn. There are all kinds of
beers, Chinese, Russian, Dutch, German, Japanese, etc. Sometimes,
that's the safest bet.
A greeting that you might hear people use when they meet is
"cher fahn (cher fahn la ma; cher fahn yo mei yo)?", which means "have you eaten?" This expression came out
of the famine, in China, in the early-1900's, when many people had little
to eat, but is still a common form of greeting, today.
An expression that is used to say good bye is "man zou",
which means walk slowly.
Courtesy, for a while, was shunned, in China, and it is
only, now, making a slow comeback. People, don't always say please (ching),
thank you (xie xie) and you're welcome (bu yong xie). In fact, the
counterculture even developed non-verbal codes. So, if someone
refills your glass, surprise them by tapping the table with your index
finger (the signal for thanks); use your index finger and the one next to
it, if you are married.
Maybe because there are so many people ... I don't know ...
but you may notice that if you are standing in line at a cash register,
for example, and you give the person in front of you a little room, other
people will come up and go in front of you, in line. Indeed, most of
the time, instead of a line, there is just a mob strewn around whatever
service area there is.
Travel within the country is relatively cheap. However, to
book airline flights, always use a travel agent, as the price will be
about half of what it would be to book it yourself.
At least, in the south, people use umbrellas all of the
time: to keep out of rain or sun. That could be good news for
umbrella manufacturers, but, here, a cheap umbrella costs less than US$1;
the best ones are around $5.
Interestingly, unlike, in the West where everyone wants a
tan so badly that we have tanning salons, in China, people, especially the
women, want to be white. There are ads on TV, all the time, for skin
whitening products, and even things like Olay and Estee Lauder skin
products that I have seen, in the West, have extra ingredients for skin
whitening, here, in China.
In China, often, goods have no prices on them. Very often,
things will be offered to you at a higher price than that, which would be
offered to a local. So, be aware. Negotiate!
Unlike the "may I help you?" that you might be used to when
entering a Western establishment, in China, you will hear, "ni yao shenma?",
"you want what?"
Interestingly, to me as a business person, as a student of
human behavior, and as someone who has lived in other major and minor
cities around the world, small business, often, takes a shotgun approach
to trading in goods. I was shocked when I first encountered it, but
then I realized that the shotgun pattern changes from store to store, door
to door. A small store might have some food, small electrical
appliances, and some nail polish. The next store might have some
medicine, soft drinks, and small glasses and dishes (nothing fancy) for
your kitchen. You might find food, candles, batteries, and shoes, in
another. There might be 15 different sorts of unrelated things.
Often from one door to the next, there will be a lot of overlap.
Sometimes, a new store will begin, right next door to a store that has
been there for enough time to build a new business, and the new store will
offer exactly the same off-beat selection as the old store.
Of course, since China has so many people, many jobs that
would use machinery, in the West, use people, here. In highway
construction, for example, that are people using picks or jackhammers
where you would see bulldozers and cranes, in other places. Even at
the local swank department store, there is an area on the first floor open
to the outside, and instead of putting a wall up, two guards guard the
area during the night.
Hair salons often provide more that a cut, a wash, a style,
and massage, if you get my meaning. It is actually a problem in many
towns. However, I have yet to find someone at a hair salon who
realizes the putting the edge of their hand above your ear when washing
your hair is to divert
water away from the ear, not to channel it into the ear.
Donít be alarmed by all of the handholding, but donít try
it, yourself (at least not with the opposite sex). Girls walk around arm-in-arm or holding hands with their
girlfriends, no matter what age, and so do boys. Don't be surprised
if a member of the same sex wants to go arm-in-arm with you.
Don't be homophobic: just have fun!
Be careful of pick-pockets, in crowds or not. They will
open your bag; they will cut your bag; or they will scoop it up as they
ride by on a motorcycle.
