Saturday, October 04, 2008

Tourism in China (a few comments)

Tourism in China is developing fast. The government intentionally got rid of 1 of the 3 week-long holidays and spread those days off around to make a few more 3 day weekends in order to encourage more distributed tourism (trust me, travelling during the week-long holidays is generally a nightmare). But it is 'tourism by car' and 'tourism by guide tours'. Public transport is a pain during these times as it is still a mad dash to buy train tickets (only on sale a few days early) and it is still not possible to buy return train tickets in China (ridiculous)!

With now 200 million or more people able to afford to take holidays (in addition to the 200 million migrant workers who use the holidays to travel home to see their families, which affects transport too), China is seeking to develop more 2nd, 3rd, 4th tier tourism sites. The top ones are packed and at over capacity. There are a few cases of some decent tourism management plans, but generally most sites and their surrounding areas explode organically from tourism related entrepreneurial activity.

As people like me try to seek an offbeat travel experience, exploring rural areas, minority groups, unexplored areas and so on, we find it harder and harder. And what right do we have to criticise when others wish to do the same as us?

Well, China is a big country, and there are plenty of bits of land left to explore and plenty of mountains in each of the mountain ranges apart from the 1 famous one that everyone dashes to.

This time we had to get a horrendously slow day-time train that took 9 hours. The most painful moment was watching the Chinese woman next to me throwing all her rubbish out the window of the train -she could not even be bothered to drop it on the floor, where the cleaner would pick it up! Once she missed throwing something out the window and it landed by me, so I left it on the floor whilst trying not to laugh as she gestured at me to throw is out the window. Oh dear; so typical, unfortunately, that a glimpse outside the window on any train will reveal litter strewn along the tracks in pristine countryside. What is remarkable is that these people on the train are educated; they are just, for reason unknown, deciding not to care.

Our seats were actually directly underneath a big sign that was hung width-wise across the carriage telling people not to smoke on the train. Others were smoking further down our carriage but, with the window open we survived. Well, until the last stop, when the guy next to us lit up. I was incredibly angry and asked him if he could read. He just looked bemused (or surprised that i was speaking chinese?) at the foreigner who dared to challenge his undeniable right to smoke. At the same time Chris (who i travelled with) was further down the carriage preparing to get off the train and chatting with another guy about how much he hated smoking. As Chris got off the train, the guy immediately lit up -and got another torrent of abuse from me as I passed by to disembark.

3 days later, as we got off the bus in Beijing I shared a taxi with 2 others to get from the bus station back into town and explicitly explained we would be splitting the taxi bill. I got out the taxi first a mile or two before the other two passengers and passed the taxi driver 20 RMB (a fair amount). He just looked at me like i was a loony. "39 RMB, 39 RMB -look" he said, pointing at the meter. "We are 3 people!" was all I said as I shoved the 20 in his hand and walked home.

Damn, sometimes i have to say, it is hard work living here.. language is always a problem to some extent; but more than that is the attitude some people here have. I am sure every foreigner in every country faces the same problems (racism, discrimination or whatever); what is striking here is that i find some (not all, of course) Chinese people think that as the same time as they have a right to treat foreigners like idiots/differently they believe they are the warmest, nicest, friendliest people. This is what frustrates me -I don't mind them treating us differently, but to think that they are not is what gets me.

This is enough for 1 post i think. In 4 years I have travelled a lot (Chris has travelled even more), going to almost every province and going to the popular places, the not-so-popular places and to just random villages or bits of countryside. I am by no means an expert, but could write more and more... I do just want to point out though, that with everything in life, and especially in China, making generalisations, though necessary in life, is very, very difficult. Here, especially, everything changes, everything is so big and diverse, generalisations are hard to make -but, ultimately, must be made!


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