• kewal sethi

impressions of china

impressions of china

i must describe the impressions of china visited in may  2014 before i forget it.

the first thing i can recollect is cleanliness. visited four cities besides hongkong. in none of them, waste could be discovered. the roads were clean and so were the shops.

there are public toilets on the roads and a number of them. neat and clean. the surprise was that they had indian style seats. in fact now i should call it sino indian style. in the hotels where we stayed, european style seats were there but for general public, the way side toilets were different. in the railway train also, the toilets were in that style though there was one western style also in each compartment.

the  english language newspapers were quite open. one of the articles was "the reactionary leader was quite capable'. it described the exploits of a warlord …….. who sided with kmt, communists and japanese in turn but always improving his  area xian which was transformed from sleepy agricultural economy to full fledged industrial economy in a short span.

the guides were quite open too. had heard stories about their being informers but anyway we were not staying in china, we were just visiting. but one could exchange tit bits about chinese economy and it did not appear that they were inhibited.

lot of construction activity in all the towns visited, even the smaller ones. high rise buildings coming up. there were plenty around all built up and obviously ready for occupancy. so why this hurry to have new ones. it was explained that all these, built and being built, were for the villagers who would be migrating to cities. and when they do come, they will have all the facilities – schools, hospitals, playgrounds and houses. no slums which will have to be regularized later. that is urban planning. maybe migration would also be planned but at least the foresight of requirements is there.

the traffic rule is keep to the right (except in hong kong where the british tradition carries on). on red light no one crosses them even at dead of night. in turning right or left, there is no rule that you cannot turn right on red signal. so the cars and the e rickshaws do it. in turning right, in such a case,  they do not bother about pedestrians crossing the road. they can look after themselves.

in getting drivers, those with knowledge of english cost more. a visit to great china wall meant 1400 yuans for english speaking driver while non english knowing driver cost 900 yuans. we chose the less costly one. to communicate with him, mobile was useful, rang up catherine - contact person at company arranging the driver – who would then talk to driver to relay the request. but the driver deputed was very helpful. through signs he could convey his information. guided us to the ticket office and assured us that he will meet us at a particular place.

going by the chinese characters (mostly girls) in indian movies, the impression was that chinese are very soft spoken conversing almost in whispers, all courtesy. but it was soon dispelled. they are as noisy as can be.

in one small town, stopped for souvenirs shopping. it was a market place, neat and clean but that was expected. what was not anticipated was sudden start of an orchestra. they were not professionals, only the local people. soon enough, some young people joined and began dancing impromptu. not a great dance but great expression of joy and satisfaction with life. it did not appear to be an irregular feature.

in one city, we went to a restaurant to get hot boiling water in order to mix our noodles (to save time and also money, we used these ready to eat noodles). the guide told us that it is not necessary and we would get at the airport but we could not believe her. even at the airport, we thought, it would be in a restaurant so why not here. we ordered coffee so as not to feel awkwardness in asking for hot water. later we found that hot boiling water was available at the airport freely (like water coolers in india). when we went by train, we found the hot boiling water there also. many of the chinese were also having their ready to eat noodles, needing just hot water.

lost the mobile on the taxi from the airport to hotel. had not noted the taxi number. so the hotel people could not help. would the taxi driver return it. he knew the place where we were. waited in vain. it did not happen. but otherwise the drivers were courteous. did not mind inconvenience. in one place reached at about ten in the night. city was good twenty five kilometers away. three hotels of similar names in one compound. landed at one but were told, it not the one we were booked in. went to the second where the booking was there but we had been upgraded to a better one. so on to the third. the two taxi drivers did not complain about all this driving around. just smiles.

need not describe the places visited – tourist spots all. well developed. well kept. guides available. also tape recorded guides – in different languages. get the instrument at entry point, return it a the exit point (which may be on the other side of the spot). and to the point commentary.

the development of tourist spots is really worthwhile. in a gorge, the only way to approach is by using the slide – you have seen them in the children' parks. the number of steps, so we were told, is 1350. so the slide it had to be. quite costly. provided leather seats to sit in and slide and return it at the other end. no deposits. after all you cannot pack it and get away with it.  return was walking along the narrow gorge – a good two kilometers by the side of the rivulet. in some places where the gorge became too narrow, bridge walk over the river was constructed. and when that did not suffice, a boat ride – all included in the entry ticket.(in between you could use a rope to slide – but at a cost – and for a small distance at a time – two such ropes). the taxi which brought us to one end was waiting at the other end.

at great china wall, the cable car to go up to the high point. then you walk down the steps (with some climbing also intervening) . at the other end you have the choice – the ropeway car or the slide.

at other point you have cliffs rising up maybe 600 feet or more from the surroundings. you can go up by lift which is inside the cliff to start it but which opens up to let you have a view of the surrounding area. walking down is easy, so you have that option and it is worth it.

in beiijing the local trains were crowded or not depending on the time of the day. in the rush hour, no pahle aap. same system – blue line, yellow line, violet line. did delhi metro adopt the same nomenclature. good thing in beijing they had the maps in english also. did not have to ask for help.

oh! the bargaining. we were warned about it beforehand but the extent still surprised us. at great china wall, just stopped to admire a piece of embroidery. asked for price and it was 700 yuans. turned away without a word and it became 500. same in the market. souvenirs at half the price first quoted and even that was not the end. the surprise was at the airport. thought there they will have fixed prices. still we bargained - a piece quoted at 750 yuans and was brought down to 500. the flight was announced and i nudged others to hurry up. finally the thing was bought for 450.

travelled by rail. the train was bullet train. from xian to beijing. we got down at second station. 380 kilometers in 100 minutes. to beijing (1183 kilometers)  in five hours 35 minutes.  comfortable journey. no jerks which we get in shatabdi. 


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