In general, people donít know directions, including, where
things are located by the points of the compass. It is usually difficult
to find someone who can tell you how to get somewhere. Maps of cities are
usually readily available at newsstands, bookstores, or in the shop in
your hotel. Buy one, even if it is in Chinese. Then, figure out where
your hotel is, and go from there. Personally, I always travel with a
compass: it has come in handy, many times, especially, in snow storms in
the Alps or the Rockies, but it's always easy to get turned around when
the sun isn't out. I actually lost my favorite U.S. Army surplus
compass, in Beijing, and the new one that I got just isn't the same.
Often, it is difficult to get the right answer to any
question. Part of this has to do with embarrassment: people do not
want to admit that they do not know something, so they will just give an
answer. Then, if you have asked a question, in English, they will
say they understand, even if they do not. It took me a long time to
realize that. Be careful that you got the right answer. Test
it by asking several people to see if you get the same answer or several
different ones. Then, even though you might not still have the
answer, at least you will know.
In most restaurants, the roll of napkins is played by
either a roll of toilet paper or a small pack of tissues. In fact,
often, a charge will be added to your bill for a pack of tissues left,
specifically, for you when you order.
Salt (or black pepper) is usually not on a table at a
Chinese restaurant. Ask for "yen" (salt) or "hey hoo jiao" (black
pepper); red pepper in oil is "la jiao".
Always take tissues along with you, as toilet paper is not
available in many bathrooms, and neither are paper towels.
Although it is not true in better hotels, toilets, in
general, are the old French stand-over, not-sit-down type toilets.
If you open a bank account, it can take several hours
standing in a bank waiting for your number to be called, and transactions
also take time.
In China, you can only buy Chinese Yuan (CNY) at a bank.
There is a black market of dealers, but you have to be careful that you
donít get counterfeit money, so it is safer to go to a bank. In Hong
Kong, there are many dealers, which are easier to deal with than banks,
since there are no restrictions on the amount that you can exchange in a
In China, it is difficult to exchange CNY for foreign
currency, and, even if you have the paperwork, there are restrictions on
amount of exchange per day and on wire transfers of foreign currency out
of the country. In HK, you can only convert CNY5,000/day to foreign
currency at a bank.
PIN numbers for bank cards, in the U.S. are only 4 digits.
In China, PIN's are six digits. If you do manage to get a bank
account, here, you will find that your bank ATM card can be used as a
debit card at many stores and restaurants. I can also use my Visa
debit card from the U.S. at some bank ATM's, but not all. And Visa
and MC are accepted at some places.
In doing transactions, people will usually say "kuai"
instead of Yuan. For example, yi bai kwai is one hundred Yuan.
China fact: Paper money was invented in China, in the 900's
A.D. It was abandoned in the 1100's, but it is thought that the idea
of reinventing paper money, in Italy, by goldsmith's who sat at their
benches (banco, thus, the modern name, bank) and kept accounts by issuing
gold certificates was brought back from China by Marco Polo.
Because of their rapid and dramatic transformation into a
market economy where people get rich quick, money seems to be very
important to everyone, much more so than in the West. That leads to
a number of patterns in behavior that you should be careful of.
If your cell phone doesn't work, in China, or even if it
does, it is easy to buy a SIM card for your phone at almost any
convenience store, and they will also offer cell phone recharge cards to
put calling time on your phone. The SIM card will work anywhere in
China, if you buy that right kind, but you will need to get a special SIM, if you want to use the
phone in both China and HK: I have a China/HK card from China Unicom,
which gives me separate numbers for HK and Guangzhou: I can make and
receive calls from both, and people, in Guangzhou can call my GZ number
and reach me, if I'm in HK, and vice versa.
With my cell phone (China Mobile), I can call out of the
country by dialing 12593, then, the country code and number. The
cost is extremely cheap by any standards, East or West.
Once you have a cell phone, you might notice that people
use text messaging, in China, rather than making an actual call. It
is simply part of the current cell phone pop culture of China.
Before I came to China, the only time I ever received a text message was
from my 14 year old nephew ... I didn't even know my phone had a text
message function before that.
Telephone answering machines and cell phone voice mail have
not yet made their way into the mainstream, as yet, in China. Cell
phones will report missed calls, but, if you call someone at the office or
at home, don't expect a answering machine to pick up your call. In
Hong Kong, though, you might be able to leave a message or a voice mail.
