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This article doesn't really have anything to do with software, except that it documents the recent experiences of a programmer. And it's an interesting diversion...

[Publisher's Note: This is a tongue-in-cheek look at someone's trip to China. It contains humour and (gosh) opinions and observations, but there's definitely no malice intended - please take this article in the light-hearted way that it's intended!]

[Publisher's Note #2: This article is now available in German! ]

A Programmer In China

By Dino Fancellu
October 30, 2002

I recently married a nice Chinese girl. We then travelled to China, partly to visit her family and friends, but also to do some sight-seeing, and to be tourists for a few weeks. This article sums up my experiences during this trip.

The trip began, logically enough, with the flight, via Virgin Airlines. It was a twelve hour trip - a long time to be couped up. The seatback had a little screen with which I could watch several films. Not bad.

Got to Hong Kong. Hot, humid and stinky (Hong Kong that is - although I was probably much the same after the flight).

The girls there were quite ugly; the men tiny and small framed. In fact they were like nothing you've seen before. I saw one guy with a waist 9 inches across. This is not an exaggeration. I could have picked him up by the belt with one hand. I decided not to though.

Noticeably, there were very very few fat people.

The hotel room had a net connection. Not bad. I plugged in the laptop. I was whole again.

I didn't like the food very much. Cantonese food is rather bland, and rather fish based. I don't like fishy things.

The traffic is on the left, just like the UK.

Not all of it, obviously.

Two days later we went to Shenzhen. The girls there were better looking, and the food a lot nicer. Lots of Schezuan, Hunan food. Hot and spicy. Also damn cheap, e.g. good meal for 7 was £11 UKP. The beer's cheap as well, 750ml bottle for 20p. Good stuff too.

Luckily, it was easy to get onto the net via phone, which gave me a nice solid 56K link. Finding an Internet café was also not too hard. Less than 30p for an hour.

Shenzen has lots and lots of building going on. Even without the building work, Shenzen is very noisy! People in the Internet cafés were playing streaming video FULL BLAST. They obviously have no concept of 'other people'.

One night, for some reason we went to a nightclub. Horrendous. Loud, loud, and very loud.

Unlike the UK, and Hong Kong, the traffic is on the right. Also on the left. And in the middle. Complete chaos.

No one wears seat belts. Pedestrians truly believe that if they don't see you they won't get hit. No joke. I heard about a guy who got run over, and afterwards his friends said they couldn't believe it, as "he didn't even see the car".

The vehicles seem happy to jump red lights, run you over when you cross the road at a pedestrian crossing etc.

Constant use of car horns. Even just to say "I'm here, please don't do a sudden 90-degree turn or lane change". No use of indicators, of course.

The bikes seem happy to use any flat surface to travel: against the incoming traffic is just fine.

Bikes love to travel down the middle of the road, unlike our ones which normally stick to the side of the road. Bikes also love to travel three abreast, as there's nothing like a good chit-chat when you're blocking traffic. Bikes will also have no lights of any kind, so operate in stealth mode come night time.

Motorbikes - the usual; driver, 2 passengers side-saddle, not a lid between them. Otherwise just like bicycles.

Shenzen is a city that grew out of the rice paddies

And the cars have an almost pathlogical love of lane straddling. It doesn't matter if there's a tonne of cars around you, or no one, they stick to lane markings as if they were grade A cocaine. Maybe they think they're trams, and they'll fall off the road if they don't have a road marking underneath their wheels. Needless to say, this doesn't help the flow of traffic either.

Motorways in and near Shenzen are unfettered by old-fashioned nonsense such as "road safety". People walk on motorways. People park on motorways. People ride bicycles on motorways. Car drivers happily reverse down motorways etc. I was awed by this progressive, "agile" interpretation of road rules.

Basically there seems to be an agreement to be 100% selfish, and to expect the same of everyone else.

People were spitting on the pavement, even pissing on the pavement. Children ran around naked. We walked past a restaurant that had a dead dog cut in half hung outside. The dog was the menu.

A few days later we went to Xian. Very dry and dusty. Much cooler. Not humid at all. Dusty dusty dusty.

Internet café at 10p an hour. Hurrah! This was lucky, because the hotel room didn't have proper net access. Their phone line mustered up a sucky 22K link.

Many places in Xian have no pedestrian crossings. The accepted way to cross the road is to simply fling yourself across and hope for the best. Lovely.

We saw the Terracotta warriors. Didn't frighten me. On the trip we travelled by bus. The guide's English was interesting. Near perfect grammar combined with one of the oddest accents I'd ever heard. Its seemed a mix of Chinese, American, and some mystery ingredient I couldn't put my finger on. Even Jenny pissed herself laughing. For lunch we were taken to a Chinese restaurant for what was described as "Jarniz Lange". I couldn't help but agree, as it certainly wasn't any Chinese food I was familiar with. Basically it was roapy old garbage, which the guide decided not to eat. Surprise surprise.

A street in Xian

After Xian, we went to Shanghai. On the way to the airport, the road was blocked. By a big mound of earth. Some men had dumped earth on the road so you couldn't get past. Loads of ner'do wells hovered about on motorbikes looking both shifty and scruffy. We had to get out and clamber onto a tiny little motorized cart, which was (conveniently) placed on the other side of the earth mound.

No police where present. Imagine someone doing that on the road to Heathrow Airport, or JFK. I think someone would notice. Obviously we were being shaken down.

