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Tuesday, 12 April 2016 19:08

China subjective - Part One

Author: Balázs

Translated by: Greta Kojsza

Writing a subjective essay is a really subjective issue. It’s going to be the 8th one. Kazakhstan is missing (we might go back one day and complement it), because we’ve just passed through and saw such a small part of it. So there would be no point in writing a subjective story on that country. Each of our subjective stories and opinions are influenced by our very own experiences. That’s why a country shows its completely different faces to each foreigner. Same with China. Some people had neutral opinion, but some had mainly negative ones. So asking ‘How was Burkina Faso?’ has no raison d’ệtre at all. You might ask someone who only met really nice people and none of his stuff was stolen on the bus station, he travelled with a lot of money (let’s be honest, money makes traveling much comfortable and easier) and suppose that he didn’t have to wait a lot at the border. But it’s exactly the reason why we’ve started writing these subjectives. Our aim is to show the picture of a country that we’ve seen. There’s nothing good or wrong about it, it’s simply a very subjective opinion based on our personal experiences and impressions. After spending 3 months in this country, we have enough information, but China is a huge country, so we divided it into two parts. Let’s begin!

First impressions

The contrast between the Kazak and the Chinese side of the borderline is enormous. In Kazakhstan the frontier was a dusty little village, whilst in China, after riding on a pointlessly long and winding road, tower cranes and the noise of pneumatic drills welcome the foreigners. Entering to the Xinjiang Uighurautonomous region, a totally modern and newly built city, Khorgas was our first shock in China. We got the feeling of being in a video game due to the brand new, perfectly glassy streets with painted signs on them, which were not even dried yet. Tower blocks with offices and apartments, sparkling shopping centers and parks that are geometrically perfectly constructed. Not to mention the locals who take pictures of foreigners with a huge smile on their faces. We were just standing there, taking in the view filled with pure happiness and amusement. Eni burst into tears while I was hugging her. We’re in China! Well it’s going to be exciting!


China is a giant country with 56 ethnicity. Travelling from one territory to another is like getting into a new country. That’s the reason for the diversity of people (in each aspect). During the three months we spent there, we’ve got to meet a lot of people, like Uighurs, Tibetans, Dais, Huis, Chinese and of course ethnicities we couldn’t identify, so in our view, they were traditional Chinese people. Obviously there’s no such a country where everybody’s nice and kind, but if it exists, let us know. We met annoying or sometimes rude people, who tried to totally ignore us. We did try our best not to be concerned about them, because in spite of the negative situations, we had much more positive experiences. Therefore, we came to the conclusion, that the Chinese are friendly, helpful and interested people (at least in those places we’ve been to). It might be because of the small number of tourists, but we never had the feeling of being seen as the ‘wealthy Western-European tourist’. China in general is a poor country indeed, but I will talk about it later. Most of the people are very polite who approach you and smile at you, then might ask you something, but never ever paddle on your personal stuffs, hugs you and takes a selfie with you immediately. Gesticulation and hand-shakes are not common, (strange, but I’ve just realized, that I haven’t shaken hands with anybody for months, or even if I did, they were foreigners too) they bend or nod. I have to mention some of their weird and disgusting habits. If somebody smiles at you, doesn’t mean that you said something funny, but the person who you’re talking to is embarrassed. They spit in public, blow their noses (without a tissue) and fart while they’re talking to you. Even women! It’s quite conflicting and surprising, when you’re walking on the street, hear someone getting ready for a gross split, you turn around and see a pretty woman toddling in heels. For us, China was the country of contrasts. People can be polite and impolite at the same time. Asians are ill-mannered in general, compared to Europeans (apart from the exceptions).