When I was growing up in the Pennsylvania Dutch Country,
Monday was laundry day, and you would see peoples' clothing hung out on
the line. My mother never did get a dryer, even though everyone else
had one by the time I grew up. Here, everyone hangs out their wash.
Dryers are uncommon, and the electricity to run them is beyond the means
of most people. You will, therefore, see colorful clothing hung on
the line on every balcony of every apartment, no matter how posh the
apartment building is.
If you live here for a while, and you want to hire a maid
to clean your apartment, you should know something about the state of
house cleaning, here. Most people use a wet rag, not even with soap
added to the water. Moreover, you will not even find all of the
cleaning sprays and solutions that you might be used to, in the U.S.
Chinese washing machines are also different from those in
the U.S. While U.S. washers have a tall agitator, Chinese washers
have a sort of beater-bar disk in the bottom of the tub. They can be
very hard on clothing, so we use the kind of mesh bags, used in the West
for lingerie, for everything, here.
There are other common items that are difficult or
impossible to find. Bayer aspirin is difficult to find, although
antibiotics are common, both Chinese made and foreign. I have never
seen Lysol spray. Breakfast cereals from the U.S. are difficult, but not impossible to find.
It is difficult to find a place that serves American breakfasts or
sandwiches (of course, there is Subway, but I'm Italian and used to
Italian and Jewish delis).
Cars ownership is new, in China. Normal roadway rules are
largely ignored. When you cross a street, look both ways, as people will
even drive the wrong way on streets, and bicycles are everywhere, going
every which way. Red lights are also ignored by many drivers.
Look all ways before crossing the street.
Japanese (as opposed to produced in China) Hondas are
almost a status symbol, in China. With the undervalued Yuan, even
the cost of a Honda can be several hundred thousand Yuan, making purchase
achievable by only the richer of the population. A foreign luxury
car, like a Mercedes or a Lexus would cost over half a million, so people
who drive those kinds of cars are the super rich.
The Chinese make good use of the transportation that they
have, as you can see on the cover page of In Country China. There
are also modes of transportation that are unique to here, like the combo
motorcycle-truck type of thing that is included in our picture gallery.
I have seen a family of 5 on a motor scooter, even, 6 kids and a driver.
Beware of cars with white license plates: it is either a
member of the police or the armed forces.
Actually, when the Chinese talk of black and white people
or black and white society, they are referring to government people as
white and organized crime affiliates as black.
Bicycles and motorcycles are prevalent, in China.
Although the day of the rickshaw are gone, except in the same sort of
quaint venue as a carriage ride in Philadelphia or Central Park, but there
are motorcycle taxi's (you just hop on the back) and motorcycle and
bicycle taxis with carriages on back.
Chinese people must have the best natural balance of any
people on earth. I have seen as many as six kids on a motorbike with
a driver in the middle, and girls ride the backs of motorcycles,
side-saddle without holding on to anything.
You're not in NYC or Paris, so be careful to ask about the
closing time of the subway systems, if you are going out for a late dinner
or drinks. Here, in Guangzhou, the Metro closes before midnight.
Currently, in China, train and bus travel are the means of
travel, of choice, by most locals. When I was new, in China, a
friend asked me to come to visit. I asked how to get there, and the
response that I got from several people was to take a 5-hour bus ride to
the nearest town and then take a second local bus from there for another
hour of travel to another smaller town from which I could get a taxi.
I asked my friends about a train or plane and was told there were none.
Being a skeptic, I went onto the internet and found that there was a
45-minute airline flight that got me closer to my destination than the
5-hour bus. Certainly, train travel can be an interesting way to get
around, in China, since you see more scenery and meet more people.
However, be careful about getting a train ticket during the big holidays,
like in early October or May or around the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese seem pretty fearless. Our air conditioner
broke down. China apparently invented the two-piece residential air
conditioner, and the outside portion is in two ledges, about 3 feet high,
stacked one on top of the other, built into the wall beside the window.
The repair man crawled through the window, toes on the bottom ledge,
fingers at the top, and worked on it, secured only by a tether to the
window armature. My stomach was turning just thinking about it.
