I just came back from China after a work trip that lasted a bit over a week, and came with back with flu and a bunch of notes that I am about to share with you.
Upon Arrival: In the airport walking and looking through the trillion name signs banners trying to find my name, i found one of the people carrying a banner that says "WTF" exactly and literally, in capitals. Cheer up, it does not matter what size of problems you have in your life, at least you do not walk around knowing that your initials are WTF.
Fact: China's name is not China. It is only so for us foreigners, for Chinese the name of China is Zhonghua. For real!
Fact: In China, not only it is that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and others are blocked, they have their own version of each of them, but the funny thing is that you are not allowed to know that they are blocked in the first place, if you write Facebook.com in your browser it will direct you to the same page you get when internet is disconnected. How cool is that? :D
Fact: All people in China have two names, a Chinese one that you can not possible pronounce right and an English one. However they are free to change the English one at any moment as its not registered in any official documents. One day you wake up as a Peter, next day you can be a George. Tell me that is not neat.
Fact: After going to China..I mean Zhonghua, if you think that Chinese look alike then you are a blistering idiot. I do not know if blistering is a word but it just has the right ring and decided to use it. Chinese people come in every possible variation of human kind, tall and short, very fair skin or darker, long hair, short hair, curly and straight, circular, square and rectangular faces, I have not found one Chinese that can be mistake with another, they look completely different and have completely distinct and extinguishable faces unless you are legally blonde and blind. at the same time. One time at Mcdonalds though i thought the cashier was Lucy Liu and for a moment i thought it was candid camera or something. Then she turned out to be just a Chinese cashier going about her day. I asked our Chinese friend Tina, who is about my age and is the international sales manager for one of the companies we represent if she notices how much the girl looks like Lucy Liu. She did not know who that is.
-Fact: You are prohibited by law to know the gender of your baby until the delivery moment, Chinese culture favors boys and in many cases would choose to lose the baby if they know it's a girl.
Fact: Unlike what you think, Asians including Chinese people, are not born with black belt in martial arts:P In our minds we always have a connection between any Asian and Martial arts, somewhere in the back of our heads we think that any two Asians with road rage will get off their cars, set a ring and settle the issue with 12 rounds of Kung Fu while pedestrians give notes and academically discuss the positives and negatives of the techniques each fighter is using. I asked one of the people that accompany us if they or anyone they know at all plays martial arts, he said no. Bummer.
Incident: We were in Shanghai to attend an exhibition for water treatment products, 99% of exhibitors and visitors are Chinese, we stopped by one booth that had a western looking guy, it went along these lines:
- (Serious Guy from Holland who represents a company that would not sell water projects equipment unless they operate it themselves on the long run): I see what you want, It won't work.
- (Me): But we only need the equipment!
- (Serious Guy from Holland who represents a company that would not sell water projects equipment unless they operate it themselves on the long run): I can't supply you with that. I mean I can, but I won't.
-(Me): What if I say please?.
Ok it does not sound as funny now for some reason. but it was hilarious. I can't take that setting so seriously and people who do look like comedy material to me.
Note: Chines people are so incredibly humble in their manners and attitude, when we accompanied the staff of the first company we met we used to go around with the owner and his assistant, and also the steel supplier who supplies steel for that company came along, we were going about in a new 7 Series BMW (that's the largest one) and the supplier always took the driver seat. I was under impression that it's the car of the company owner and that this guy works also as a driver for him, turned out to be the owner of the BMW. You could not detect a hint of "look how rich I am" in a Chinese person's attitude, dress or the way they treat others. The company owner dresses no different than other people in the factory, he carries the same phone brand that other workers carry, we later visited his 4 million USD house that he just purchased. No sense of arrogance or showing off at all. I admired that very much.
- All water dispensers in China offer you two options: room-temperature water and hot water. Cold is not an option.
-While walking back to hotel in we found a group of people, mostly older people, on a street corner they set up an old cassette player and every couple is happily performing a slow dance. Apparently it's normal. The translator asked me if we had that in our country too, i told her that if we see this in our country we would call them insane. They thought that was HILARIOUS.
- Fancy Chinese restaurants are so unique, the restaurant is made of a number of big rooms, each room contains a big round table that's maybe enough for 10, and next to it a number of couches a nicely decorated living room, each room has its own kitchen, you make your order and they go prepare it in your kitchen, Chinese menu is so diverse and has trillion different dishes, they order so many dishes and they arrive one by one, take their place on the rotating center of the round table, they rotate it to face the guest first and then everyone else eats out of it, few minutes later they arrive with a new dish and so on, it could go on for couple of hours and still they would bring a new dish every now and then. I think if you eat all the dishes you would not feel painfully full and could not possibly get fat. very light on the stomach.
