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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie


 Travel Diary : Impressions of a savage in China

China, monster of size, monster of power, I discovered it naturally from the interior of the vehicles of my drivers.

It is without doubt one of the few times where I felt so foreign... In a foreign country. This is surely a proof that I was in total immersion in the culture, but also of the little influence that China has from its neighbors. The opposite, though, is not entirely true. I discovered China on the Ethiopian roads, in the center of San Francisco, or even at home in France.

China is everywhere, Chine is exporting, Chinese people emigrate everywhere in the world, but don't necessarily mix with the locals. Today, it was time for me to see where the Chinese come from, to discover their culture and to understand them a bit better... To understand the world of today.

My itinerary in China

I wrote a description of this country in two parts, from my first impressions to my thoughts. Unfortunately, I will be able to publish those articles only once out of China, as my website is censored in the Middle Kingdom.

Hmm, well, Welcome to China. Sorry, “Wlecom to China” as we say here


The awakening of the senses

Middle Ages in China
My first impressions in China have been rather surrealists. What shocked me the most was the freedom that the Chinese take to establish their presence, sometimes in a mediaeval way.

This is with eyes wide open from surprise that I was seeing them, men and women, hock up phlegm and spit everywhere. In the streets, in front of the stores, inside the stores, in the restaurants, on my trouser...

Bigger was my surprise when time came for me to explore the public toilets. In China, defecation is a public and almost social activity. I understood quite fast why the Chinese toilets were often in an advanced state of dirtiness. The locals usually let their door open while they poo. To conclude, they like to abandon the fruit of their intestines to the next user by not flushing the toilet.

Some Chinese toilets in Beijing (still being far from the worst)

The babies don't have to explore those caves nicknamed “WC”. The mothers have made a find. They cut the trouser of their baby at the level of their butt crack. Then, in case of natural need, there is no need of diapers. The mother takes his kid in her arms, curls him up, and the baby can release himself through the opening of his pants. Clever, isn't it?

In Paris, we should be careful of the dog mucks. In China, that would be of baby urine, or something else...

Yes, at first sight, the Chinese can look a bit “wild”. They are noisy, they speak loud, they aspirate their noodles like if they had to show their level of appreciation on a scale of decibels. They don't necessarily have an environmental conscience, from the poor farmer pulling his buffalo in the middle of Guizhou to the CEO of coal plant in Inner Mongolia.

The floor can be the dump, as here in the Visitor Center of a tourist attraction in the Guizhou Province

After few days, I was really wondering in which inter-temporal area I had landed, and why so many travelers were obsessed by China.

A little bit of refinement
One morning, I woke up earlier than usual. In the streets, in the public squares, I could witness a a gracious ballet. The China that I like was already up and was doing its gymnastic. Together and in rhythm, those Chinese mostly at the retirement age, were doing exercises to wake up their bodies. They were doing Tai Chi, were playing badminton, ping pong, or were practicing martial arts.

A group of Chinese practice Tai Chi on a public square in Guilin

People wake up playing ping pong near the city walls of Xi'an

This time, I was surprise by such refinement. The flexibility in the movement of those Chinese had something poetic. What a contrast with the spitting! How is it possible that a same person can interchange so easily dirtiness and refinement? Thinking about it, this is just another interpretation of the complexity of the human nature.

Also, my understanding of the Chinese culture might have been distorted by my lack of knowledge of it.

The taste and the smells
Chinese cuisine is a worldwide known delicacy. It is possible to find Chinese restaurants everywhere on earth. However, out of the Middle Kingdom boundaries, the Chinese cuisine is often far from what we can find in the reality. The idea of “spring rolls” that I had before to enter China was very far from what I saw once in China. It like if we were summarizing French cuisine to the “French fries”.

China is a huge country and there are specialties for each provinces, and even for each cities.

Some dishes of Yunnan in Kunming

Other specialties of Guizhou in Guiyang

Although there are many specialties, there are also recurring meals. The noodle soup, for example, is one of them. The “Chinese hot pot”, also, can be found everywhere in China. As in many country, the meal is a way to establish a social exchange. This meal is a good way to do so as you share the hot pot with your guests. In the middle of the table, there is a simmering pot where you can put your ingredients to cook.

A hot pot in Yinchuan

Many Chinese table have a turning tray in the middle. This one helps to pass the dishes to the guests around the table.

A Chinese table in Guangzhou

Then, there is the street food. For hygienic reasons, it is now almost impossible to find this delicacies on the sidewalks of the “developed countries” today. I like the feeling of direct interaction with the food and also the social aspect of it, when I wander between the stalls of the street vendors.

In China, the street sellers are here and offer food and snacks with tastes that were most often unknown to me.

In Daqikong in Guizhou, a cook mixes sausages and potatoes

A man steams up the baozis in a street of Xian

Un homme fait chauffer les baozis dans une rue de Xian

Some biscuits especially made in Quzhou

More outlandish were the scorpions served in Beijing. The taste looks like a bit the fried grasshoppers, if this can help...