The expression for surprise, etc., in China is: Ai yo (ya)!
It is the Akh (guttural fricative) in German or Russian,
Oy veh, in Yiddish, Ay carumba, in Spanish, etc.
Wah (?) is an expression of awe (or surprise?) in
Guangdong, like Wow or What!? in English. However, in Xi'an, for
example, it means baby.
Finger counting is different in different parts of the
world. For example, to indicate the number 1, in America, you use
your index finger. In France, they use their thumb to indicate 1,
while, in Italy, raising a thumb to someone is the same as using your
middle finger, in America. The Chinese have a wonderful system of
using one hand to do numbers 1 to 9, and two index fingers,
crossed, for 10 (the Chinese character for 10 is a cross). You can
see all of the hand signals for counting by pressing on the link:
In the West, 7 is a lucky number and 13 is unlucky.
In China, 8 is a lucky number, 7 is not, and 4 is unlucky.
In the West, hotels and other buildings, sometimes, delete the 13th floor;
in China, they delete the 14th.
In addition, Ayu has informed me that if you give a girl
flowers, the number should end in 9. So, give her 9, 19 or 29, but
not a dozen or two. It is from a play on words: "jio" can mean nine
and it can also mean a long time, depending on the prosody.
A few more common hand signals are as follows. If
someone holds up both fists and flicks their thumbs, like they are
lighting a lighter, it means "lovers". If they hold both hands with
index fingers extended towards each other, like guns, and repeatedly touch
their index fingers together, it means "kiss". Yummy and
TinTin demonstrate for you --
Lovers & Kisses
Shopping at larger stores can be trying. First, you
find something that you like. Then, you find a sales person who can
tell you if it in stock. Next, you tell the salesperson that you
want to buy the item, and they write out (by hand) a sales slip, which
you, subsequently, take to a cashier. Finally, after you pay the
cashier, you have to go back to the salesperson to pick up your purchase.
The Chinese make the most beautiful boxes for things.
I have bought items, expensive and inexpensive, and the boxes that they
have come in are both beautiful and elaborate. In fact, sometimes
the box is much more beautiful than the object that it contains.
Here, you can't judge anything by its cover.
Foreigners are new to modern-day China, so don't be alarmed or put off, if
you notice someone staring at you with either curiosity or suspicion.
Just say, "Ni hao" (Hello; you can see our language page for more common
words and expressions in Chinese), and they will invariably break into a
smile, return the greeting or give you a thumbs up. You are a guest,
in country, and you should remember that you are also an ambassador of
your own country. I have encountered other foreigners, here, who are
friendly and considerate, as well as some who act either aloof or
obnoxious. Be a good ambassador, and
show Chinese people that foreigners are just people.
Since foreigners are new to China, you might hear people call you a Wei
guo ren or a Guay lou, which are just the Mandarin and Cantonese words for
foreigner. Don't be offended, just say : Shira!, which means, "I
am". It will immediately break the ice.
If you are a man (I am a man, so I know this from
experience, but I do not know how it is for women), many girls will tell
you that you are handsome. Don't get excited! A common Chinese
name that girls call guys, all the time, is "shuai ge", which, literally,
means handsome brother.
Before I came to China I was expecting the Tao te Ching,
Confucius, and other things that I knew of the Chinese culture.
Of course, I guess that is like expecting cowboys and Indians, if you
visit the U.S. Most people don't even know what I'm talking about
when I mention those sorts of things. On the other hand, the people,
here, know little of Western culture, traditions, standards, or
expectations. A girl student once asked me if the U.S. is like in
the movie, American Pie. For some reason, also, everyone thinks that
foreigners like beer. Every time I go out to a restaurant or a bar,
they will be quite surprised and knocked completely off balance because I
don't want a beer. (There are actually beer girls, hawking one particular
brand or another of beer, at many bars, dressed sort of like cowgirls.
They are completely crestfallen when I don't order from them.)
