Monday, 14 November 2011

British Born Chinese visits North and South of China - Part 1

Entering Beijing

Well I've just gotten back from a one month trip in China, and travelling from Beijing to Guangzhou on a 23hr journey by slow train and getting in touch with my families cultural roots, and what a great experience it was.

My travel itinerary was Beijing for 7days,during Chinese holiday week in the first week of October then Guangzhou for 7 days and then Beijing for another 7 days. The first thing that comes to mind in staying in Beijing are the following: stand up toilets often with no toilet paper( bring your own), lots of people, crazy queues esp when waiting to board a long distance train, and beggars.

To be honest for the first week I wasn't too fond of being amongst Beijing people and my first experience of stepping on a bus and having to stand because there were no seats and a loose window rattling beside my head threatening to crack and cave in whilst the bus driver was hooting every second wasnt a good start, but by travelling with my mainlander friend, the trip managed to transform from one of hate and unfamiliarity into one of love, and that now im back in the dismal U.K. i can't wait to leave and go back.

Course living there in the long term would no doubt raise it's own set of issues but having travelled from North of China to South then back up to North again ( I didnt get to visit the middle but will do some point later) I can safely say that North is where I feel i fit in the best.

Fitting into the crowd

Being a BBC who has had little contact with the east, for me there's a huge difference between talking about being Chinese on the blog and having discussions about FOBS and BBCS and actually being in China and when you get here just being surrounded by so many Chinese, to me such arguments are considered obsolete.

 Despite lots of reports of mainlanders reputed to have messy and disgusting habits,  I didn't really experience anything of the sort. In fact, for me the best thing was just queuing up with the people and seeing their smiles and pride in taking photos in front of Mao. I mean where in the UK would you see so much patriotism? Would even an English family visit Buckingham palace on a holiday? London is pretty much a tourist area for European tourists, brits tend to stay in or do other things.

The only negative experience I can recall is when I was pushed aside by a photographer who was taking photos of a family, I guess maybe he was a hired hand by the look of his professional camera equipment. Granted his rudeness pissed me off, and when it happened again( !) but at a different photo spot , i wanted to say something but thought probably best not to.

The only other bad experience I had of the famous Chinese queue barging was when I was queuing at a weighing machine in a Guangzhou supermarket on a hot day.  Naturally being first in queue, I handed him my Chinese pears when, a small woman pushed me aside-  kid in one arm, bag of apples in the other - completely ignoring me. Then i tried again - another woman appeared -quickly shoved her bag of mushrooms infront of me. So this was starting to piss me off. Then low and behold on my right a small woman appeared - bag of fruit at the ready. So this time I gave her an retaliating stare. She backed away and I managed to get my Chinese pears weighed.

In retrospect its easier to say ' ah that's China' but compared to the horror stories I had heard before getting here,, I'd guess that people are getting more mannered.

For the first two weeks, I was accompanied  by my mainlander friend and in the first week in Beijing  with his friend from Mongolia visiting Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, was a great experience. Visiting these tourists sites, yes, but specially being amongst the people.

Whilst the west is in decline, China is on the rise, and to be part of that felt great,  as nothing swells the Chinese pride than being stuck in a crowd of happy , grateful mainlanders who are queuing up to have their photo infront of Mao's portrait, and you definitely don't feel as a 'minority' as you'd normally feel as a BBC in the UK.

For now, as much as the quirks that take some getting used to, like the Beijing taxis hooting all day long outside your hotel, the constant spitting, ... the errs and aars of the Northern accent, all I can say from my first experience my nationalist pride was reinforced and Beijing made me feel quite welcome. 


  1. It's lovely to hear that you had such a good time, but I'm a bit worried about your uncritical association of Mao with Chinese national identity. Mao may have kicked off the modernisation of China, but he was also responsible for the deaths of millions of Chinese. Can't we find a more appropriate role model to emulate/hero worship?

  2. ...I think I need to make that journey aswell, there is a line by Amy Tan quoted often, which I don't believe btw, that as soon as the plane landed and her feet touched China she felt chinese. My regret is that i havent learnt Mandarin or written chinese enough, which are barriers in absorbing culture deeply, so all that pride thing, doesn't come naturally as one who is born there... never too late to learn?

