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I have been living in China three years now. During this time I have had the opportunity to observe the Chinese people going about their daily lives. I am struggling with the fact that I don’t yet speak Chinese. For some people, learning a language is like learning any subject. Unfortunately for me, learning Chinese is a frustrating procedure. But in my defense it is also a frustrating language to learn. When I go out and try some words, people don’t understand me. While pronouncing words is difficult in itself, there is also the fact that the local dialog spoken in Kunming is different from Mandarin. I expect at some point I will reach a threshold where I can say enough words where they will be able to understand me. My American friends tell me patience is the key to grasping Chinese.

In any case I have been here long enough to see things I am trying to understand. From my observations, I came up with the theory that the Chinese in general are in a new era, what I call, “de-evolution”. Let me explain.

The Chinese gave the world the most amazing technologies history has ever seen. They invented the compass, gunpowder, kites, paper, printing press, seismograph, ink, chopsticks, umbrellas, astrology, the planetarium, fans, hot air balloon, animal harness, rockets, bombs, books, medicines, the abacus, the mechanical clock, the crossbow, playing cards, silk, Porcelain, wheelbarrow, ice cream, suspension bridge, pasta, paddlewheel boats, natural gas deep drilling, the blast furnace, toilet paper, the newspaper, parachutes, zoos, decimal system, binomial mathematics, and they even invented the “zero” for Christ’s sake!

These things have changed the entire course of history in the world. They are also one of the oldest civilizations in history. Going strong after 5000 years. One could say that the Chinese must be very smart people. With all the great things China has given the world, I can only ask, “What the hell is going on here now?” So herein lies the source of my confusion.

As I observe the Chinese going about their daily lives, logic and common sense are nowhere to be found. At first I just thought Chinese are just a vastly different culture than us Westerners. While this is true to some extent, there appears to be more to it. They do things that fly in the face of everyday common sense. There are some examples.


Crossing the street Most often they simply do not bother look for oncoming cars, or, they will only look right when they cross. They never look left which is the primary direction of oncoming traffic. The result being that they step right in front of a car! Instead of jumping out of the way, they just freeze and do not move. Same reaction as a deer caught in your headlights. This happens all the time. It is more the norm than the exception. I think that in their minds they believe that if they don’t see a car, it is not there. So, how could one see a car if he never looks in the first place? You see…..very different logic used here. Sidewalks are rarely used. They usually walk in the street, no matter how busy the traffic. Children, babies, old people all walking in the street. Most of the time they walk in the middle or in a car lane, not even to one side. Mind you, there is a sidewalk empty along the street. At night this is very dangerous.You never know when they will just decide to just cross the street without warning.


Driving There is a reason why countries of the free world do not recognize a Chinese driver’s license for car rentals or for any other function. It is very simple….they can’t drive. Oh, they sure try hard enough. So far in the first six months of 2008, they’ve managed to kill over 100,000 in traffic fatalities alone trying to drive. You can’t fault the Chinese for not trying. So what is the deal anyway? I’ve realized it is two basic genetic things going on that will naturally put the Chinese behind the eight ball with driving. First is the inability for them to process incoming data fast enough to react to it. Really, as smart as the Chinese are, their brain waves just simply run at 50% of normal speed. So fast moving objects, or situations, will have already happened before they realize a problem even exists. This makes crash avoidance impossible. The second missing piece of genetics is “depth perception”. I don’t think there is even a Chinese word in for it! In any case, they don’t have it. They do not have any idea about the space they occupy and how it relates to others. They will see a bicycle rider on the curb of the road. As they approach in their car , they will move all the way into the next lane, while braking, thinking they are about to hit it. They shouldn’t have a reverse gear on any car in China. I will give 1000 RMB to the first person who can back in a straight line for 30 meters! Hell, make that 15 meters. It will never happen. They can’t do it. Usually when a car must be backed up, a family member will exit the car, go stand in the street with the other traffic, and direct the driver as he backs up. Talk about the blind leading the blind! Besides the genetic flaws of Chinese drivers, there is the complete and utter disregard for traffic lights, signs, laws, right of ways, people, whatever. They really believe that the entire road system was built solely for their own private use. There is never a fleeting thought to using indicators to change lanes or make a turn. No, the only time you see an indicator light is when they are passing another car on the highway. NOT changing lanes, just passing a car. Then they turn on the left indicator as they approach to make a pass. Doesn’t matter that he is going to change into the right lane after passing, he still uses the left turn indicator. They are taught to always turn on the signal while passing a car. It has nothing to do about lane change. Ah yes, and how about those horns. Noise is in their blood. I think they buy a car just because it has a horn. No need to light firecrackers when you got an electronic horn! I don’t even pay attention to horns anymore. It is no different to engine and road noise. Horns never stop. Every car is honking, moving or not. It doesn’t matter what the reason. They got one and by damn they will use it! I actually read that there is a traffic law that states, if you honk your horn before an accident, then it is not your fault. So they drive down the street always honking at nothing. Kind of scary huh?