As China is integrating itself with the global economy,
there is a push to learn English. In truth, there are not many
people, in China, who speak English, and, if you go to smaller towns or villages,
probably no one will speak English or anything else but the local Chinese
dialect. At least buy yourself a dictionary with Chinese symbols,
and you will be able to work your way through by looking up English (or
whatever your native language) words, and showing the Chinese people the
Chinese symbols, in your dictionary. That is partly the way that I
got along for many months, and I still do, in many situations. You
can try, also, to pronounce the words from the pinyin English spelling, in
the dictionary, too, but pronunciation is tricky. In cities, though,
you might find that people will come up to you and try to strike up a
small conversation, just to practice their English. Don't get
excited and take it for more than it is. Let them down, gently, if
you're not interested in being an ersatz English tutor.
Curiously, many Chinese feel the need to give themselves an
English name. I have never encountered such a phenomenon in any
other country. I suppose the rationale is that it will be easier for
foreigners to remember and pronounce their names. Personally, I like
Chinese names, and I am saddened that some people think that they need to
There are actually almost 60 different languages, in China.
In Guangdong, HK, and Macau, the language is Cantonese, and sometimes,
that is all a person can speak. There is a push for a common
language, called putonghua (literally, common language), which is what we,
in the West, refer to as Mandarin. However, if you are in the
western and northern regions, especially in smaller areas, you may find
that the language is completely different than what you can understand, if
you know some Mandarin. My first assistant, in China, was Cantonese.
He couldn't understand the language that the people spoke at our local Xin
Jiang (in the west) noodle restaurant. I can pretty well
understand noodle shop people because I eat at noodle shops, a lot, and
that also helps me understand Xi'an's language. A major difference, for example,
between those two other languages and putonghua is that they are more
staccato with some soft syllables, like in the Russian language, while
putonghua is more singsong and even. Beijing's accent has very hard
In the South of China, like in the south of France or in
Mexico, there is a several hour siesta around noon til 2 or later.
You will find some shops closed, and even banks and hospitals have minimal
staffing at that time.
I am 5' 10.5", so I am neither short nor tall. People
in the south of China tend to be shorter, and I feel fairly tall.
However, people in the north tend to be taller and bigger boned, and I
feel short, there. In fact, it took quite some time, in the south,
for me to find places that had shoes that were big enough for me. My
girlfriend, on the other hand, who is from the south, had trouble finding
clothing that was small enough for her when we went traveling, in the
The Chinese people must be the most flexible, in the world,
body-wise. Everyone. from babies to old men, can squat down into a
position in which the upper leg is completely folded against the bottom
part, and the rear end is almost touching the ground. They don't
need chairs, here, and I see people "sitting" like that to do all kinds of
things, from picking up a penny to reading a magazine at a coffee table
A Chinese university scientist has actually developed a
pair of eyeglasses that will translate Chinese characters into English.
They are not in the commercial stage, as yet. Everything, here, is,
of course, written in Chinese characters. The larger towns will also
have most street and highway names, in English, but not much else.
At the smaller restaurants, the menu will be in Chinese, but some will
also have pictures that you can point at. Alternatively, in really
small restaurants or at restaurants, in smaller towns, you might try body
language: make motions like a fish swimming or dance like a chicken.
It will make it more fun for everyone, and the Chinese will love you.
In the U.S. and Europe, in the 1940's, holding up the index
finger and the next one was the sign for victory. In the 1960's and
1970's, the same gesture was the symbol for peace. This
victory-peace signal has become quite popular, in present-day China.
Whenever you see someone having their picture taken by a friend, you will
invariably see them give the victory-peace sign.
Karaoke is a very "in" thing to do, in China, and people
have karaoke parties for every kind of occasion. It's very cool to
own your own karaoke devices.
Taking a girl to Haagen Dazs is supposed to show her you love
her, according to the ads, but it will cost you about as much as a dinner
at a better restaurant. My neighborhood home-made gelato place makes
it better at about 1/6th the price!
You might see people out taking wedding pictures.
Don't get excited! It's not a wedding. As it turns out, it is
more important to take the wedding pictures, which are done before the
wedding, than having the wedding itself. People have their wedding
pictures taken, sometimes, many many months before the actual wedding.