  3. @anonymous 15th nov. Agreed, Mao is a contraversial character for those same reasons you mentioned above. But i dont think theres a better role model. I say Sun Yat Sen, but i think his ideals got distorted along the way - namely, preserving Chinese culture and adopting WESTERNISATION not WESTERN IDEALS. Big difference. Thing is as an article i read recently, any culture that doesnt advance is ready for the museum. that in itself is an article within itself.

    RE: leadership, i think we need one now, for today.unfortunately these days , as someone here told me recently, the only leader nowadays is money.

    @anonymous 15th 19.55

    Its never too late to learn the language, just takes longer thats all,( and writing a little longer) and full time dedication. Unfortunately being in this country for too long, our cultural connections are sacrificed for western convenience, which as BBCs we have to pay for in the long run, becaus as a result we have no real clear identity.

    RE: pride. you can be more proud anytime, just make a conscious decision to look at the decisions you make each day - am i embracing western ideals or am i seeking to ( despite the realisitic difficulties in the UK with such a dispersed community) reconnect with my Chinese heritage?

    We will always have individual relationships with being Chinese depending on our state of mind at the time:

    can be a challenge esp with all the other real life stuff we have to deal with but as long as we remain aware, and seek to be passionate, and save up the mullah to visit China instead of spending it on every day crap, its never too late IMO

  4. "Anonymous said...
    ...I think I need to make that journey aswell, there is a line by Amy Tan quoted often, which I don't believe btw, that as soon as the plane landed and her feet touched China she felt chinese"

    She felt so Chinese that she decided to marry a white man after their first blind date... tax account though, mmm money...

    And I really don't think the uncivilised who do not understand the mechanics of the queue system, spitting and the downright rudeness seen as normal should be something to be proud of, and especially shouldn't be an indicator of "Chinese pride". You should be proud to be Chinese because you are Chinese.

    Anyway, it was sad to see in that picture not many Chinese women there, they all seemed to be men on their own. The reason to why is obvious, an hour ago I was reading this

    in the last six years I have helped to arrange over the 100 marriages for British men who have married Chinese women to the present date I have known four divorces the women have return back to China. Myself being marriage eight years to Chinese lady. I could explain there`s many different reasons why British men marry overseas ladies and none of is what you say

    - Robert, Norfolk, 16/11/2011 19:35

    I'm beginning to think that the Chinese government actually wants there to be less females in China (i.e. less children, smaller population to manage in the future), because what sort of government actually allows such "arrangements" to happen on a mass scale? One white man, in just 6 years, responsible for the destruction of 100 Chinese men's chances of a family.... whilst these British men being paired off with a Chinese woman are probably on their 2nd, 3rd+ marriage with multiple kids already... why is there zero resistance to stopping this???

  5. Nice article, I like the part about weighing pears! You know what they say...when in Rome...
    BE AGGRESSIVE with these mainlanders!

    I dont think people take their photograph in front of Mao because theyre proud of Mao, its an obligatory tourist photo, famous landmark. Lets not forget the 1989 student protest / massacare took place in Tiananmen Square, people still take photos of the square, its history.

    @ anon 16 November 2011 21:12
    I'm sure happybritishchinese will clarify it is just co-incidence that there are no females at that time he took the photos. I have been there myself and the male/female ratio 50/50 is the same as it is in any other tourist spot around the world. I can show you a different photo I took where there are more females than males.

    IR marriage of mainland women seems to be a favorite topic of yours? if you want to directly post articles yourself, create a blogger/google account and send me an email (email is on my profile) and I'll send you an invite.

  6. @anon and bbcz. thats right, i didnt intend to take photos of just blokes, its just one of the pics i chose to show the crowds of people on that day. ha ...aggression. im generally a reasonable person and if i didnt assert myself there and then i couldve been holding my bag of pears for a whole day until the cleaners arrived


    re' zero resistance'comment above as to intermarrying of encouraging divorced white guys to marry chinese girls. i did read somewhere about agreement between mao and hoover offering women

    not sure how much truth there is with the above, but the fact china doesnt do anything to stop this western agenda, and promoted IR on its advertising ( george clooney and a chinese girl on a watch advert) thats a good question. maybe as bbcz said, reference it in an upcoming article?

    i will touch on the IR sightings in a future article of my trip as i noticed a few IR couples in summer palace, and more in beijing than guangzhou - maybe because beijing is the 'in place' to be currently