Language and communication

Chinese is tend to be one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. It’s not the grammar that makes it so difficult, but the tone of its words and sounds. There are 4 different tones in Chinese: descending, ascending, high and descending-ascending tones. So it usually occurs, that one word has at least 5 different meanings, depending on the tone. My favourite example is (and the raison for good laughs among the Chinese, as we couldn’t pronounce it at all) the following: "Māmā qí mǎ. Mǎ màn, māmā mà mǎ." It means Mom is riding a horse, horse be slow, Mom scold horse. I intentionally translated it in this way, in order to point out how simple its grammar is, so be careful with bringing on somebody’s mother. It might lead to an unexpected snuff. If you make, even just a very small mistake in your tone, they will have no idea what the hell do you want to say. We heard stories in Kyrgyzstan, but we experienced these situations ourselves too. Let me share, a really memorable one. We needed a board with a Qinghai sign on it for hitchhiking, so we asked someone from a group of 6 people to write it on the board. We said ‘Csingháj’, ‘Shingháj’, Csöngháj’, but none of it was understandable. We were making a fool out of ourselves for minutes, when one of the guys said ‘Ah Csingháj?’ . You can imagine our faces… We couldn’t hear anything different in his way of pronunciation, but perhaps, he wouldn’t understand either why we’re writing the word ‘folyó’ (river) with ‘ly’ and ‘tej’ (milk) with ‘j’, though they sound the same. By the way, do you have any idea why is it so? Let’s get back to China. After a while, we gave up pronouncing the words, we simply pointed at them (the English word is written in Chinese and in pinyin too) in our dictionary. The person we asked pronounced it for us, then we tried to groan out something similar. In spite of these difficulties, we learnt some useful expressions and words, which we could use with a 99% success. Communicating with Tibetans or Uighurs was even trickier, as a lot of them can’t read at all, or even if they do, they were exactly just as confused with the Chinese characters as we were. In our view, Chinese is beautiful, melodic and smooth. Here’s a link  to our favorite Chinese song. Eni seriously took a liking to start studying Chinese.


Okay, let’s be honest. We couldn’t read a lot of signs and writing them down was completely impossible. The little man with its television kind of head, was the sign of men’s toilet. This sign was more than enough to remember, because it evidently showed the direction of women’s toilet too. We memorized two other useful signs too, which were the signs of small and big portion. How to find your way, when the names of villages are not written in Latin characters? Well we managed to solve this problem too by showing our map to locals who pronounced them. So we wrote down the names phonetically (in Hungarian pronunciation for instance: ‘Boduncsuán’). In this way, we got familiar with the names of the cities and knew how to pronounce them. So we were able to identify the cities or villages on road signs. We memorized some specific characters (the names of the cities were not long at all, usually consist of 2 or 3 characters) as well which we were searching for on other road signs and boards.


What’s important to know about China is that dump of purchasing cars and obtaining driving licenses only started in the second half of the 90’s, so in case of China, we can’t talk about a driving style with old traditions. Actually, it can’t even be called a style or morality. Everybody drives the way they want. In our opinion they drive without any kinds of rules. I write ‘in our opinion’ because: 1. They don’t care about what we think. 2. Everybody drives in that way there, so driving in the normal European way would be suicide. So anybody who plans driving a car in the People’s Republic of China, get prepared for the extraordinary circumstances and a totally different point of view. There are no evidences. Stop sign, ahead only, the usage of flashing directional signs in the good direction, right-hand rule or bending to the left in a larger sweep are only the jigs of the Western-Europeans. It’s just an advice that they totally ignore. Mainly everybody, so we didn’t see any accidents. A Hungarian driving instructional or examiner would get a heart-attack after 20 seconds for sure. Of course the other way around, a Chinese driver would never be able to pass the Hungarian traffic examination. Not even for the 7th try. We saw learner drivers traversing a coequal crossroads, looking ahead without slowing down or looking around. They used the horn instead. Learner driver started to pass in a blind corner, finally the instructional (who allowed the learner driver start the pass) took over control on the vehicle, as an oncoming car appeared. The horn replaces ears and eyes no matter what. Everybody toots, instead of using the flashing directional signs or looking into the rearview mirror. And this kind of crazy driving style is true for each member of the traffic. Motorbikes are just as dangerous as cars. There’s only one rule. I wish I could call it the law of physics: the bigger and stronger vehicle has the priority. Everybody knows his own place in the hierarchy, we managed to find out ours immediately. Well I’m not saying that I didn’t swear several times, I’m human too, but after a while, I had to realize that I just have to let it go. It simply doesn’t worth it. Furthermore, they don’t even get it, why we are so pissed off.

