Wednesday, November 02, 2005

If You Notice This Notice You Will Notice That It's Not Worth Noticing

Kashgar, tucked away in the western corner of China (the rooster's ass), 3500km distant from Beijing, has always been a vital crossroads on the Silk Road. (For more information on the Silk Road the following site is very good.) Caravans would either set off west towards Samarkand, Bukhara and Kabul, or south, over the mighty Pamir and Karakoram mountain ranges (home to the highest concentration of 6000+m peaks in the world), towards India. And that's hopefully where I'll be headed in a couple of days time, across the Khunjerab pass, which, at 4730m, is the highest border crossing in the world (another superlative to add to my list).

As this is my penultimate stop in China this is as good a time as any to give my thoughts and impressions on this immense country I have now spent over 12 weeks in. But first I'd like to digress a little and talk about a topic that has provided me with endless amusement, and more than a little bit of head scratching, whilst criss-crossing this land: signs and notices. All throughout China there are notices exhorting citizens not to spit, not to smoke, to buckle up, to drive on the right and overtake on the left, not to drop litter, to cherish the environment, and to generally be nicer, friendlier and more caring people. The Chinese, however (or at least the vast majority of them), seem to think they apply to other people and duly ignore them. The authorities therefore, when faced with having to translate these signs into English for foreigners, say to themselves "well, if our lot don't bother obeying them, I'm damned if I'm going to spend good money on translating them so that foreigners can ignore them as well". So instead of getting someone who speaks English for the translation they instead turn to free translation tools that can be found on the net. Not only does it seem obligatory for there to be at least one spelling mistake, but the content itself is rather cringeworthy and probably worthy of a book in their own right, but I only noted down some of the choicest examples, and here are some of my favourites.

"It is forbidden to fire the hardcore scenic area" In Wudang Shan.
"No tossing" On a bus window.
"In the building it is forbidden for people with slippery dress" The HSBC building, Shanghai.
"It is not allowed to [...], shit or piss in the park" In a Shanghai park.
"Eggs with fungus and alien vegetables" In a restaurant in Emei Shan (though tempted, I decided to opt for the scrambled eggs and tomatoes instead).

That's enough flippancy for now; back to my summary of China. It's undoubtedly a fascinating country with innumerable sites that evidence its long history (even despite the destruction of the Cultural Revolution). The grandeur of the Great Wall; the beauty of its mountains; its intricate architecture (strictly pre-communist stuff only); and its many, varied ethnic groups, all make China a compelling country to visit. And 3 months isn't even enough to see nearly half the country (future travel itineraries have already been planned). Getting around is relatively simple and it's possible to travel almost anywhere independently with only a limited vocabulary and enough patience. The latter did sometimes fail me, however, as I often found the locals rather uncooperative (and I think I've expressed my opinions about their tourists clearly enough already). Unfortunately this has become the first country in which I've actually lost my temper with someone and raised my voice in anger, something I hate doing and hope won't have to do again. That said, I don't like to criticise people, especially if I don't know the whole story. And in a way I can understand this behaviour. Only 30 years ago the country was completely rural and undeveloped, and the change, in such a short space of time, has been so enormous that the Chinese that were brought up under Mao are probably feeling slightly lost in their own country. The progress that has been achieved, and the ensuing changes to people's lives, in such a short space of time are just mind-boggling. Hopefully, as the people become more accustomed to their new-found prosperity and more educated at the same time, they will become more responsible towards others and their surroundings. If not, then I fear that the country might be heading for some serious problems.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Toujours là pour suivre tes péripéties.Nous sommes de retour du Pérou.Une fois de plus,la reprise est très dure....
Jean Luc et nadine de Bretagne