Just like in the West, several decades past, divorce is not
accepted here. Divorced women have told me that it will be difficult
for them to remarry.
Many sons and daughters, after getting out of school and
getting married, move in with their parents. It is still the
tradition, here. Many families will include the parents,
grandparents, and children and their children. Children are often
raised by the grandparents, also, as part of that tradition.
In China, names begin with family name, followed by first
name, like Chen Ayu, who is Ayu from the Chen family.
Cars, in an actual wedding procession, will be decorated in
a minimalist style, with a flower or a bow at major corners of the car
That brings me to another observation. Male and
female grow up separately and seldom mix. At many parties I have
been to, including weddings, the males are on one side of the room and the
females are on the other, kind of like the junior high prom.
China fact. There is currently a one-baby rule.
Women are allowed to only have one child. It is a perfectly
legitimate request in a country with over a billion people. It is possible to pay a
"tax" and have another child, but, from what we hear, many people
circumvent the rule bys using the i.d. of a female relative who has no
As a physicist, I can tell you that medicine is a
developing science. In the East, there is a time-honored system of
medicine that is different than the West, as you may have heard. In
Hong Kong, medical services are similar to the West, and the quality is
what you would expect, in the West. On the mainland, you can get
both Eastern and Western style medical services, but getting the latter
will vary. If it is in a large town, you will be able to find
Western-style care, and you don't have to find a Western doctor.
Better Chinese hospitals will have good doctors. In some cases,
there will even be a clinic within the hospital that uses the better
doctors to treat foreign patients. In fact, sometimes, the
Western-run medical services are just over-priced and are not as good as
the good Chinese hospitals.
In China, people don't go to a doctor, normally, they go to
a hospital or clinic. We even go to the hospital, down the block, to
get our teeth cleaned, where they use the ultrasonic cleaning tools that
are so popular in the West. Of course, you will probably need to
speak Chinese or have a friend accompany you who does. Our local
hospital has all of the latest imaging devices.
Unlike in the U.S., antibiotics are not prescription drugs.
You can get them over the counter at any Yao Dian (drug store). In
fact, people take antibiotics at the drop of a hat. Often, first
signs of sickness, whether a cold, the flu or an actual infection, they do
get an intravenous dose of penicillin. I have heard that you can
also get a shot at the hospital, if you drink too much alcohol.
Safety is always an important issue for travelers, and my
personal experience, in China, has been that it is relatively safe.
I have lived in cities, like New York, where safety can vary from
neighborhood to neighborhood and also with the time of day, so I am not
naive. For example, when I cross the border between Macau and the
mainland, late at night, and three guys with a van ask me if I want a ride
to Guangzhou, I politely decline. However, in cities, like
Guangzhou, you will find that there are many security complexes. In our little complex, we even have video cameras,
constantly monitored by security guards. It gives me a safer feeling than I have had in many other
places, night or day.
I have only been asked for my i.d. papers three times. The
first time was by a bunch of Arabs in a car who tried to tell us that they
were the tourist police (there is no such thing). They wanted us to
hand them our passports through the car window ... I'm not that stupid!
First of all, they were not even Chinese, and the Chinese do not hire
foreigners for official jobs; then, they never showed me their i.d.
The only people who ever ask for your papers are the police or the
only happened to me once when I went to visit a friend at his girlfriend's
house, which was in a back street Chinese neighborhood, and the police
figured that any foreigner, there, was there to visit a hooker ... like I
would ever need or use a hooker!! The last time was being taken by
private car from an isolated beach, on the mainland, near HK, to town at
night. The military were at a crossroads in the dark in the
mountains, apparently, looking for illegal entrants to the isolated
coastline. It was also around the time the Olympic torch was passing
through HK and Guangdong. It is never comfortable being stopped by 6
soldiers with automatic weapons.
My mother told me about "Mickey Finns" when she was young.
The concept is still alive, here. Be careful drinking at bars.
Don't let strangers buy you a drink, and don't leave your drink
unattended, whether you are male or female.
When I was little, we got a badminton set. It was so
exciting. Since then, I have not often seen badminton, again.
