11-21 Some thoughts about China

It is hard to make sense about China

Thoughts about China

Introduction

After traveling through China, and Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia before entering China, I’ve experienced China in a way that has affected me deeply, and permanently. So, I wanted to share some of these thoughts, in the hopes that it will affect anyone that might be planning a trip to China.

My Background

Politically, I’m very progressive, and I don’t share many of the views of those that identify as conservatives, but the comments that I make in this post, should be detached from any political point of view, but instead they should represent the views of an American Citizen, who visited China, and entered China from Kyrgyzstan.

Oppression of thought and idea

Perhaps the most important thing that I could say about China is that they oppress their citizens by restricting access to most forms of news and social media, which does not originate in China. For example, the following sources were blocked when connected to the Internet in China.

  • Google & Google Maps & Google Images
  • YouTube
  • Yahoo
  • CNN
  • NBC News
  • MSNBC
  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • WhatsApp
  • ExpressVPN (Tunnell protocols were blocked, website was blocked, VPN servers were blocked)
  • NordVPN (Tunnell protocols were blocked, website was blocked, VPN servers were blocked)

Many more services were also blocked, but this list is representative, and it should show that the Chinese government does not wish for their citizens to have access to other points of view, which are against their objectives.

Over the 31 days in China, I did manage to have several conversations with some Chinese Nationals who spoke frankly about this problem, but these conversations were rare.

Constant validation of “your right to be here”

From the moment we entered China, from Kyrgyzstan, we were challenged for our passport, and other travel documents. Sometimes, we’d be asked to show our passport at up to 6 different traffic stops, in a given day.

These traffic stops not only affected us, but also every other individual who crossed through these same security stops. So, the Chinese citizens in this part of China are treated like a threat, where their identity needs to be validated numerous times each day.

Try to imagine if the US Government began checking passports across the whole of the US. It would likely be outrageous for you to see or know of this type of security check, but in China, it is commonplace.

Nothing is ever right

I traveled across China, logging about 4000 miles from entry to exit. Over that time period, our Tour Operator and our local tour partners selected hotels for us which are generally described as “Western Hotels”. That is not to say that they are built solely for the purpose of providing lodging to Westerners, but it does imply that Westerners will find these hotels more likely to be able to communicate in English, and who will provide services which are expected by Westerners.

And so, visiting these hotels, I often found them to be part of large International chains, such as Intercontinental, and others. I’ve decided not to judge the hotels based on their breakfast offering, but instead, I tried to find a small subset of capabilities that I examined in each hotel room, to determine if the “room was working properly”. Specifically, I expected the following things to always be working properly.

  • A shower that drains properly, and does not overflow onto the floor, over the course of a 5-10 minute shower
  • A sink that drains properly, and does not backup when pouring drinks, such as coffee into it.
  • A toilet that flushes properly without needing a plunger
  • A telephone that operates and call the front desk easily
  • Internet access which connects quickly, and offers reasonably fast Internet service. (I don’t expect blazing fast speeds, just reasonably fast connectivity).

What I discovered, is that, over the course of 31 days in China, I did not find one hotel where it was able to meet these 5 simple expectations. Imagine that, 31 days, approximately 25 hotels, and not one of them was fully functional. That’s absurd, especially when you consider that each time the shower overflows, it will be obvious to the cleaning staff, so in order for this to happen every day, the cleaning staff would need to actively ignore the problem, each and every day.

Hard to believe, right?

Healthcare system

The healthcare system in China needs to be judged across three sets of judgement points.

  1. Cost
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Ability to resolve medical issues

While in China, I contracted food poisoning, and after 2 days of suffering, I eventually needed to be transported by ambulance to the local hotel. So, the statements that I make, were made as a casual observer, and also as a patient.

Cost

After entering the Emergency area of the hospital, I was almost immediately asked for payment for the services I would receive. In fact, prior to the hospital providing any services, I was asked to pay first. I had help from our Chinese guide, and between the two of us, we had enough cash to always fulfill the payment request.

I must however say that the entire event, which included 3 sets of x-rays, intubation, an enema, several IV solutions for pain, and replenishment, and occupying an ER bed for 16 hours, were all delivered to me for about $250/USD. These same services, offered at any hospital in the US would have likely cost thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars. So, the pricing is certainly favorable. However…

Cleanliness

I was shocked at how dirty the hospital was overall. First of all, the bathrooms were filthy and disgusting. And while the ER room itself was pretty clean, when it came time to address the logical outcome of the enema, I was asked to sit on a dirty garbage can, and discharge my excrement into the can.

