22 January 2006
We really had a wonderful time in China. We didn't have much time because we had to squeeze the trip between semesters. We also had to cut a few days off because the visas weren't quite ready in time. We didn't do any traveling around western China, but we very much hope to be able to go there before we leave Kyrgyzstan.
We spent our time in Beijing and Xi'an. Beijing was rather crowded and things didn't go very smoothly there. They are building several subway lines that will be ready just in time for the Olympics. That will be a big help. If we go back to Beijing, I'd go in the winter again after the Olympics.
We loved Xi'an. More on that another day.
We're seriously out of practice with bargaining. We were good at it in the Middle East, but it's been nearly 10 years since we were there. People do bargain in Kyrgyzstan, but not nearly to the same extent. For example, when I bought five pairs of pants for the babies at 35 som each, my Kyrgyz friend had the seller take 5 som off the total price. It's hardly worth bargaining here because so many things are quite inexpensive. We also know a lot of people we are buying from now and I know none of them are well off. That 5 som, or even 100 som, means a lot more to them than it does to me.
But in China! They will quote you an outrageous price and you have to bargain. I'll generally tell them how much I'll pay, show them the money, and leave if they're not interested. I just don't like to play the game anymore. I think that could partly be because I have little children who aren't interested in shopping.
It was interesting comparing flying habits of Central Asians and the Chinese. Central Asians will jump out of their seats as soon as the plane lands and make a dash for the exit. Chinese will wait till the plane has stopped. Chinese are also much less likely to bring shopping bags on board and have actual luggage. I have to say it was much more pleasant flying with Chinese than Central Asians.
We were on a good airline all over the country. I don't have terribly high expectations when it comes to airlines, so someone else might not have been impressed with the airline. But I'm happy when you get a decent meal and several opportunities to get something to drink, even on a flight that's only 90 minutes.
I am sure my impressions of China were different because I was going there after living in Bishkek for several months instead of straight from the US. It seemed like everything was there. Certainly there are many, many people who are very poor in China, but there are also many people who are middle class and reasonably well off. It was very different from Kyrgyzstan.
The boys weren't ready for all the attention they got. People ignore us in Bishkek, or they discreetly look at us. Not so in China. My younger son in particular had people coming up to him and talking to him, asking to take their pictures with him, and in general paying him much more attention than he cared for.
There were so many fruits and vegetables available! Some things were much cheaper than Kyrgyzstan. For example, my husband bought an apple and an banana for 1 yuan. In Kyrgyzstan the same thing would cost nearly the equivalent of 6 yuan. Bananas are quite expensive here. When I went to my little market yesterday and saw the paltry amount of produce, it was sad.
There was plenty of tandoor bread in Urumqi (where we just stayed overnight) and Xi'an. It was very good. It would be interesting to learn more about flatbread in China.
We didn't eat much street food this time. The trip was so short that I didn't want to spend any of it sick, and I didn't want the boys to get sick. My younger son has had trouble with the food. But we'd probably have been fine after Kyrgyzstan.
This was the first time we'd gone somewhere that we really didn't know any of the language. We both knew some Russian when we got here and that made a big difference. I literally don't know how expats who don't learn the language can stand it. It was inconvenient to not be able to say anything besides thank you. I am interested in learning some Chinese now.
There's lots more to say, but I'll save it.