The quality of the roads is extraordinary even in the least developed areas too, such as the Tibetan Plateau. I can recall only a few exceptions (for instance in Yunnan on road G123), but their renovation have already started. You can find assigned cycle and scooter paths in cities, though not in smaller or a bit underdeveloped cities.

A few years ago, the whole world was horrified on the breakage test of Chinese cars. For today, Chinese carmakers picked themselves together too. We can list several Chinese brands and some of them are quite beautiful, while others are the cheap replica of Western vehicles, though both of them gained a large share on the national market. Just imagine that the Chinese population is higher than the population of Europe and the USA altogether. Such a huge market! We also have to note that, only one-sixth of its population has obtained a driving license. Though much more drivers can be found in the traffic without any kind of driving certificate.

Nobody cares about safety rules. Seat belts, helmets and the allowed number of passengers on a vehicle is totally off the point not only in China, but in Asia in general.

Their logistics is unbeatable. We couldn’t decide on the winner of trucking among the Asian countries yet, but China is the absolute number one. The expression ‘It doesn’t fit.’ doesn’t exist. It does fit, you only need ropes or ratchet straps and everything is in its right place immediately. Rules are ignored of course. Trucks are so packed up, that nothing can be seen in the rearview mirrors. A truck is capable of carrying 21 automobiles in this way, with 2 rows of cars on the top of it.


We can easily bump into cities in China, which wasn’t there the day before. Alright, they’re not developing so fast yet, but cities, towns and villages grow rapidly, where the population of villages (whom houses are going to be flooded by the swelled river) is resettled or new habitants (nomads are trying to be settled into the provinces of Qinghai and Sichuan) are settled. So called ghost towns can be seen too, where the resettlement of the population didn’t happen somehow. We haven’t been to real big cities in the Tibetan Plateau. Yushu was the biggest one with its 120,000 habitants. Smaller towns with a few thousands of people are much more common, with the yurts of nomads in its surroundings.

China is diverse, which is true for its cities living conditions. The less developed areas lack canalization, tap water and side-walks. Garbage, abandoned animals and dust everywhere. People go to stool on streets. On the other hand, in cities street cleaners work continually and take care of the tidiness of precisely constructed parks. Solar cell public lighting are essentials. Cultural shock! Have you ever heard of public toilets in a smaller town? Well, if you’ve ever had the opportunity to use one, you know exactly what I’m talking about, if not, then you can read about it now. Entering to the room you’re wondering about the boxes which are separated with waist-high walls and you’ll soon notice the long gap in the middle. You’d better have no illusions in connection with doors, water or toilet paper. They don’t exist there. Only scents and opportunities to get to know your neighbor, while you’re busy with your business. In developed cities public toilets are free of charge, clean and can be found everywhere. We should pay more attention to the construction and renovation of public toilets in Hungary compared to these cities in China.

The gardens of houses are often disorganized, full of garbage and they don’t really care about the fact that they’re living on the top of a dunghill. Though you can take care of the tidiness of your own property independent of your budget.

The lifestyle of nomads is kind of the same as it was hundreds of years ago. They keep yaks, live in yurts and forbear the bitter circumstances. They’ve got water from rivers and brooks, generate electricity from solar cells. Most of the families has one motorbike or rarely a car, so they go shopping to cities or sell goods.

In the second part, you can read about everyday life, cuisine, nature and a little bit of politics.