-Uniform for nearly 80 or 90% of Chinese women is a very short skirt and high heels.
-At this time of year it's hot every day, around 35C but AC is not widely available and when so, not very efficient, with AC on in the hotel you would still be hot. For over a week in China i have not seen the sun once. I traveled to different places but always the sky is the same: Grey. I do not know if that's clouds or fog or pollution. Maybe a mix of all three! and in Shanghai it was also humid.
-China is a very not Muslim-Friendly country, statistics say that there are 20 000 000 Muslims in China nearly, although the number is huge, it still is only 1% of the population and apparently a very small part of them live in Shanghai and Hangzou where I mostly spent my time, in Shanghai I asked 2 of the 3 companies to try to find us a Halal restaurant when they invited us for dinner, they looked at me and said:" ..em...khalal?!" They honestly did not know what that means. Neither did it help to say "Muslim Food" They did not know what Muslim is either. Some of them do after some explanation though. In general China is very cheap if you go to local areas but rather expensive for touristic areas and goods unless you know how to bargain. You can find something to eat for few RMBs in local areas, ($1 = 6 RMB) approx, when we went to the two halal restaurants in town, one Lebanese and one Irani, each of them charged us about $300 for a meal for four. Talk about exploiting religion to make money! In general if you travel to China you would starve, food smells and looks strange, in Huangzhou they have a saying: "We eat anything that runs on the ground except a car, anything flies in the sky expect a plane and anything that swims except a ship." Enough said. Oh hotels are cheap though, we stayed in this really really nice 5 stars hotel in some town, and I mean really nice with 29 floors and sea view, we payed about $80 per night.
-Very difficult to find someone speaking English, road signs are sometimes in both local language and English, but everything in the machines used to buy tickets for the metro is in local language only which takes that out as a transportation option, what a shame, its vast and fast, clean and efficient. Bullet train is amazing though, goes like a bullet and you can easily book it as most of the offices that sell tickets speak English. It's a great way to go around cities, super fast, affordable, and these bullet trains, which are called Harmony Trains, run on such high bridges that you can take amazing photos all around while flying at 300km/h.
-Chinese babies are SO cute.
-For a reason I do not understand, China is full of VW cars, nearly all Taxis as VW and so many private cars too. Buick also out of all cars is astonishingly common, I do not remember seeing a Buick since I left Iraq in 2005, I have no idea why are they in production in such huge numbers in Chine.
-Traffic is not bad. For real. In many areas there isn't traffic at all even, and the few times we were caught in traffic it wasn't much worse than it is in Amman in peak times. But I am not sure about that as we spent most our time in meetings, maybe i missed their peak hours!
-After a week the withdrawal symptoms of being away of bread and facebook start to fade away and you start to believe that you are not going to die and that you can actually make it back home.
- I went to buy gifts for the family, went to this mall, found nearly all shops closed which is strange, shortly after people started to approach us and ask if we want bags, they would open the shop secretly for us, turned out police has been arresting people for buying smuggled/fake products and everyone is scared, they refused to let my Chinese friend accompany me they thought he was a cup, they said I should come alone, I said maybe you would kill me if I come alone bring the bags here we will wait, they refused, it was getting more worrying by the moment, I said I would go alone if my friend would stand at the end of the hallway and see where I was going, they agreed, I walked with them and they opened a shop and let me in very cautiously and then closed the shop, the person with me pushed one of the shelves racks and a secret door opened leading us to another room, pushed a shelf again and a new secret door opened inside the secret room to reveal a selection of Louis Vuitton, Burberry and Chanel bags. I wanted four, the initial asking price was $800 or so, I ended up buying them for about $80. We also bought silk, all legal and in the open though, and silk is beautiful and comes in all shiny colors, depending on the quality it ranges from 15-50 USD per meter length. Do not buy from Shanghai though it's much more expensive there, the real silk market is in Huangzhou.
-At one occasion our Chinese friends had a small laugh among them while we were eating, I asked them what's funny and they said I was eating in the ashtray and putting bones in the eating dish. Honestly they all look alike and there is no way you can tell. DISHES that is, not people, you blistering idiot! :)