Natural disasters and interesting people

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
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Trip End Mar 16, 2009


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Flag of China  , Guangxi Zhuang,
Sunday, May 18, 2008

On the day we arrived we arrived in Hong Kong (12 May) the south western province of China called Wenchuan was hit by an earthquake measuring close to 8 on the Richter scale (equivalent to an explosion1 gigaton of TNT). Only later that evening did the news start coming through about the earthquake and that there were many casualties. By the time we arrived in Guilin every single one of the 50 Chinese TV channels was reporting on the earthquake. Some of the footage was heartbreaking to watch especially when reports came in of entire schools collapsing killing all students but one. With China's one child policy this is the greatest loss a Chinese family can ever imagine. Much of the footage we saw was live and often very disturbing but every now and then a survivor would be found which would giving the rescuers more hope in their search for survivors.
 
To date 62,000 people have been killed, 356,000 injured, 23,000 are still missing and staggering 45 million people have been affected by the quake. To assist with the relief efforts CYN29 billion (USD4.5 billion) has been donated. What we were very impressed with was the speed at which the government got the rescue operation underway. Within hours the countries PM was on site assisting with the organisation of the rescue and it appeared that he almost spent an entire week in the area. This was in stark contrast to the disaster that was unfolding in Myanmar where the government were refusing to accept foreign aid while thousands were dying.
 
A week after the quack the Chinese government declared 3 days of mourning and a minute of silence on each of the days at the time the earthquake hit (14:45). During this time all traffic came to a stand still blew their horns, not the typical minute of silence we were used to but sill very emotional. All over Guilin and Yangshou the Red Cross was collecting money for the relief efforts. The most amazing thing to come out of this tragedy was to see how the people and the government came together to assist in the disaster, an example to all.
 
On a less sombre note the rest of China seems to be caught up in the hype of the Olympic Games. Many shops have begun selling the official paraphernalia and many TV channels are showing the previous Olympic Games and inserts on the new Olympic venues like the 'birds nest' stadium. There seems to be an immense sense of pride in the fact that they will be hosting the Olympics and this is not surprising considering the long history of change and struggle China has been through.
 
After being in the county for almost two weeks now we have begun to get a better understanding of the Chinese people and culture. While planning the trip we were a little apprehensive of travelling to country of 1.3 billion people and not quite sure what to expect. The first thing we were quite surprised to discover was that quite a few people could speak English. In Hong Kong more so since it used to be under British rule and through the rest of China most schools now even teach English in Junior schools as apposed to previously only in senior schools. Although their conversational English is generally not that good it is still possible to get from A to B and order a meal at restaurants. We also discovered that you can get a long way buy gesturing and picture menus. What I do find hilarious is when you do come across someone who speaks no English whatsoever and thinks you speak Chinese that break out into a long conversation in Chinese while I in turn begin rambling off in English about something totally obscure. An onlooker who couldn't hear us might think we were old friend having a reunion.
 
We were however often approached by a few young people who wanted to practice their English. Many of whom are studding English at university level with aim of getting a job with an international company or to further studies abroad. One such conversation went on for more than an hour with a young girl in Yangshou as she wanted to hear everything about South Africa and we were just as curious to hear about how the young Chinese perceive the country and its rapid growth. It seems a common perception in China that all people from Africa must be black and it often took quite some explaining before they would believe we were really from Africa.
 
Food thus far has been quite an experience. As you would guess each region is famous for certain dishes and specialities. For example Guilin is famous for its snake as well as wild cat, bamboo rat and snake-bile wine. So far we have avoided any nasty surprises and endangered species but one or two meals where we did not have English menus left us wondering what we actually ate. Most the food however has been delicious and cheap even with the liberal use of oil. Beer which is very popular in China it typically served in 600ml bottles and has a very low percentage of alcohol, on average about 3.5%. We found them very refreshing and affordable at around Yuan10 - 15 in a restaurant and even cheaper from the supermarket. The best we've tasted so far is a beer called Tsingtao which was originally brewed by the Germans in the early 1900's before it was reclaimed by the Chinese who kept the brewery going.
 
"Tipping is not a town in China". You might have read this little notice that was often jokingly posted in bars as a reminder to patrons who didn't tip. We've discovered the truth and really isn't in China Tipping nor do you tip in China. Often we have felt the service was good and left a 10% tip and walked out only to have the waitress running after us with the money in hand saying we had left our money on the table. Even when we tried explaining it was for the good service they still refuse to accept it. A very refreshing approach.
 
Another interesting thing we have noticed is how the two of us walking down the street creates so much interest with Chinese people. We of course think we look pretty normal but to an average Chinese person we must look very strange and we often find them staring with amazed looks. Since the majority of Chinese men are short don't seem to lose their hair it must be odd to see a tall, wide eyed, pale faced man with a bald head walking by. And Inge-Marie doesn't escape the staring either, I often see girls look her up and down as if trying to memorise what she is wearing, might be that her dress sense if foreign or intriguing to them. I think that even though most of the world's fashion ware is manufactured in China they are still designed overseas and most likely all exported and seldom found locally.
 
After first visiting the smaller cities excluding Hong Kong of course on our China tour it will be interesting to see how they differ from the real big cities of Shanghai and Beijing.
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