-The first pot of tea is for cleaning your dishes
If eating in Chinese restaurants with locals you may, from time to time, observe this little ritual. Everyone takes turns grabbing the ubiquitous pot of tea and begins pouring it over their chopsticks, spoons, bowls and plates. The server then provides a large bowl for everyone to discard this tea into, and a fresh pot of tea for actual consumption. What's been baffling me about this is the apparent randomness of it. While travelling with the tour group in Beijing I only witnessed it once, despite the fact that we were eating in (very similar) restaurants together twice a day. Euphy's been unable to clarify exactly what inspires this activity. Again with her family I saw them go through the ritual once at dinner, but not again at other restaurants. If there's something that tips you off that perhaps the dishes haven't been cleaned to your standards I'd imagine you'd be better served by visiting a cleaner establishment. This one's still a bit of a mystery to me.
-The often mentioned spitting
Read much on travel in China and the commonness of spitting is sure to come up. I've been told that the Chinese consider it quite unhealthy to swallow phlegm. So while as much as it seems to gross out foreign tourists when they see Chinese casually spitting in public, I imagine that when we give a good, throaty cough and then DON'T spit our Chinese hosts think we're pretty disgusting.
Always carry a pack of tissues with you because about half the washrooms you visit will not have toilet paper available. Also I found in Beijing since we were hitting a LOT of touristy spots that it was beneficial to make use of the facilities even if you didn't have a pressing need to do so. That way you were far less likely to be in urgent need of a washroom and find that the only available one is a nightmare-spawning terror factory. Which happens sometimes.
-Being a passenger in a car
Not for the faint of heart! By this point I've taken quite a few taxis and been driven around in a several people's private vehicles, always in the back seat. I had a seatbelt once. The vast majority of the cars that I've ridden in appear to have come from the manufacturer without rear seatbelts for some reason. I've had a look and there's clearly just no spot where one would have been. On occasion in taxis I've found a seatbelt over my shoulder but the receptacle for it seems to have, bafflingly, been removed. Not really sure what that's all about, but it's something you should be prepared for if travelling in China. You're probably not going to have the option of a seatbelt, and you may need to prepare yourself mentally for that because the roads are SCARY here. Which brings me to my next point:
I desperately wanted for Euphy and I to be on our own while in Beijing so we could see the sites in a more efficient manner, but that would have involved either the expense of taking taxis and buses or the far less appealing alternative of renting a car. Euphy's Dad told me yesterday that over the week-long National Day holiday that just passed there were 68,000 car accidents leading to about 750 deaths. In one week. The real kicker about that statistic? Those are people declared dead on the scene. Apparently if you die in hospital or even on the way there, that doesn't count for some reason. I failed in any appreciable way to be shocked by that. After nearly three weeks of being a passenger in a car I'm still not sure I have a grasp on how driving even works around here. From what I can tell though the fundamental rules of the road are similar to what we have in Canada... it's just that here they are more in the nature of suggestions. It really does look like everyone does whatever is most convenient for them at any given moment. I should stop for a moment here and clarify that this is just within the cities, highway driving seems to be pretty normal and civilized. From my observations I've concluded that your best course of action if forced to drive in a Chinese city of any real size would be to just take it really easy:
- Go with the flow, but be on the slower side of the flow.
- Is someone approaching a position where they may be able to cut you off? They are going to. They ARE. Let it happen.
- That guy in the left hand turn lane? Not necessarily turning left. Maybe turning right.
- Size matters. Buses know they can crush you and that gives them right of way. Same goes for a car if you're on a bike.
- Bicycles, mopeds, electric scooters, and the like are easily as common as cars, and just as bat crap insane. Keep your eyes peeled.
- Be liberal with the horn.
That last point really stands out here too. I think North American travellers may be inclined to think that everyone over here is highly aggressive due to the amount of horn honking you hear. It really is a steady beeping anywhere near a busy street. I've noticed that in North America the horn really only means one thing, and that's a profane statement about another driver's mother. The rest of the world uses that single beep to convey a huge range of ideas, and I think I've translated most of them. From most to least common:
- Pardon me, I don't think you've noticed me, but I'm here and have no desire to die in a fiery crash with you.
- I know you think that I'm going to let you in this lane, but I have no intention of doing so. Please desist in this course of action before we both die in a fiery crash.
- Salutations pedestrian! You may not be aware of this, but you're walking in the middle of the road, and are about to die.
- Say chap, you're in the way, mind moving along?
- Your slow/inept driving has caused me hate you with every fibre of my being. Please die.
That last one, the Common North American Car Horn Honk, is by far the least common. It's just so bloody chaotic here that I think you really would need to be pretty Zen about the whole situation or you'd spend your entire time behind the wheel in a blind rage that would swiftly lead to kind of reckless aggression that must get people killed. Just bob, weave, and honk, you'll be fine.
Well that's about it. Those are just some random observations that have been floating around in my mind for awhile now which I haven't had the time before now to get down in writing. Enjoy, and I'll talk to you all later!