Fri 30 Jul 2010 37 °C
China has a population of 1.3 billion and it seems like half of them are on vacation in the summer! Chinese tourists are everywhere we go, and as we stray from the bigger sites and cities, the number of Westerners we see a day drops to single digits. Several times in the past 3 weeks I have said or thought, "This would be so much nicer if 50% of the people were somewhere else." For example, at the Shaolin Temple, the throngs of visitors congested the ancient pathways so much that all sense of peace or zen was lost. Yesterday we trekked Tai Shan, the most sacred mountain in Taoism, and the vendors, restaurants and hotels at the summit overwhelmed me! Instead of serene mountain vistas, we saw Coca-Cola slogans and pancake wheels.
So I was pleasantly surprised by the town of Qufu, the birthplace of Confucius. Finally, the streets were cross-able, the sidewalks peaceful and the sites tranquil. The only distraction was the buzzing of mosquitoes. We strolled through Confucius Temple, Mansions and Forest at a snail's pace, taking in the sights and sounds, aware of the cicadas and birds in the trees.
Chinese travelers are noticeably different than Western travelers in certain ways. For instance, I first noticed at the Forbidden City that they like to touch what they are looking at. Many hands caressed the doorknobs at each gate, finely carved pillars or Buddha bellies. They threw themselves at the entrance of the wedding-night-room of the emperors, in hopes that it would bring them luck in love. If something is not to be touched or photographed, there had better be a large sign, and a fool-proof barrier. Fences can be reached through or climbed over. I have seen that many times.
I have also noticed that the majority of tourists have a guide, equipped with microphone and speaker, explaining the history or relevance of each item. There are also a lot of souvenir photo booths, where they rope off the best photo backdrop and you have to pay for a photo. Surprisingly to me, a lot of people go for this, as well as the myriad of other goodies the vendors are selling. I think Chinese tourists drop way more cash than Westerners. Another difference from my travel experience is that in addition to nick-knacks and memorabilia related to the particular sight, many vendors sell toys. Simple, children's toys.
The Chinese seem to have a different opinion on how to treat historical relics. They often seem to opt for renovation vs. restoration. There is often a fresh coat of paint on pagodas and even idols, ancient walkways are regularly repaved, and buildings are added with an "old" feel to them. It is not unusual to read in the description; built this year, restored this year and this year, making me question what I am actually looking at.
China is one of the few countries I can think of where the majority of tourists are citizens. The only other that comes to mind is the US, which also promotes "spending your dollars on US soil". Maybe they have more in common than they think.
Note: After publishing this entry, some family members mentioned that some of my comments didn't sound like me, and so I would like to clarify some details. I am frustrated by the number of tourists during the summer months in China, but acknowledge that I am also contributing to the problem. I am intrigued by the fact that so many of them are Chinese, but that part doesn't bother me in the least. I am a natural people-watcher, and tend to draw conclusions and make assumptions based on those observations. This is through the lens of curiosity, and is in no way a criticism, or negative judgment. I apologize if any of my comments offended anyone.