An appetizing medicine
In a country that continuously offered me surprises at every level, my spirit was open to discovery. One day in the streets of Guangzhou, I was wondering if the stalls in front of me were offering some outlandish meals like those scorpions in Beijing.

Sea horses, deers legs, dried snakes... I was thinking if those ingredients should be roasted, fried, steamed or baked.

Sea horses, deer legs, dried snakes

I was indeed in the area of the traditional Chinese medicine. This was a totally new universe for me. Though... Some African healers seem to use similar ways of curing. Has it been some interactions between those different civilizations in the past?

At every level, the Chinese culture has been very foreign to me. The misunderstandings happened often. As I was traveling alone and without knowledge of the Chinese language, it didn't always lead to an explanation.

The Chinese language
Chinese people usually speak mandarin. This language is written in sinograms. There are around 56 000 different characters. Compared to the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet, that didn't look easy.

Near Guilin, a sign written in mandarin,

Hopefully, the mandarin can be sometimes written in the Roman alphabet. This is called pinyin. But this good news didn't last long. Pronouncing mandarin, written in sinogram or pinyin, is sometimes that takes a lot of time and practice. As Thai and Vietnamese, Chinese is a tonal language. There are five tones in mandarin (and even seven in Cantonese, which is spoken in Hong Kong and Guangzhou). Communicating has indeed been a real problem in China.


Hitchhiking in China

A good communication is something important when hitchhiking. As you know, the language barrier was very big for me in China. So how have I traveled 10,500 kilometers by hitchhiking in this country?

I had to identify the difficulties and to find solutions to it

The concept of hitchhiking doesn't exist
At first sight, its a problem.

I had to explain the concept to every driver. As in the other countries of Southeast Asia that I crossed, I made a translation of the letter explaining my project.

The letter explaining my project in mandarin

During my interactions with my drivers, I found out that one word of this letter was very important. It was probably meaning a concept similar to “invitation”.

How to stop the vehicles
Even with this letter, I still had to stop the vehicles. I often walked along the road, trying to catch the attention of the drivers. The best way I found to do so was to show a piece of paper with my destination written in Chinese, while I was using my other hand to flag down the vehicles.

While hitchhiking in Quzhou, with a piece of paper indicating Shanghai

I have never promoted the use of a sign indicating my destination since the beginning of my journey, but the misunderstanding was such in China that I found it necessary.

Once a vehicle stops
If a vehicle stops, you are still quite far to get a ride. New difficulties appear:

Money is surely one of the most important things for a Chinese. Any opportunity can be good to get richer of few more yuans. Driving someone further can be one. In consequence, I had to explain clearly my project before to enter any vehicle.

Surprisingly, China has been the country where I have been asked money the most. Around half the vehicles who stopped refused to take me freely, even if they were going in the same direction, before to drive off and let me on the side of the road.

-The destination
When I was succeeding to get a lift in a Chinese vehicle, I had to organize very fast where I wanted to be dropped. If my driver was going in a city localized before my destination, I had to make him understand which place I could stop. The Chinese road network is very complex and the highways are going in every directions. I found very useful to get a road atlas written in sinograms. This one has been very helpful.

The road network is complex in China

Also, it was always very difficult to convince a driver to let me on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Many wanted to drop me in a bus or a train station and I had to anticipate this fact many times.

-Road safety
Even though the Chinese roads are excellent, I had the impression to see more accidents in this country than anywhere else in the world. Walking along the road scared me few times, but it also led me to see some crazy behaviors. For example, I saw many times Chinese drivers driving reverse on the highways because they missed the exit.

One of the many accidents seen in China

The hospitality
Even with those many difficulties, hitchhiking has been possible in China. As the concept didn't exist, the challenge was to create a situation where the Chinese would see me more as a potential friend than a customer. From this moment, I discovered Chinese hospitality.

And as in many countries, I met wonderful people...

When a Chinese considers someone as a guest, he shows a quite amazing hospitality. His mission is to show and to explain you his culture. As you start to understand, the Chinese culture is quite big. To discover it from the point of view of the drivers has been a pleasure.


A huge and beautiful country

Hitchhiking in China allowed me also to discover some of its landscapes. China is such a huge country that we can find very different climates. Hot and humid in the southeast, cold and dry in the north. A journey in the Xishuangbanna and in Manchuria would probably be very different at this level.

Hot and humid in the the south of the Guizhou province

Cold and dry in the Qinghai province

China has every kind of landscapes. Flat plains, deserts with camels, 8000 meters mountains, tropical forests, white sand beaches, frozen lakes...

Limestones peaks in Yangshuo

Mountains and desert in Xinjiang


The sensory discovery of China has been as exciting as expected. Landscapes, smells, flavors.. Everything was new.

It has also been difficult, because Chine is firstly a surprising country. I needed some time to adapt as didn't have any landmark.

After this first time traveling in China, I wanted to understand this country a bit more deeply. Why communication was more difficult here than in other countries? Where the Chinese culture comes from? What is his past? In which direction goes the China of today,

You can read the second part of this article about the Middle Kingdom in: “Thoughts of a savage in China”

See you soon,


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