Friday, November 20, 2009

Reflecting on 5 weeks in Guangzhou - Part 2

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China is so incredibly different to Australia

I've been lucky enough to travel quite a bit and I've never spent time anywhere that is as different to Australia as China. Parts of the US, particularly California almost feel like home. The UK might as well be home given the number of Aussies in London. Mainland Europe, even with the different languages isn't so different to Australia. And the major Asian cities I've been to like Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur really aren't so different either. I've not yet been to South America and I've only spent a week in Africa so I can't really compare those.

As for China, or at least Guangzhou, it's entirely different. The differences that struck me include:
  • The spoken and written language. In Europe you can look at a street sign and know roughly how to pronounce it, or you can listen to a conversation and pick up the occasional word because it's similar to an English word. Not in China.
  • The food. Chinese people don't like to eat seafood unless they've seen it alive and so know it's fresh. Watching the fish that you're about to eat being pulled out of the fish tank and killed isn't something that would go down so well in Australia. It's interesting though, that's the reality of eating meat and we've become desensitised to that in Australia.
  • Slurping your soup is the done thing. You spit bones out onto the table rather than remove them before putting the food in your mouth.
  • The cutlery. Why did we decide to use knives and forks and the Chinese decide to use chopsticks?
  • Censoring the internet. You can't access Facebook, Twitter, Blogger (including this blog), sites hosted by Google Appengine (including Shoes of Prey), sites or even Google search results that mention Tianemen Square or Falun Gong. Though perhaps it won't be long until we start on this path in Australia. Mike and I used ExpressVPN while we were here to get around the censoring.
  • What is and isn't polite to say - a western female friend was asked if she was married, when she said no the Chinese supplier said, "You need to lower your standards, you have too much acne!"
  • The toilets. They are a hole in the floor that you squat over. BYO toilet paper.
  • Toddlers wear buttoned pants rather than nappies so they can go to the toilet in the street, or in a drain on the floor on the train!
  • The pollution. I've seen a blue sky maybe twice in 5 weeks here. The rest of the time it's hazy, and it's not fog. We have to clean the apartment thoroughly every week because a thin film of black soot ends up covering everything. Fill a bucket up with water from the tap and it's brown. And that's the reality of being the world's factory. We can't get angry at China for being polluted when pretty much everything we buy in Australia is made there.

Don't get me wrong, I love it in China, the differences make it exciting and fun, I just didn't expect things to be so different. It's fascinating that human beings can develop such vastly different cultures and ways of living.


  1. point two - fresh fish happens in australia, albiet in Chinese restaurants =)

  2. @inspiredworlds
    LOL Matt, I was gonna post the exact same thing after reading about the fresh fish.

    Great Asian minds who love their food think alike... (^_^)

  3. Also, re Point 1 re language in China...

    Probably not relevant as yet since you will mostly be dealing with South China.

    But, keep in mind that China is huge and there are cultural & language differences within the country depending on the various regions.

  4. Matt and Danial, good point on the live seafood in Chinese restaurants in Australia - that doesn't seem to scare people off, though maybe people are more accepting of it in Chinese restaurants given the other cultural differences they're seeing at the same time. I'm fairly sure some people would be upset if they saw their meal plucked from the fish tank in an average Australia restaurant.

    Daniel, thanks for pointing out that the language and cultural differences vary lots by region in China. I'll keep that in mind if we do business elsewhere!

  5. South Africa would probably remind you of Australia but here we have 11 official languages.
    The weather is also very similar to yours. Hope you pay us a visit some day. Well done on the blog of note.