Drinking Westerners go out to the a bar with friends to enjoy a few drinks. During the course of the evening, maybe they drink too much. It happens all the time. However, the Chinese have a different approach to it. To the Chinese, drinking is not a social function, it is a national competitive sport. It is a competition that is taken seriously. You buy beer by the bucket. When you order a beer, they bring 15 at once to the table. You have to make a special order if you only want one beer, and you pay a much bigger cost to do this. Before you take a drink, you must toast every time so everyone will drink at the same time. It is bad manners to take a drink by yourself. Then soon the table begins playing a vast selection of drinking games to speed up the drinking process. Conversations are basically about who will pass out first, or fall off the chair. If you prefer to drink liqueur, it is usually sold by the full bottle only. Then it is usually mixed at the table with 7-Up. The beer is also mixed and served in shot glasses so that during the drinking everyone can verify how much you are drinking. The whole process is designed to make sure everyone is consuming at the same volumes and rates. After a while, people begin to spew to the others delight and taunts. Later people simply pass out and are dragged away by their buddies, and this usually marks the end of the evening. By the way, there is no drinking age in China. You can be 8 ~ 80. Funny enough you rarely see very young people drinking. By nature people are 18 and up. I think this is more due to affordability than anything else. I think they tried to enter drinking as a competition in the Olympic games this year. China gold is a shoe-in.


Health and safety This one is a little complicated to put a finger on. Granted, China is an emerging 3rd world country with a boatload of people jammed into a little space. You really have to see it for yourself because reading numbers does not give you a picture of just how many people are here. The sheer density of urban populations is staggering. My city, Kunming, is smaller than Seattle. Seattle has 1.5 million people. Kunming has over 5.5 million. Imagine 4 times the people walking and driving around Seattle alone. Apparently human life holds little value here. If someone gets killed on the job, he is quickly replaced so work can continue without interruption. There is no such thing as company safety programs, OSHA, or safety equipment for use by the worker. Construction workers do not wear helmets, eye protection or safety shoes. They wouldn’t have a clue about such things. They grind away at steel and hammer rocks without a thought to eye protection. They work high up on bamboo scaffolds and iron beams wearing sandals. Forget about safety straps. Many fall and are killed. There is always someone else ready to take their place. Children run around and play alongside working large cranes and steam shovels. Construction sites are simply open for people to walk or drive through during construction.

As far as health goes, China seems to be stepping up with implementing some sort of national food safety programs. In light of the recent problems with tainted food exports, there is a direct economic benefit to inspecting food production in China. So the government has starting to implement inspections.  I read in local newspapers on several occasions where numerous schoolchildren were sent to hospitals because the school lunch food was contaminated. The open markets, where you buy all your food, have no sanitary standards. Meats are put on open tables in the sun until they are sold. Vegetables lay in the street or on small dirty tables in the open. Who knows how many chemicals or tainted water was used to grow them. One learns to spend a time carefully washing everything before using it. I average food poisoning about once a month, even being careful. Everything looks great and is fresh picked daily, but you must pay attention from where you buy it. Still, somehow it all seems to work out ok. However, I tend to believe the western approach leans too much in the other direction now. I have been eating this stuff for 3 years, and I’m not dead yet. Smoking is just short of being encouraged here. The billions the government takes in taxes from the factories cannot be overlooked. Cigarettes are very cheap and plentiful. Packs sell for less than one dollar. You can smoke almost everywhere. Many smoke and eat at the same time in restaurants. I have not seen anti smoking material anywhere.  Public toilets are nothing more than open sewers, only the brave can muster a trip inside. Most children simply stand on the public sidewalk and do their business like a dog would do. You can see this everyday. I don’t care about the openness of public bathroom activities as much as I don’t wish to see it done a few feet from me where I am sitting eating a bowl of noodles.

China is a remains beautiful country despite the fact that people throw trash everywhere. It is thrown from the cars and dropped to the street. Nobody gives it a second thought. Finish a can of soda and simply drop it or throw it out of the window. There are armies of people wearing orange vests that are stationed every few blocks. Their function is to sweep the street clean and monitor their assigned block to keep it clear of debris. Maybe this is what you call job security. Still it is annoying to see people throwing rubbish everywhere.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made my point. I am frustrated mostly by the apparent lack of citizens respecting their own country and city. Something needs to be done to instill pride in the population and start teaching their children the same. As I said, China is an amazing country filled with beauty and history. I don’t believe these habits were this way in the past. But as China opens it’s doors to the world, these problems seem to be getting worse. Maybe as more and more Chinese travel outside China, they will bring back better habits to show their communities.

