Saturday, February 09, 2008

Going to China with Clayton...

My buddy Clayton had a fantastic trip to China last year and I finally got him to answer a few questions for me...I know it would be an amazing place, and it is on my list of stops...

1. Where was your trip?
China. Specifically Beijing and Hong Kong. The layover in Newark doesn't count right? I don't know how you're wanting me to answer these questions!

2. When did you go?
When the time was right. I can't recall off the top of my head, but I'll bet I'd recall if I looked at the EXIF data in the photos

3. How long was your trip?
Not long enough. 10 days if you include the two days of flights.

4. What was the purpose?
Vacation, really. My friend was going over for work, but decided to go early and experience some of the country, and asked if I wanted to go along. There is no way I was turning down that opportunity.

5. What spots did you see?
We tried to hit everything we could from the major tourist sites to the local (unknown) markets. Here's what I remember:

Beijing: The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall at Mutianyu, Behei Park, The Summer Palace (simply amazing), Tien'men Square (but we couldn't get in, they were clearing it out to set up for the "1 year until Olympics" celebration). More places, but I can't recall, since I'm typing this at work any my brain is all tied up with ActionScript programming.

Hong Kong: The Peak of Mount Victoria, The markets, Electronics District (the craziest thing I've ever seen, and ironically the ONLY time I didn't have my camera with me), basically just bummed around while in Hong Kong and tried to go to all parts of the city. They have a FANTASTIC public transport system there by the way, the Subway is simply amazing.

6. What did you learn about China?
I don't know if I explicitly learned anything, but the culture shock was amazing. For example, Beijing has almost no advertising up, and the city is amazingly clean even in the dirtiest and most "ghetto" areas. Hong Kong was the exact opposite, every single inch of real estate is used both for businesses and advertising. One of the best meals we had was in an apartment-sized restaurant with only 5 tables crammed in a tiny room that we had to enter by winding through the boiler room of a skyscraper. Everything is like that.

7. What are some cultural differences?
In Bejing, NO ONE spoke English. They estimate that in a city of 12.8 million people, about 4,000 people spoke english well enough to understand us. Needless to say, most of them worked in hotels, and our concierge was a great help. Beijing is a huge city, but full of very poor people, so few can afford to learn English. Hong Kong was the exact opposite, since it was a British Colony until fairly recently.

Even between Beijing and Hong Kong, the differences were night and day. One is very poor and very traditionally Chinese, the other is rich and very "Western." They don't even speak the same language (Mandarin for china, Cantonese for Hong Kong). They really couldn't be more different. I had more culture shock going from Beijing to Hong Kong than I did from the US to Beijing!

8. What are some cultural similarities?
Hong Kong is pretty similar to a big city here in the US, but they are even more surprisingly similar to London. The signs were mostly in English (with all the british spellings), the subway was an improved version of London's (and amazing to boot), and they even drive on the left side of the road.

However, even in Beijing, many of the same stores existed (in the financial district). I was forced to buy some new shoes at the Addidas/Nike store for the amount of walking we were doing, so that was a relief (although I had to point and communicate almost entirely non-verbally, finding my right size was difficult since they didn't have US sizes on them). KFC was the first fast food restaurant to hit mainland China, and therefore the largest food chain, but it's pitched as semi-fine dining, and they sell wine with wings. The Pizza Hut there was also really odd and with bizarre items. So some of the same stores and restaurants are over there, but they're VERY different, the same only in name.

9. How did you prepare for your trip?
I was woefully underprepared, luckily my friend was well prepared, and was very on top of things to do and a timeline to do them on.

10. What did you love?
I'm a huge people watcher. So just every little cultural difference was very intriguing. Plus, in Beijing, everything was incredibly cheap. Subway rides were about 15 cents, we paid an average of about $1.50 each per meal, and our enormous suite in the Presidential Intercontinental was about $40 a night. Hong Kong was the opposite though.

11. What did you not love?
In Beijing, not being able to communicate was a HUGE barrier. No signs were in english, and we were rarely able to express what we needed beyond simple pointing. We took the subway a lot, but had to research our stops well in advance to know what symbols to look for, but often took the cabs back because we could show them a "taxi card" that had the name of the hotel written on it in Chinese.

12. Would you like to return to China?
Hells yes. I'd like to hit Shanghai for sure, but there are other places in Asia I'd like to hit first, like areas in Japan. By the way, did you know that the song "Turning Japanese" was about masturbation? Who knew?

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