There are some days that I love interacting with Chinese people. There are other days when I want to tear my hair out with frustration.
What I love about them is that they are always very helpful when you are in serious distress. At least this is the experience that I have. I got terribly lost my first night in Guilin. It was dark and I was wondering the beautifully lit river without paying attention much to how to get back to my hostel. I wandered around with my poor map for a bit until eventually a nice Chinese woman asked if I needed help. As soon as she aw how far I had to go she insisted her teenage son take me back on his motor bike. So, picture me, simple math teacher clinging to a Chinese boy for dear life as I whizzed through the neon lit streets of Guilin. The wind was whipping in my hair as I caught a glimpse of this “night city” flashing before my eyes. The Chinese boy was laughing the whole time about the ridiculousness of it all, but I think I perhaps may have made that boy’s night.
Another example of helping a girl in need would be the not one, but two times I got a flat tire riding a bike in Yangshou. In both cases I was able to go to some random shack and ask whoever was inside to help me out. They even insisted I sit and relax while they fixed it. Thanks to some serious observation, I think I can now say that I could fix another flat Chinese-style.
In general I find the people to be quite friendly as well. In Guilin I shared a dorm with three other giggling Chinese young women who wanted to constantly practice their English with me. I befriended one of them. She was so excited I was traveling on my own because that meant I could spend the day with her! Her name was Chen Xiao and she was barely four feet tall. She wore the cutest hat and her hair was in long, Pocahontis-like braids. She didn’t look a day over 19, but turned out to be close to 30! She helped me figure out the bus, tried to negotiate down our entrance fee to the park we visited and even helped me bargain down a pair of flip flops I wanted to buy ($1.50 not bad!) On a side note, I would like to state that my size 8 feet at home were far too big here for girl’s flip flops and I had to buy a pair of boy’s ones. Who feels like a giant now? Chen patiently waited as I was asked twice by Chinese teenage boys to pose in pictures with them. She was upset I had already booked my trip to Yangshou with my hostel - arguing that she could have gotten us there cheaper. Her English was very broken but I could still tell that deep down she was one of the most genuine people I had ever met. She did tell me about how the one-child policy affects her and others- how close she feels with her family and how the Chinese people really want to explore their country instead of the rest of the world. How different from the western mentality! I am so thankful for the time I got to spend with her and wish I could repay her kindness somehow. All I could offer was my company, and I hope that it was enough.
But the some Chinese people can be so damn annoying too. I have been constantly heckled and harassed to buy random souvenirs as I walk down the street. They will first try to get your attention by saying “hello” and then repeat over and over again what they are trying to sell. Saying “no thank you” once, twice, three times doesn’t seem to convey the message that you are not interested. Ignoring usually works over time but some of them just do not let up. They will come right up to you as you are eating in restaurants. I have now been asked 15 times if I would like to buy Inception on DVD. I have been asked 25 times if I would like to buy some postcards. I have been asked 7 times if I would like to buy a Rolex watch. I will be having a conversation with someone and they will just come right up, interrupt you and try to sell their stuff.
One example: Yesterday I climbed to the top of a mountain called “moon hill” in Yangshou with two Dutch girls I met at my hostel. At the base of the mountain we were confronted by a little old Chinese lady carrying a cooler and trying to get us to buy coca cola and water. We sad no…like ten times. She then followed us up all 260 something steep steps to the top of the mountain. She fanned us as we struggled with the high humidity and sweat all over our bodies. She pointed out the right ways for us to go. You appreciate the kindness, but you know they are doing it just to try to get you to buy something. At the top she tried again to get us to buy her things. I can’t even imagine how many times a day she makes this climb with her cooler. She then waited for us as we did a steeper climb on the side of the mountain and then proceeded to ask us again as we came down.
Another example: Today I took a bus to a small town called Xingping for what I was hoping was going to be a quiet walk along the Li river. As soon as I stepped off the bus a woman started to harass me to take a bamboo raft ride. I politely told her no a few times. I also told her that I had already done the ride a few days ago so there was no possibility she was going to get a sale out of me. She either did not understand or chose not to. She followed me during my entire hour-long walk. She would not leave me alone. Every time I stopped to rest, take a photo or have a drink of water she was right in my face, persistent about that bamboo raft. I tried ignoring, I tried yelling. She only stopped when another woman came along and started to ask me for the same thing. Now I had a new woman who followed me for about a half hour. Eventually I just gave up and got on the bus back to Yangshou. I’ve really had enough.
The more I get harassed, the more I don’t want to buy anything from the people. I’m pretty sure I am not the only Westerner who feels this way. This has been going on since Beijing, but it is just starting to get really old. I wonder though - some people have got to be buying their stuff because otherwise I don’t think they would keep doing it. I wonder how many people give them money just to get them to go away. I refuse to out of principal though. I just want to be a tourist in peace! I have been told that India is even worse than China. Someday I will go there and will be prepared, but until then I am looking for some peace when I leave this country.