Information boards and public address systems provide advice in Mandarin
(official Chinese) and Eng lish. Intercity trains are modern and run on time.
The Chinese are exceedingly sociable. They are used to meeting people
who don't speak their own language since China has a huge number of
different languages (like Europe).
At daybreak, you will find people in the parks practising their early morning
exercises (young and old) or jogging (young). In the evenings many people
eat out rather than cook at home . There is a marvellous hustle and bustle.
Take the usual precautions when in a big crowd . China is a fairly safe place
for travellers but has its problems like everywhere else.
In other stories I talk about travelling out West in China. Things are
different there. You may need a permit to visit certain places and it may be
advisable to have a guide.
There are 1,300 million of them and they're all called Chinese. The
European Union has a third that number. They are all called Europeans
but no one expects them to be the same . We recognise that Bulgarians
are different from Spanish and Ita lians from Danes. The same goes for
China. Thirty percent of the population is officially recognised as
belonging to minority groups. In Britain they would be called nations
(English, Scots, Welsh). The rest of the Chinese population is classed
Don't think of the Han as being all the same . For starters, they don't all
speak the same language. The Shanghai "dialect" is almost as different from
the official Beijing "dialect" (Mandarin) as English is from German. The same
goes for Cantonese, which sounds so different that even foreigners can tell it
apart from Mandarin.
The big unifying factor is writing . Most Chinese characters do not spell out
sounds. They convey meaning (like our traffic signs). As a consequence,
people with totally different languages can communicate through writing . You
will see Chinese handing one another writing pads. They're not asking for an
address. They want the other person to write down what they are saying so
they can understand.
The Chinese people not only speak different languages, they have different
cultures and temperaments. Up north, they are more reserved (like Japanese
and northern Europeans). People in Beijing tend to be formal but the same
cannot be said for Shanghai. Down south, in the Cantonese speaking
regions, they are positively effusive.
In the mountainous borderlands to the north of Vietnam, Laos and
Myanmar (Burma), ethnic groups differ from one valley to the next and spill
over into neighbouring countries. There is a long history of ethnic tension and
hostility to the central government.
In the vast, sparsely populated western regions, the people are even more
varied. Many Tibetans do not regard themselves as Chinese and the same
can be said for many Muslims in Sinkiang.