Ji'Nan, Cherokees and how to defecate in a cafe.

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March 21st 2011
Published: March 21st 2011
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Getting off the plane in Beijing, it would be fair to say three things about me; I was more than a little nervous, I was very tired and I was expecting a massive culture shock to hit me any second - so to walk out of the arrival gates and immediately see signs for Pizza Hut and KFC brought me more comfort than I ever thought either of those brands could. Walking out of the gates, incidentally, into a city where you know nobody and you are certain there will be no one to meet you is a weird feeling and not one I'd recommend making a habit of.

The culture shock wasn't far away though. The first thing to hit you is the driving (the first thing, aside from the fact that there are Chinese people literally everywhere - I was kind of expecting that so it can't really go into the shock column, lets just call it an observation.) The driving is incredible with constant car horns and the fact that there are routinely two cars across one lane, basically the strongest/most aggressive wins and as everyone is a fairly aggressive driver it makes for a fun taxi ride. That said, if you've not slept for thirty hours and you weren't expecting it, fun may not be the first adjective that springs to mind. Essentially it's Saudi Arabian driving with a smile (sorry, I know that sounds like one of those NME reviews where an album is described as sounding like "The Smashing Pumpkins making a cake out of Joy Division and Deep Purple while Ray Charles sits in the next room" but that is the best way I can think to describe it.)

This taxi ride was from the airport to Beijing South train station, (where I was getting a train to Jinan, figuring that I'm here for a while and I'll have another chance to see Beijing) and it gave me the briefest of glimpses into the size of the place. The journey took about forty five minutes and after about twenty, we got to what looked like a city centre, so naturally I assumed we were getting close, twenty five minutes later we were still driving through the same city centre type thing and shortly afterwards, we arrived at the station. Now, this could be an indication of just how big the city is or it could just mean that I got rinsed by an opportunistic taxi driver, probably both, but it was quite an eye opener as there was an element of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon about it, one where the background just repeats itself over and over and over again.

The exception to this was when the Birds Nest Stadium came into view. I've been fortunate enough to go to some good looking and imposing stadiums in my time: Wembley (new and old), The Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Valley Parade - but this was an impressive sight. The road into the city (one of many I assume) goes straight past it and gives you a brilliant view for a minute or so. Annoyingly, during this minute I didn't have the presence of mind to do what any good foreigner should do, and get my camera out, so no photos for now. Sorry.

On arriving at the train station and somehow managing to get a ticket to Jinan, (not as difficult or as scary as the roleplay in my head had led me to believe) I sat down for my first taste of Chinese cuisine in China. I ordered what I thought was strips of chicken with rice and noodles, nothing too exotic but Chinese enough so I didn't feel like the Asian equivalent of the guy in Tenerife drinking a Tetleys, eating a Steak and Ale pie. When it arrived, with chopsticks of course, which provided the nearby tables with some entertainment, the rice and noodles were present and correct, but what I'd believed to be chicken on the menu didn't look like any meat I had ever encountered before. Not only that, but some of the 'cuts' - for want of a better word - did not look like parts of any animal that were supposed to be eaten. I politely and delicately concentrated on the carbs.

I deliberately chose a train that terminated in Jinan, so there were no hiccups when it came to knowing where to get off, and even went as far as getting business class for an extra £2.50 (la-de-da!!). I'd love to tell tales of the sights of inland China, of the ornate architecture and beautiful landscapes with Pandas and Paddy Fields everywhere, but unfortunately I was asleep, and what little I did see looked like the pictures they have of World War Two No Man's Land in old History textbooks.

Arriving in Jinan was more of a shock than Beijing, mainly, I suppose because Beijing is set up for foreigners to a large extent so with at least some of the signs being in English, it gives you a certain level of comfort. Jinan, on the other hand, was not like that. It's a huge city but aside from the obligatory McDonald's and KFC I didn't see any English signs. On arriving at the station, the second and third culture shocks hit me pretty much straight away.

First up was the system of queueing. Now, I am quite the fan of queues, to the point where if I see a particularly good looking one I'm always half tempted to join it, both out of curiosity and on the assumption that there must be something good at the end of it - there is none of that charming naivety here though. The deal is that you just push and at some point you will probably end up at the front. It doesn't matter if you're shoving old women, or treading all over a frantic Mum and her three kids, you just don't queue, anywhere.

Second was the spitting. You can't be anywhere, it seems, without hearing that noise of someone readying themselves to spit. I'm about three weeks in now and eventhough I should be used to it, hearing that noise when I'm having food still turns my stomach. Of course, as ever, the spitting issue was put into context very nicely yesterday when we walked into a coffee shop after work to see a young child crouch down and shit on the floor - quite a critique in any language and sadly not the only time we have seen it, (and not the youngest offender by a long way either).

So with the lack of queueing protocol, the spitting, the jetlag and more than a little bit of homesickness, getting out of the train station with a case and a couple of hundred others on a snowy February night wasn't the greatest experience of my life. On top of which, Jinan was a huge, grey city and not somewhere that I ever want to go near again. In five days there before going to Xiangyang (which is the absolute polar opposite) I don't think anyone even smiled at me or did anything that could be classed as friendly. But, that said, two interesting things did happen when I was there. We found a food market with some amazing tasting stuff in it - albeit stuff that may have been of questionable origin - and I had my palm read by a Cherokee (really). Apparently I'm going to have a non-fatal heart attack at the age of forty. I'll also have a big house and garden, and six daughters, which came as something of a shock, but as long as none of them ever shit on the floor of a café then I think I'm ok with it.

Pura Vida



21st March 2011

...they shit on the floor in Liverpool, don't they?
21st March 2011

Finest Coffee
Just so a you know some of the finest coffee in the world comes from beans eaten and passed out by animals.

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