I couldn’t imagine that they wouldn’t have given me a bed pan, or a clean garbage can to use, so seeing the filthy can was a bit unnerving. But, I was not really in a position to object.

Ability to resolve medical issues

I am not a doctor, so my thoughts on the efficacy of their care is entire anecdotal, and not grounded in medical training. That said, it seemed to me that the Dr. that was treating me on Sunday evening was both a poor communicator, and someone who was not reading the symptoms correctly, nor was he diagnosing the problem correctly.

You see, from the minute that I arrived at the hospital, I had made recommendations that an enema might help to resolve the problem, but I was ignored, and it was not until 8AM the following morning that I received the enema.

Modern training, and modern machines

This hotel had a number of machines that seemed to be fairly well up to date, but whenever I’ve been in a US hospital, I’ve always been connected to a digital monitor, which tracked numerous vital signs, and had warning sounds broadcast when something goes wrong. In this Chinese hospital, no such machines were visible.

Patient comfort does mot matter

And incidentally, it also appears that, in general, the patient of the patient does not seem to matter to the staff. For example, when another ER patient made it clear that she needed to visit the bathroom, she was told that the bathroom was down the hall, on the left.

This woman was clearly in pain, and would have great difficulty walking, but she was still sent to the bathroom, on her own. As it turned out, there was a man with her, who helped her, but at no time was she provided a wheelchair, or any other aid.

In my case, when I motioned that I would need to visit the bathroom, I was also told where the bathroom was, and I discovered that the toilet was the type of toilet that is typically called a squat toilet, rather than a western toilet, which is the type that you sit on, rather than squat over.

In my case, I had an IV inserted in my hand, and I would need to roll the IV holder down the hallway, open the door to the squat toilet, and then try to do my business with all of this going on.

I found this request to be impossible, and I was able to find a western toilet, which was much more to my liking.

Hospitals allow smoking and have ashtrays.  They sell like smoke

It was hard for me to believe, but the hospital not only allowed smoking, but provided ash trays in all the key areas, seemingly encouraging visitors, doctors and patients to smoke.

Follow the rules, don’t think

Everywhere I looked in China, and whenever I had a conversation about a topic that I was bewildered by, I found that my Chinese counterpart would provide me with a policy or rule to explain things, but I rarely, if ever, found service providers or citizens who applied any thinking to solve a problem.

Littering

I never saw anyone in China throwing litter from their cars, or motorcycles or scooters, but yet, much of China is covered with paper, and litter. In fact, in most small towns or cities, you’ll see piles of trash, and I did not see any intention to remove them or address them in any ways.

It’s also very hard to find a trash can into which I could toss my trash. AFter a while, and after looking for a trashcan in almost every place we stopped for lunch, I began to give up, and either give my trash to a store owner or a restaurant owner.

I didn’t have the heart to throw it on the ground, so I couldn’t give up, but always giving my trash to someone else didn’t quite feel right to me.

Appearance is the most important thing

As I noted earlier, I did not find one single hotel that had the 5 critical indicators working properly. So, it is clear to me that these hotels do not have a way of tracking work to be done, or reporting defects.

Yet, at the same time, we would find men and women, whose job it was to sweep the side of the road, in remote areas, sometimes 25 miles or more from the nearest city or town. So, try to imagine that there is someone assigned to sweeping the side of the road, in the middle of the woods, 25 miles from a city or town.

To me, this looks like an attempt to keep unemployment low, and to try to have every adult assigned work, which delivers a monthly salary. It seems that this approach is a choice of the government, and while it seems wrong to me, more than anything, I wish that the government would at least recognize the importance of solving obvious problems, rather than simply having people perform some job, even if the work is not needed.

Excellent fruits and veggies

Throughout all of China, I was continually impressed with the variety and quality of the fruit that we received. It was great to have such high-quality, and great tasting fruit available to us, each morning at breakfast.

Very low unemployment

I’m told that China has very low unemployment. I’m also told that the base monthly rate of payment, for virtually every Chinese citizen is 2800 Juan, which is about $400 USD/Month. So, it seems that the Chinese government has chosen to maintain a full workforce, even if the wage is fairly low.

I’m not sure exactly how to process this bit of information. I can clearly see advantages of having the lowest possible unemployment rate, but hiring people to perform jobs and roles which provide nothing meaningful, goes against my capitalize ideals and objectives. Nevertheless, this decision is entirely up to the government of China to make.

Chinese roads through the mountains

The roads that we traveled on, as we rode through the mountains, over mountain passes, through rain forests, and across the flat-lands, were all fantastic roads for a motorcycle journey. The fact that many of these roads had pot holes, mud, dirt, or sand does not bother me, and it makes the trip that much more interesting. So, certainly the roads of China are, to a motorcyclist, were one of the greatest virtues of this country.