1 Year in China!


It’s a few days before the Chinese New Year and I have lived in China for just over 1 year. The time seems to have past so quickly!I thought I would post some general comments about my life in China along with a few pics thrown in for good measure. Just when you think you’ve seen it all…BAM!, something else comes along you see here. In a nutshell, living in China is always full of surprises. It must be that the culture here is so different from Western culture. Chinese people just process information totally different from what we Westerners would consider logical.

I was just reading a news article about an incident that happened in Beijing. This is a good example of Chinese logic. A man called the ambulance service after becoming very ill. The hospital dispatched the ambulance to the man’s house. En route to the man’s house, this ambulance struck and killed 3 people in two different locations. I guess he was a new driver. Anyway, he continued to the man’s house and finally got him to the hospital. It wasn’t long before the families of the accident victims contacted the hospital and demanded the hospital compensate them for the deaths of these victims. The hospital responded that they are not responsible and would not pay. They said that the party responsible is the man who called the ambulance out in the first place! This case is now going to court for review.

I have come to know that China law is a very new concept here. This is all part of the process of China’s development and transformation from a 3rd world country into a major world player. China is on the right path of change, but like any government, change is slow. More important, billions of people in China have to somehow be made aware of these changes. It will take generations before the social awareness in this country updates itself. Until then, you have to be very careful of getting into situations that can go in very unpredictable directions. Things just don’t play out with what I may conceive as a “logical” conclusion. I personally have not had any major issues to deal with, i.e. car accidents, confrontations, or “misunderatandings with anyone to speak of. Still, I am ever vigilant to keep myself out of trouble as best I can. You cannot rely on being able to have the police intervene on your behalf. Another example is I have seen several fights on the street. My guess is they seem to be about someone caught stealing from a store. The process is always the same. Several people beating the hell out of some guy while the police stand and watch. They allow the store employees to pound away delivering “street justice” while more or less providing crowd control duties. After a short time they whip out their notebooks and take down the appropriate data, usually also arresting the guy in question. I suppose this guy ends up in jail somewhere. A traffic accident (of which there are many) is handled right on the street. The police arrive and make a report. Normal enough process. They check to see if anyone was drunk or who may have broken a traffic law. Other than that it is up to the parties involved to reach an agreement as to who and how much they pay each other for the damage. The police help the parties come to some sort of agreement, money is exchanged and everyone goes their own way. Case closed. In defense of the police, they must be careful how they intervene in a dispute. It is very common that people will attack the police. They have no laws protecting them as police officers. They can arrest you sure enough, if there is enough of them to fight off the people involved first. So usually they take a very passive approach to implementing law. Basically one cannot blame the police for their seemingly lack of action in these cases. I learned to not assume that they will come to my aid should I get into a fracas with some locals. That being said, luckily crime is not pervasive here at all. Petty crime is very common and you need to be careful with your bags and pockets. Other than that, it is rare violent crime occurs here. I certainly feel a lot safer in China than I would feel in the US. People tend to leave you alone and the encounters I do have with people here are always friendly. Chinese society does not permit child abusers, sexual predators and the like. People here are just not wired for such behavior. Talking with my Chinese friends, they cannot even begin to understand that there are people who commit crimes like these. Having “face” is all important to people here. They would be outcast from family, work, or friends for even thinking of such things.

On the other hand, most common people here have little to education. They are naïve about the most basic things. One cannot “assume” that the guy walking on the street will not quickly begin crossing the street right in front of your car. They usually won’t look beforehand. In their mind they want to go across, so they just go! When you slam on your brakes, they look like a deer in your headlights. Completely surprised that they were almost hit by a car!

I spend a lot of time observing people here and I think I can sum it all up this way; Each person here truly believes that they are in their own world, with everything around them only there for their own use. They make no consideration for anyone else around them. From the outside one could see this as acting in a very rude way. But really, it is only that they have never been taught to consider other people. This explains why if you are standing in line, at say a bank, they will walk up and stand in front of you. Hey, they want to get serviced, why wait behind you? Or you are talking to the teller and someone will lean over in front of you and start talking to the teller. Better yet, in the doctor’s office, someone will walk in and start a discussion with the doctor like you are not there. I’ve even stopped them and motioned them to wait, where them they politely smile and remain right there not only listening to me talking to the doctor, but also reading my medical papers while they wait!

