When I graduated from college, my parents gave me an awesome graduation present. While a car would have been cool and probably far more practical, instead we went on a family vacation to China. We spent three weeks cruising from Beijing (ok, Tianjin but we had a few days on land in Beijing) to Ningbo to Hong Kong and more.
It was fabulous. I saw so many places that I otherwise never would have seen. As we were on a cruise, the majority of our experiences and excursions were with the other passengers, most of whom were Americans. That was the only non-fabulous part of it.
When I travel, I want to see and experience the local place I’m visiting. I want to meet the local people and taste the local food. I want to learn about their customs and history. I want to pretend, just for a little while, that I’m from that place, too, before I go back to my life in Chicago with all the modern amenities and fast pace that I’m used to dealing with daily.
I appear to be in the minority, however. There were so many instances of people showing the stereotypical Ugly American that I actually did pretend I was from Canada at one point to avoid being associated with a specific small group.
Some of the highlights:
The countless chopsticks stolen at nearly every meal. Interestingly, few of those at the meals were able to use chopsticks – or interested in trying. And the chopsticks they stole were not the disposable ones that are typically provided in Chinese restaurants in the States. They were very nice polished wood ones and sometimes gorgeously engraved ones made of various metals. Apparently, stealing silverware was de rigeur for them.
The need to experience every American chain seen. There were only two Carvel ice cream parlors in the city of Shanghai when we visited the town on a tour. Those on the bus with me happened to spot one of them and made the bus stop and wait for them to all go get ice cream. When they returned to the bus, they weren’t happy. They couldn’t believe they could only have vanilla ice cream and I think one other flavor – and, worse yet, it didn’t taste the same as it did back home. The same thing happened whenever we passed the rare McDonalds or KFC or Pizza Hut. There was a mad rush to eat the “American” food there, even when it was nowhere near a mealtime or they’d just eaten.
The disrespect for locals. Shockingly, this was a big issue at mealtime. We ate at a restaurant at the Great Wall of China, which was a prix fixe meal and included our food and drinks. The drinks were water and two bottles of Coca Cola for the table to share. Sharing wasn’t working so well after the first couple people drank whole bottles. They gestured wait staff over to ask for more Coke, which wasn’t included in our package. When the wait staff – who didn’t speak English – didn’t understand, they simply shouted, louder and louder. Eventually, they walked into the kitchen and simply took bottles themselves. Did I mention that they complained that the Coke was warm?
The inability to try something new. Customs are different. And some things are less comfortable for some people than for others. I so get that. When the people returned from their run to the kitchen to steal the Coke, they started telling everyone at the table not to eat the green beans. Apparently there was a several foot high stack of beans in the kitchen on the floor, and they were cooking the beans in boiling water directly from the top of the pile. Was it the most sanitary thing ever? No, but hey, they were still being boiled, and it’s not killing anyone. When I took a mouthful of beans after that, someone leaned over the table and stage whispered, “Did you not hear about the beans? They were from the floor!” Obnoxious recent college grad that I was, I simply smiled and took another bite. Really, how much cleaner were they expecting the food to be elsewhere, especially after we got into some of the more rural areas? Stay out of the kitchen; you’ll be happier.
The list goes on and on, and unfortunately I don’t remember everything. I had kept a journal while I was there that detailed what we did each day – where we were, what we learned, and my impressions. It was lost somewhere along the way, although I have some hope of digging it up at some point. What are your favorite travel memories?
In the interest of full disclosure, this post was inspired by the book “The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part I ” by Christi Grab, a part of the From Left To Write book club where we are sent books to read but don’t write traditional reviews. There is no compensation involved, and all opinions expressed are my own.