If you’re thinking of traveling to China and don’t know what to expect, then this story is for you. Outlined are the pros and cons that travelers from Thailand experienced during their 8-day trip through Lijiang, Kunming, and Dali. The Chinese people we encountered, especially in Lijiang, were very friendly and accommodating.
When we asked for directions, they did their utmost to help us, even though almost none of them spoke or understood a lick of English, or at least that was our experience.
Everyone was very patient with us, even though we only knew about 10 Chinese words between us. I eventually thought of downloading a translation app, which enabled us to communicate with them in English, and they could see and hear my words in Chinese, and vice versa.
We were somewhat surprised by the hospitality that the Chinese showed us. Why? Because we had this image that they’d be rude and inconsiderate, like they are when they visit Thailand. Did you know that the owner of the White Temple is now building separate toilet facilities for the Chinese because they have this habit of trashing toilets wherever they go in Thailand?
Clean cities and tight security
All three cities that we visited in China were impressively clean and we saw only a handful of people littering. We felt very safe there, as there were police officers everywhere. In Lijiang, we saw over 20 street sweepers along the main road making sure everything was spotless.
On many street corners in Kunming, there were these huge armored vehicles with machine gun turrets mounted on top. Up to four Chinese soldiers stood nearby holding riot shields and machine guns. None of them smiled when we looked their way.
In fact, when we went to take a photo of them, they became very angry and threatening. Needless to say, we didn’t press our point with these heavily armed fellas. Even after we walked quite a long distance away, we saw that they were still watching us, making sure we did as we were told. We realized that a friendly photo-shoot with these guys was unlikely to happen, and from their menacing demeanors, there was little room to negotiate.
Everywhere we went, we saw people with polished shoes, nice clothes, and trendy accessories. Even farmers were well-dressed and clean, unlike they are in Thailand. There were shoe shine services on every other corner in Kunming. You could tell that people took their appearance seriously.
The bus rides cost only 1 yuan per person, or about 15 cents, and the buses took us just about anywhere we wanted to go in the city.
Okay, now here are some of the cons of the trip — and yes, we were literally conned a few times along the way!
The Chinese food I ate seemed either too spicy, greasy, or hot. It was hard to find plain and simple meals. Also, I couldn’t find pure fruit juices in any shop that we visited. Everything they sold was either flavored with added sugar water or sodas. Yuck!
Chinese, on a whole, don’t know how to make a good cup of coffee. It’s extremely rare to even come across a coffee shop in your travels. The first sip of my first iced cappuccino in China was so awful that I literally spat it out. It didn’t taste anything like coffee! I personally think Chinese should stick to serving tea.
It wasn’t easy to adjust to the fact that so many Chinese men smoke cigarettes. According to data.worldbank.org, 49 percent of the men in China smoked cigarettes back in 2012. You would think that the communist regime would be concerned about these alarming statistics, right?
Well, according to an article published in The Lancet entitled Smoking cessation for Chinese men and prevention for women, the study authors noted that the Chinese National Tobacco Corporation, which is a government monopoly, provides over 7 percent of the central government’s annual revenue through taxes and net income from the sale of cigarettes.
So, the Chinese Communist Party has no incentive whatsoever to help curb peoples’ appetite for these cancer sticks. And forget all those “No Smoking” signs that you see posted everywhere. Chinese smoke wherever they want, whenever they want, and as much as they want.
They smoke in their homes, elevators, hotel lobbies, bathrooms, bars, restaurants — you name it, you’ll find someone smoking there. The smell of cigarette smoke is everywhere. If you take a shower before entering an elevator, by the time you go up or down 10 floors, your clothes and hair will smell like an ashtray.
Although we found Chinese to be quite hospitable, that hospitality did not extend everywhere. Some hotels that we visited told us in no uncertain terms: “We don’t cater to foreigners. We don’t welcome you here.” We were dumbfounded.
Of course, we didn’t bother to ask why we were not welcome. We just found it odd and took our business elsewhere.
Deceptions and the scams
One incident happened when we were trying to take a bus from Kunming airport to our hotel, which was about 25 km away. Soon after our plane landed, a Chinese woman approached us and said that she was a taxi driver, and that her fee was 180 yuan (about US$26) to take us to our destination. When we asked her for her taxi driver credentials, she couldn’t produce them.
There was something terribly creepy about her energy, besides the fact that she was both evasive and pushy. We finally told her no thank you and walked away. Ten minutes later, we found a metered taxi to take us to our hotel for only 100 yuan (about US$15).
Another incident happened when we were trying to board a bus from Kunming to Dali City. We went to the bus station and saw a Chinese man dressed in an official bus driver uniform, much like an airline pilot wears, complete with name tag and cap. He approached us and asked us where we were headed.
When we told him, he motioned for us to follow him, finally pointing to a man sitting at a small desk. There were a lot of people buying tickets there so we figured that this must be the place to buy tickets. Wrong! The whole thing was a setup. We found out later that this “bus driver,” who was supposed to take us to our destination, wasn’t a bus driver at all, he was just the perfect front man for this scam operation.
After we paid for our tickets, we waited about two hours for the bus to arrive, which never came. When we asked the so-called bus driver where the bus was, he motioned for us to follow a woman who was standing about three meters away.
About 15 of us followed this woman for several blocks, which seemed very odd, since the bus station was right where we were previously standing! Then, we all waited for another two hours in the baking sun in front of rows of shops. This was very unsettling. Finally, our bus arrived, but it wasn’t a bus! It was a small mini-van.
So, the 15 of us squeezed into this tiny van with our luggage and off we went. The man on the right of me didn’t have a place to sit, so the driver gave him a tiny stool to sit on. I found it amazing that this passenger didn’t complain, as we were about to embark on a 5-hour journey!
Then, after about an hour, we unexpectedly veered off the main highway and into this huge, deserted parking lot. The driver told us, in a rather rude and hurried manner, to exit the van. All of the passengers were visibly upset by this sudden turn of events. We all thought that we were about to be robbed. The sense of panic in the air was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
When the passengers asked the driver what was going on, he answered them in a gruff and disrespectful manner, as if to say: “How dare you ask me questions!” He treated all of us as if we were a herd of cattle! Then, about 30 minutes later, a real tour bus pulled up to where we were. We boarded the half-filled bus and were taken to our final destination, without further incidence.
I will end with this
If you ever visit China, I highly recommend that you add Lijiang to your itinerary. You’re sure to enjoy this wonderful city, especially if you brush up on your Mandarin! The whole region is steeped in ancient culture.
And one last thing
Definitely buy a 3M N95 rated air respirator before embarking on your trip. Why? Because the Chinese authorities demand (yes, that’s right!) that all flights coming into the country have their cabins sprayed with two cans of supposedly “safe, non-toxic” aerosol spray 30 minutes before the flight touches down.
However, if the CCP says it’s safe, you know that you don’t want to breathe it. It smelled like a toxic soup of chemicals to me!
Written by Mark Pence.
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