Tuesday, August 09, 2005


"Quick! Quick! Come to China before it changes and becomes all western."
"Ha ha, too late, try again next time!"

The difference between China and its smaller southern neighbour are immediately visible as soon as you cross the border: gone are the dusty streets filled with innumerable hawkers, scooters and bicycles all milling about in a general scene of chaos. Instead there are wide, clean boulevards with not too much traffic, and most of it respecting traffic regulations. Then in Kunming, the "small, provincial capital" (though in Europe it would be amongst the top 5 biggest cities) of Yunnan province, everywhere you look there are modern high-rise buildings, giant shopping plazas and chic little boutiques. Consumption is the name of the game here, and the more conspicuous the better. In one afternoon's stroll I saw as many McDonalds's as I had seen in all of Southeast Asia. If old Chairman Mao were not in a glass case on public display I'm sure he'd be turning in his grave at the sight of it (not to mention that it's being wholeheartedly approved by his very own party). But perhaps the most noticeable difference is not visual, but auditory. In Vietnam the defining noise was the honking of horns from scooters, cars, buses and lorries. Here the noise that one hears most often is the kheeh-eh-eh-eeh of the throat being cleared, followed by the inevitable ptui of the built up phlegm being ejected from the mouth and onto the floor. This charming custom is widely practised by all Chinese and you have to be careful in certain situations (such as when you are in the bottom bunk of a sleeper bus and there is someone above you) to avoid sticky consequences.

Apropos buses, I had a rather alarming, but in hindsight quite funny, experience whilst catching my sleeper bus to Kunming. Whilst waiting for my bus this Chinese guy, who had previously helped me buy my ticket, came up to me and told me that I would have to pay a surcharge for my baggage. He led me to a room in the station which appeared to be for the forwarding of freight and he told me that I would normally have to pay 50 yuan (more than half the price of the bus ticket), but that he could get it down to 20 for me. This looked rather dodgy to me and I said that I'd rather take my chances and try and board without paying. This made him really mad and he got rather rough, threatening me to call the police (I didn't quite understand why that was a threat, but still) and even trying to grab my rucksack off me. He then left me alone and I didn't see him until I was already on the bus (where, of course, I didn't have to pay) and he came on still insisting that I pay him for my bags. I asked him to politely leave and then he just went crazy and started to attack me. Luckily he was no kung fu expert and I was sitting on a top bunk, so I could just push him down with my feet. It was all a totally surreal experience and I laugh now thinking back upon it, but it was a rather unfriendly welcome to the country.


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Yann said...

Hi Erik,

your blog is now so famous that you even got ads !

Dont worry about this chinese attack : that was surely the second step of the chinese plan after the textil invasion or perharps the second lesson after the one in Vietnam with simple calculus...

Just load the fight learning program such the one in Matrix !
Come on, Erik ! Only 1 299 999 999 Chinese ar remaining...