Conclusion

Well, I’ve written quite a bit about China, but there is certainly much more that I have not written, so perhaps my conclusions don’t seem grounded to you, or perhaps they do.

For me, I had hoped to provide the reader with a view into how China operates, and how they treat their people, and visitors.

About the Author

Cliff Musante

Cliff Musante is a technologist, business leader, motorcycle enthusiast, father, grandfather, and more. In June, 2013 his passion for motorcycles was revitalized, and he set out to ride across Patagonia. Since then, he's logged thousands of miles, ridden across the US, and on July 10, 2019, he began a 120 day trip through Europe, and then on to Russia, China, and parts East. This 'Blog is the story of all of his adventures.

Comments

  1. Thank you for the insight and your observations. I am glad you let us travel with you but glad you are back home and look forward to seeing you soon.

    1. Hey KB,
      I’m looking forward to coming down to say hello to you two, but it might need to wait until after the new year. In any case, thanks for all your support.
      Cliff

      1. Hi Madeline,
        It’s been great having another part of the family riding along with me. You’ve been a great ambassador from the Midwest.
        thanks again,
        Cliff

  2. Nice to hear your thoughts, Cliff. Quite a journey! As I read this I kept reminding myself that China is still emerging into the 21st century. If you think about our own journey as a country, we also had a pretty primitive infrastructure to begin with. Time will tell how they evolve as a country and a culture.

    1. Leslie,
      You make an excellent point. China is still emerging, but at the same time, they are a financial and political powerhouse, and it seems that they are very much interested in staying there, even if they have to oppress their people to do it. Nevertheless, it is always good to get a point of view, like yours, that causes one to take a pause, and think some more.
      thanks

    1. Thanks Paul,
      I’m sure there is much more good in China, but I kind of ran out of time as I wrote the post, so many of the irritating aspects of China came out. That said, the people that we met were usually really, really nice to us, and they loved the fact that we were visiting their country.

  3. Cliff,
    Unfortunately, I am one of those semi conservative people, and I have spent as much time in China as yourself. I try to not shut myself off to other views socially or politically “progressive” or otherwise. As you run through your gripes, I find myself understanding the Chinese way on many of those points. I would take some disagreements in the criticizing of the government and the people that run the hotels etc. China is a country that shifted to a capitalistic mode from the dark ages only 40-50 years ago. As we put ourselves into other cultures, we cannot expect them to reach our “superior” ways and views at the speed of our enlightenment. Good story, I have enjoyed being part of your adventures.

    1. Hi Mark,
      Thanks for your comments. Perhaps I was not clear in my statements, but what I was suggesting is that while China is on a continuum, as it relates to some of the evolution of their society, it is undeniable that they have chosen to restrict access to the Internet for their citizens, and they have chosen to focus on building new things, rather than maintaining the old. I would be surprised if it’s a coincidence that none of the hotels was 100% operational when I visited them. The idea that they don’t make sure that the toilets flush, or that the shower drains seem to me, to be tied to a lack of operational processes rather than simply still being in their evolution cycle to become a 1st world country. I mean, we’re talking about big hotel chains, where the hotel still has all of the problems that I noted.
      But, I realize that you’ve probably traveled more extensively than I have, and you have a different point of view, and it is these diverse points of view that allow people to consider what I’ve written and take away what they think is valuable, provocative, insightful, or otherwise.
      thanks for taking the time to post a response.
      Best,
      Cliff

  4. I have traveled in both rural and urban China and I would like to second Cliff’s observations. I remember fancy hotels with marble floors and yet the faucet in the bathtub in my room was installed pointed up, not down. How does that happen? How does it never get fixed?

    I liked the Chinese people very much. I also noticed in major cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing the level of maintenance of existing structures and the prevalence of Western toilets was much better. Not great, but better.

    Marc

    1. Marc makes a few very interesting points. When I wrote the post, I did not mean it to be an indictment of China, but I needed some way to express all of the frustration that I experienced, while traveling through China, especially considering that it was much worse than I expected. But, let’s unpack Marc’s statements.
      Yes, it’s quite odd that you see things like a faucet that is facing the wrong direction, or hot and cold faucets which are inconsistently placed when you compare the sink and the shower, or a myriad of other things, that are simply done wrong, and have never been corrected.
      Finally, my experience did not take into account Beijing, or Shanghai, as I did not visit them. But, in the rural regions, it seems that the government is really concerned about letting an uprising take hold, and they work very hard to keep any potential uprising down, before it ever starts.
      Thanks Marc

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