Three stories from China

Three stories from China

While I’m still very backlogged on the main posts for this trip, I wanted to quickly post a few interesting experiences we had in China. If you read my blog on booking business class flights using the no-longer-available American Express to British Airways 40% transfer bonus, you know that we squeezed in a trip to China between Japan and Taiwan. I’ll talk more about the details in an eventual post I’ll make about our entire time in China, but the long-story-short is that we were there for 6 days, and I did not expect to enjoy China as much as I did.

Story 1: The girl and the chestnuts

The day after arriving in China, we decided to start our day in Hangzhou at a nearby cafe called HPC Bakery Coffee. It’s not a big cafe, but T and I were able to grab one of the open 4-seater tables. The table next to us only had one occupant, but I happened to notice two people walk up at one point and ask her if the other seats were open. They got the affirmative and sat down. I don’t speak Chinese, but I do speak Obvious.

Not 10 minutes later, I noticed a young mother sit her maybe 7-8 year old daughter at the one open seat at the other table. We had two open seats, but T and I were sitting diagonally, plus we had stuff on the seats, so I’m sure the table didn’t look very inviting. I pointed this out to T and we cleared the seats and I scooted over, just in case. The mom noticed us opening up the two seats, and they moved to our table, giving us a smile and a “xièxie”.

The little girl was noticeably interested in the obvious fact that we were foreigners and seemed like she wanted to interact, but was too shy. T gave her a small wave and a “hello” and we got a “hello” back. I looked up how to say “Do you speak English?” in Chinese and gave it a shot and she said “yes”. After another little while of her just watching us work on our computers, she took a couple of roasted chestnuts from the bag they had and offered them to us, then left us a handful later before leaving.

What I learned: Seems like the Chinese are one of those cultures that are okay sharing tables in public areas.

Story 2: The absent-minded AirPods user

Didi is the Chinese version of Uber, and they have an English version of their app, so we were able to use it. During one of our trips, I was using my phone to lookup how to say “here” (as in “it’s okay to stop here”), and I took out one of my AirPods to listen to the pronunciation, leaving the AirPod case on my lap. You can see where this is going. Normally, I’m pretty good at taking a quick look back into the car to make sure we didn’t leave anything. This time, however, as he dropped us off, he stopped rather close to another car, so we had to squeeze out of my side paying attention to not let the door hit the parked car. That tiny little change was enough for me to forget my routine, and I didn’t take a peek back into the car. From the street, it takes about 60 seconds of walking to get to our Airbnb, and it wasn’t until we were walking inside that I realized I didn’t have my AirPod case. I walked back out to the street just in case it had fallen out of the car while I was getting out, but no such luck.

Since the ride was over, I couldn’t message the driver, but I was able to open a conversation in the app with Didi customer service. I explained what happened and the representative was more than happy to help. He had me describe the item, then called the driver to have him check. Unfortunately, the response 5 minutes later was “The driver said it’s not there,” and the rep asked if I was sure I left them in there. I replied that I was pretty sure and asked if there was any way he could call again and let the driver know the case is pretty small and could be hard to see, especially if it fell on the floor and that I’d be happy to pay for the driver’s time if he found them and brought them back to me. He said he would, but when I didn’t hear back in the first 20 minutes, I figured it was a no-go. Finally, he responded with great news: “The driver said he has them.” The rep gave me a call on the phone and we tried to work out the logistics, including how much I should offer the driver to drive them back. I asked the rep what he thought, and he suggested 30-40 Yuan (~$4-6). Since our 20-minute ride with the driver was only about 19 Yuan, I figured paying him for 40-45 minutes of drive time sounded fair. The driver showed up with the AirPods later that night, and I very much appreciated that it took me three tries to get him to take the 40 Yuan.

What I learned: Didi has great customer service, even for English speakers. Plus, great interaction with locals #2.

Story 3: A run-in with the law

Foreigners in China are supposed to register with the local police within 24 hours of arriving in any city where they’ll be staying overnight. Normally, hotels take care of this, and you don’t need to do anything extra. However, while Airbnb will ask you to create a special profile with passport and nationality information, either you or your Airbnb host still has to do the police registration. I didn’t know any of this until our third day in China when our host texted me saying that we needed to go register with the police and that we should do it that evening, as we were supposed to have done it within 24 hours. I would later find out he didn’t know about any of this either, and that it’s never come up with any of the foreigners that have stayed at his place.

Thankfully, the police station was only about a 5-minute walk from our place. We showed up, and they took our personal information down and asked us basic arrival and departure questions. Then came the interesting part. The officer helping us said that they would need to come to our place to finish the paperwork and to give us a warning since we had not registered within 24 hours. He was friendly and seemed very relaxed about it, though, and assured us it was just a warning. We scheduled the visit for 10:00am the following morning.

Even though we were fairly sure that everything would be hunky-dory, I couldn’t help but consider the tiny possibility that this would somehow turn into some kind of nightmare situation, with them wanting to go through our phones, computers, clothes, bags, etc., then arresting us for god-knows-what.

Thankfully, they came by the next day right at 10:00am, and it truly ended up being just a formality. They explained a couple of documents to us, had us sign them, gave us copies of both documents, and were on their way in less than 5 minutes. No fuss, no muss.

What I learned: Police in an officially communist state don’t necessarily act how you think they might.

I’m a fan

All in all, we had really good interactions with people in China, and these are just three examples that stick out. I’m aware that there are plenty of reasons to have qualms with their government, but the people seem great, and even our interaction with police was a positive one. I’d definitely like to go back.

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