Today, in China, badminton is alive and well. Everyone plays it
everywhere (no need for net). There is even a badminton birdie
factory outside of town with a giant birdie out front. The other
game that is really popular with the boys is basketball. Now that
several Chinese have made it to the NBA, every boy dreams of being the
next. In addition, I got myself a yoyo to pass the time, while
waiting for my number to be called at the bank or waiting for the bus to
come. Then, I discovered yoyo's were very popular with the kids in
grade school (they told me where to find and which were the best yoyo's,
in my neighborhood).
Another really cool thing about China is that they build
walls around everything, including highway or street construction sites.
After all, they did build the Great Wall. Company sites and schools
are surrounded by walls. Many complexes and neighborhoods within
cities are surrounded by walls, too. In building construction, instead
of using the heavy metal scaffolding that is common, in the U.S., they
erect scaffolding of bamboo around structures, as they go up. That
even applies to buildings that are 20 stories or so high. Then, over
that scaffolding, they attach heavy netting to keep anything from falling
from the structure, while it is being built.
In many cases, especially with large construction jobs,
temporary housing units are erected for the workers to live in.
Indeed, housing comes as part of the compensation package for all sorts of
jobs, across a broad range.
In many ways, the society reminds me of the West in the
1950's. Kids don't date, in high school, although that is beginning
to change. Girls are just
beginning to discover makeup. In general, morals and attitudes are
what we might call old-fashioned, so be careful how you comport yourself. The level of maturity and sophistication is, in general,
lower than what you are used to, if you are from the U.S. or
An interesting additional note on women's fashion is that
many women, and girls of all ages, wear high boots, in cold weather as
well in the summertime. I remember that trend in the West, back in
the late-1960's during the Mod Era. It is interesting to see it reemerge, here,
now. However, when it comes to shoes and boots, the women, here,
are not like some women in the West (Hi, Linda!) who have to have a pair
of shoes to match every outfit.
A fashion trend for toddlers is pants with a slit in the
crotch. No underwear or diaper, either. That way they can go
any time, any where.
I realize that it is not unknown in the West and has been
sort of "in" over the past several decades, but, in China, most babies are
carried papoose-style, mostly, just using a blanket to bind them to their
mother's or grandmother's back.
Having dogs as pets was banned for several decades.
Even now, there are stiff license fees, in many large cities (for example,
in Guangzhou, the fee is about US$1,500 per year) that continue to try
discourage ownership. Moreover, as a result, many people are scared
of dogs, large or small.
People, mostly older ones, walk around the street swinging
their arms and clapping hands, from and back, or some other arm movements,
and sometimes they walk backwards...it's all a form of exercise.
Another funny phenomenon that you might observe is the
daily "pep talk to the troops" at a restaurant. Often, I see all of
the staff lined up outside a restaurant with the manger reviewing and
trying to rouse them much like a drill sergeant in the Marines.
All of the sound-gags that were part of cartoons, while I
was growing up, like "boing", sliding whistle, handsaw wobble, etc., are
peppered indiscriminately, in things, like music variety shows. It
makes me laugh, but more at the misplacements than at the actual sound
effects, themselves, which are pretty passť.
The head of the country is Hu and the second in command is
Wen. Abbott and Costello would not have believed it.
At sporting events, for example, in case you go to the
Olympics, this summer, shout, "jai-yo!" to root on your favorite player or
Spoken Chinese language, especially Cantonese, might seem
loud to you. I first noticed the real difference in volume of spoken
English versus spoken Chinese when I listened to students at an awards
function. You could barely hear them over the PA system when they
gave the English versions of their speeches, but it was easily audible, in
Chinese. Since then, I have studied the difference, and I have come
to the conclusion that Chinese is a very open-mouthed language, on the
whole. If you listen to and watch people speak the French language,
for example, it is very closed and tight-mouthed language. English
is somewhere in the middle.
It is always nice to know at least a little of the
language when you visit a foreign land, so please visit our Chinese language lesson page to pick
up a few
useful expressions. We are also working on a Cantonese language
page, which should soon appear on the sight.
For some of our thoughts about business and money, in
China, visit our In-Country Analysis page.