People’s Republic of smokers
After touring China last month, I feel compelled to write this letter. There is so much smoking there that it is a genuine health hazard for most people. People smoke openly without a scintilla of consideration for others.
In the lounge of a five-star hotel in a city where smoking is explicitly prohibited, Chinese tourists simply ignored the sign and puffed smoke in people’s faces. In almost all cities, customers had to wait at the checkout counter until hotel workers physically examined the room to make sure items such as televisions were not taken or quilts were not burned with cigarette butts. Discarded cigarettes can be found all over the place, including in fish ponds at high-end hotel gardens. To make things worse, some tourists at Huang Shan even hand cigarettes to wild monkeys. The quality of people in China is woefully lacking and the sad thing is that they do not have any sense of guilt or seemingly any conscience at all. The mentality is that of the nouveau riche: I have money and who are you to tell me what to do?
Tourists had better guard their purses: The place is replete with liars and charlatans. At officially sponsored herbal medicine shops, tourists are routinely given free diagnoses by so-called Tibetan or herbal doctors via pulse checking. They perform miracles by practicing qigong that gives stinging sensations to parts of your body before selling you expensive herbal medicines worth thousands of dollars. Note that these Houdinis touch the body part before performing the trick. These are clearly not Tibetans; they are dishonest Chinese.
At state-affiliated jade and jewelry stores, negotiating prices is dramatic to say the least. A rule of thumb is dividing the tag price by 10. This is not enough now: After dividing the price by 10, you should negotiate it down further by another 20 percent. For instance, a Chinese tourist bought an emerald necklace priced at 70,000 yuan (US$11,300) for 4,950 yuan. I vividly remember what the sales manager said at the Shanghai jade store:
“I won’t sell this ruby ring to a Japanese for US$1,500, but am willing to give it to a patriotic Chinese for free, barring a small fee for costs.” This small fee turned out to be US$50 for a piece of cheap semi-precious stone. Though people in Taiwan and China may be similar genetically, they differ like day and night. On a subway ride from Xindian (新店) to Taipei Railway Station, young Taiwanese would rather stand instead of taking the priority seats. In China people cut the line on a regular basis. Former Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) used to say “half of my people are moral saints.” It is singularly farcical; half of them are Joe Camels or rascals.