China is slowly recognizing this as bad social behavior and trying to educate people. Most banks have lines drawn on the floor where people must stand behind while another customer is being helped. Also’ many now have a number machine and you sit in the lobby to wait for your number. In Beijing the government is working hard to educate people on proper conduct before the start of the Olympic games.

The Chinese have a world wide reputation for “being rude”. The travel agencies now give classes to customers traveling out of the country on how to act. Things like spitting and clearing your nose, talking loudly, waiting in line, and table manners are all addressed in these classes. As frustrating as this behavior is to me, I do my best to remember that it is not rudeness on their part, rather it is simply not being educated about what is acceptable to most other countries in the world. The Chinese are really nice people that are being pulled into a new modern world for which they have little experience. Things are changing all the time in China on every level.

I encounter many things here that just don’t make any sense. But I say to myself that the Chinese have been around longer than anybody, and they are still going strong. That says a lot about the way things are here. Maybe we have a lot to learn from them as well. Patience is really the key to enjoying your experience in China. Do not use your Western ideals as a benchmark to comparing China. It is, after all, what makes China unique to anyplace in the world.

Land of Smiles


I just arrived in Bangkok after about a 2 hour flight from China. I stepped off the plane and… BAM! 95 degrees of hot air in yer face. I left 70 degrees back in China.

Going through Thai immigration was quick and no hassle.

I arrived to my hotel in Bangkok about an hour later and settled in. Everything here still looks about the same. Lots of cars, noise and general mayhem everywhere. My plan is to stay here 4 days and then go to Koh Samui island for a week. Then I will return to Bangkok for 3 days before returning to China. That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it!

There are some noticeable changes to Thailand that I discovered. The biggest of which is the language issue. The Thais have mastered English to the extreme. Before I found workers in the service business were pretty good with English. This includes about 50% of the restaurants, hotels, bars and major shopping centers. Now this has all changed. It is difficult to find a Thai that does not speak English! Everybody can understand you now. Even street venders! I cannot believe it. What pills are they taking? Also all the signs are also English. Here is no language barrier here now. Of course there is a downside to this as well. Western influence is everywhere. The Thai culture is eroding away and leaving a Western flavor behind. Women wearing the latest fashions as well as shorts and mini skirts. Something very rare only a few years ago. Happily you still feel immersed in another very different culture, but there are big changes here.

Koh Samui is changing so quickly. Many new resorts are being built. Condos and villas are all over the island now. The little towns have grown to small towns now. I expect in another 5 years this little paradise will evolve into another major tourist destination. Still, it is a beautiful place with perfect beaches at reasonable prices. I suspect much of this development is due to the tsunami destruction to Phuket. Although Phuket is back in business, many tourists want another location more protected from this trouble. At any rate, Samui has really changed, but still worth a visit.

Check out the pics. The girl with the scorpions holds the Guinness World record for living in a small box with several hundred of these buggers for 2 weeks. The pic of me on the rooftop of the Banyan Tree Hotel in Bangkok at sunset affords a great view of Bangkok. You can dine outside up here, or just relax at the bar. The panorama shot is 3 pics stitched together and shows about a 120-degree view of Bangkok.

I also had a great time in Bangkok. Did some shopping and a lot of eating. Can’t get enough of that Thai food! All in all I can only say…. “Amazing Thailand”.

Next week I am taking a few days to drive about 4 hours from Kunming to Yuan Yang, to see the farming fields. China uses terraced fields to farm up the sides of the mountains. It is truly amazing how they do this. Right now these fields are flooded with water for planting which reflects the sunlight like a thousand mirrors on these mountains. I am anxious to photograph these mountains. Stay posted…………..

Dinner party


Tonight, I invited my new friends to a nice dinner in Kunming. Several of them speak very good English and they are all very interesting people. They are all very nice people who have welcomed me as their new “American friend” . I hosted this dinner of about 20 courses including wine and “Chinese water” which is a 50% rice alcohol drink, not tasting anything like sake. The food is amazing!
All these people are “very high” in the Kunming community. They include a dentist, doctor, scientist, chief narcotics customs officer, travel agent, government officer, nurse and university professor. We had a great time in our private party room, and I am learning quite a lot about the Chinese culture. I find the people very warm and open. They all are happy to “look after me” and help me to adjust to living here in China. The pic is one of many “Gambei’s” (toasts). I was required to toast each one individually as well as all together. Of course they in turn must each toast me. I might add that a Gambei is not accepted if you do not drink the entire glass at each toast! I must turn my glass upside down each time to be sure nothing drips from the glass. If it does, I must do the toast again!
After several hours of dinner, I settled the bill ($58.75) and slowly found my way back to my apartment. My policeman friend assured me that he would “cover me” if I was stopped on the way home. Actually I decided to stop for some coffee at the City Garden Cafe next door before driving anywhere.