So we went down this incredibly bumpy road, holding on for dear life, i.e. the shaking continued. We arrived a couple of minutes later at the airport. Surprise surprise, the bloke in the cart demanded money from us. So we just walked away. Ho ho.

The weather in Shanghai was more humid than Xian, but less than Hong Kong. The traffic was also much better, but still mad.

The food was very nice. The tables next to us were very loud, with lots of drinking and shouting. Like peasants on a day trip. I had to elbow one person in the arse when he thought it a good idea to sit on our table. Bizarre.

The hotel room (Hotel Equatorial) was very nice.

Suprisingly I never got sick once, which is odd considering all the foreign germs I was exposed to.

The toilets are often still holes in the ground. At many public toilets, in places like McDonalds and KFC, you will find no toilet paper. This is not a mistake. It is policy. They think that people will steal the paper. So make sure to always carry tissues with you.

Also, don't try to buy dental floss, its almost unknown.

And, as a minor minor minor point, forget about your credit cards. Most places in China will look at you as if you are mad if you try to buy with a card. And forget the ATMs, they will probably not work either. Their computers tend not to talk to ours.

As a very useful tip: To get money in China take your passport and credit card to the bank. You should then be able to get local currency. Otherwise you'll end up eating gravel and crying.

Chinese food in China is very different from that in the UK. They are into having bones in their meat, and love fat and gristle. No crispy duck. They have their own version, not really crispy.

It's very hard to get sweet and sour spare ribs. Often you'll get 1 inch sections of bone coated with fat. Yum.

In the UK our food will come from many provinces, and of course be altered to our tastes. In China, restaurants seem to focus on one province, so often will not have UK staples like Sweet and Sour XXX, Lemon Chicken, Noodles (Yep, many places will only do soup noodles or dumplings), Hot and Sour soup.

Cantonese food will often contain seafood, even if it doesn't say on the menu, even if you specifically ask for it to be left out.

The best dishes from my perspective seem to be Schezuan and Hunan. Kung Po chicken should have no bones, thankfully. Deboned dishes a bit more expensive than other boned dishes. Beef with black bean sauce was very nice in Shanghai. We went to the Lulu restaurant (they have four in Shanghai). Very good food. However, the quality of chicken seems to be lower than that in the UK. If you don't want bones you'd do well to stick to pork.

They like to make meat pieces very small, i.e. in the UK a piece of pork/chicken will be bite size. In China it tends to be the size of a pea. It's also very rare to get button mushrooms, bell peppers, spring onions.

Shenzen again

After Shanghai, we came back to Shenzhen. Some people (about eight) tried to pick my pocket. Me not pleased. I said to Jenny, "Some cheeky fucker's trying to pick my pocket!" and adopted my "fuck off" pose. They looked nonplussed, no doubt by my "2 Smoking Barrels" patois, and scuttled off. I was rather tipped off by two people ahead of us walking very slowly, slowing us down, and pretending to talk on their mobiles rather loudly with elbows juttling wildly. Beware. Damn Chinee!

Had more nice food. Went home. Plane had on-demand video system. Cool. Watched Men in Black II (ok) and a brilliant film called Undercover Brother.

Just over a year later, Dino returned to China for a second attempt. Read his second report here!

Talkback (This forum is now closed)

Message archive (page 1 - older)

Message archive (page 2 - newer)

Message Index

nice article. It wouldn't put me off visiting China. ...

Bad manners is bad everywhere

Rick Chen

Another Question
Rick Chen

stop traveling

Shen Zhen

The Messages

nice article. It wouldn't put me off visiting China.

Tue May 06 20:43:44 GMT 2003
Bad manners is bad everywhere
It's true there is still a huge gap between the China cities and the western world in almost every aspect: cleanliness, hygiene, social grace, civic responsibility etc. Much of it is because the Chinese economy jumped from third world to developing in just 10 years and most of the urban population are still peasants at heart -- you can take the peasant out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the peasant. I am an ethnic Chinese living in the West and the bad manners bother the hell out of me too. Bad manners is bad manners, pure and simple, not "cultural diversity".
Asia, Asia

Thu Jun 12 11:12:20 GMT 2003
I totally agree! When I first came to the states, all I wanted to do was go back to China.

But after a few years, I'm telling you, I'm addicted to white chicks. In fact all my girlfriends since I've been here are white. Sure, I may be somewhat racist, but my dick sure aint!

Rick Chen
Michigan, USA

Sun Jun 15 04:13:38 GMT 2003
Another Question
what a riot! I was just reading the previous messages and I'm wondering, if a similar article (i.e. in the same tone) was written about blacks or jews, would you guys still be saying, "This is just a joke, chill!"

ahahaha, fear da chinks!!!

Rick Chen

Sun Jun 15 04:23:56 GMT 2003
stop traveling
if you can't appreciate other people looking different from you, you know "the ugly" people you ran into. and if you can't appreciate other cuisines, "the half dog" hanging in the restaurants, DON'T FU#$$k TRAVEL!!! it amazes me how closed minded people are about other cultures. and for you to post up your ignorance is even worse. go back to your clean computer cyberworld and stay there.
san jose, united states

Fri Jan 02 18:56:13 GMT 2004
Shen Zhen
You sure right about Shen Zhen girls.....I'm there 6 months of the year enjoying them....

Mon Jan 05 02:42:35 GMT 2004


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