Having had such a great experience when visiting China in November 2010, I wanted to include it as part of my cycle tour from an early stage, despite it not being a direct route to Australia. Was it worth including? Partly, yes. It was a very mixed experience full of extreme highs and lows. A coin with two sides, on one side there was a moment when I seriously considered throwing in the towel, and on the other one of the best travel experiences I'll ever have, being invited to live in a Chinese village. I also managed to clock up 2,730km of cycling, which isn't far off the originally planned 3,000-3,500km. Here is a summary of my experiences.
- Shanghai - a fantastic city, similar to Hong Kong or Singapore, but still retains that Chinese feel to it. Not hugely cultural, but has plenty of night-life, open bars, cheap "massage" parlours and shopping plaza's.
- Guanxi/Yunnan - Great provinces for cycling, and also where I experienced living in a village (Guanxi). My favourite provinces in China, although I've yet to go to the north.
- Food - When the food is good, it's great. And it costs very little. Spicy rice noodles (akin to Wagamama's sort of quality) and a pint of freshly pulped mango juice for £2.50 in a nice restaurant. Awesome!
- Drink - Tsing Tao and many of the local beers are generally quite good, and can be bought from 50p to £1.50 for a 630ml bottle.
- Language - I really enjoyed learning the language. I managed to grasp quite a lot of it in a short time. I can string odd sentences together and my tone pronunciation is getting better. Am also able to read Pinyin very well too.
- Boob Massage - not something I would normally do, but for £12 it was a bargain. Nothing fixes tired legs and back better than a women massaging you with her boobs.
- East Coast - an awful place to cycle, and where I came close to quitting. Overly populated and industrial. It wasn't what I had hoped for. Many cities and towns feel very similar. Putian and Xiamen are exceptions.
- Yacking/Spitting - I'd seen it all before, but I still can't stand it. Especially when women yack and spit right near you.
- Smells - half the time you never know what they are, but they're just bad. And you know when you've been in China too long as you stop noticing them.
- Littering - Chinese people have little respect for their surroundings and it shows with the amount of litter discarded everywhere. It's something that really annoyed me.
- Rudeness - Chinese customer service is quite possibly one of the worst worldwide. As is the general public. Pushing (on the metro), barging, shouting, beeping. It's a long way from it's polar-opposite neighbour, Japan.
- Public Toilets - the worst toilets in the world. No doors so when you walk in you're often greeted by a guy sat squatting, curling one out. And the floor is awash with urine so not flip-flop friendly. God forbid if anyone were to slip over, *shudder*.
I don't know enough about ancient China to properly comment on how it compares to modern-day China, but I'm certain the yacking, spitting, littering and general rudeness are relatively new habits born into their culture. While I love China in many respects it's a shame it has forgotten it's effectively magnificent history and developed newer less attractive traits. I could be wrong, but to me the image of the government is reflected in the people and some of the selfish habits they have developed.
- Snickers and Dove dominate the chocolate (qiǎokèlì, pronounced chee-ow-ke-lee) market. In fact they are often the only western chocolates you can find.
- KFC is the most popular fast food chain and raking it in. Many towns have a KFC (or a fake version called MFC, it's awful) but not McDonald's (Màidàngláo, pronounced my-dang-laow).
- Double "O" seven (ie 007 James Bond to us) is called Ling Ling Qi (pronounced ling-ling-chee). He just doesn't sound dangerous when calling him that.
- Instead of an ice-cream or chocolate for dessert, it seems many Chinese will snack on a spicy chicken foot or neck!
- Deodorant is randomly very expensive. As are razor blades (the Chinese don't get facial hair as much, or use deodorant?). A deodorant stick and 4 blades cost around £11.