Dingle does China

Culture | by Sascha Matuszak
Posted: August 15th, 2011 | Updated: September 15th, 2011 | Comments

travel in China_life in China_china blogs_china travel

Dingle is a Brit with wit (and, judging by that little rhyme, he has far more of it than we do). He came to China specifically to find love, but instead wound up working. Or the other way around. Or both. Either way, the result is a fine blog on life in China, Dingle Speaks. Check it out for plenty of lolz, and fine insight into China...and read on for more Dingle on China >>> ChinaTravel.net: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in China, Dingle. Dingle: Well, I blog as Dingle, and I'm from Northwest England, kind of close to Manchester (in Chinese terms I'm pretty much in the same neighbourhood; in the UK it's the kind of "long" journey which would need planning days in advance). My arrival in China was well timed, really. Around 7 years ago,  I was stuck in a rut and desperate to get away from the dreary Northwest town where I was living. I knew a couple of people who had the most amazing travel stories and was seriously thinking about taking a year out of work to travel around Australia. I think my boss realised how I was feeling and gave me this amazing opportunity to travel to China on business (which at the time was somewhere so far off my radar for potential travel destinations that I couldn't have pointed to Shanghai or even Hong Kong on a map). The trip went extremely well and as soon as I returned to the UK I was being invited to go out again. One thing led to another and within six months I was living in Xujiahui on a semi-permanent contract. ChinaTravel.net: Did you blog back home or was it something you started here? Dingle: Not really;  it started here. I think it was the combination of being away from family and friends in the UK and being based somewhere like Shanghai where so many wonderful and bizarre things were happening which I wanted to tell them about. I started with emails and videos, but after posting humorous personal ads on a local forum here a couple of my friends who had blogs (ISpyShanghai and I Love China) convinced me to start a blog, and some of the ads made up the first few posts of the blog. ChinaTravel.net: Have you had the chance to travel much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far. Dingle: Not as much as I'd like. I travel all round Asia with my job (at peak,  I can be making 3 or 4 trips a month) so when there's a break more often than not I like to spend some serious sofa time at home. I'd say that my best experience travelling in China so far would be the trip I made to Yangshuo with my wife "H" a couple of years ago. Yangshuo itself wasn't so interesting, and we actually stopped 7 or 8 km (4 to 5 mi) away for some peace and quiet. We rented bicycles and rode around finding small real villages (including the likes of Longtang (Lóngtáng, 龙堂) and Liugong which are more well known and don't strictly meet my criteria for a real village*) which were off the main tourist drag and infinitely more interesting than Yangshuo itself (which is basically just a glorified Xiangyang market). We spent the days chatting to smiling locals washing their clothes in streams or farming the land, discussing the local superstitions (e.g., people turning to stone in Longtang) and just generally riding through the unique lush, hilly environment... It was an amazing trip.     *Definition of a real village: • you don't have to pay to get in • nobody offers to be your guide • no gift shops or restaurants ChinaTravel.net: And your worst? Dingle: I've been on a number of local group bus tours to various destinations which I find absolute torture. The worst was probably a trip to Anji (Ānjí Xiàn, 安吉县) the other year. Anyway, they're all the same. You basically spend an entire weekend on a bus, getting dragged round from one fake tourist site to the next with a constant, deafening megaphone voice-over. Often you'll find yourself walking for an hour just to see something like "the largest (clay) teapot (with a loop handle) in the world." There's always at least one cultural show purporting to show the history of a local ethnic minority (typically just locals in loin cloths doing a dance routine) and ALWAYS some source of water with magical powers which you need to drink/bathe in. In the case of the teapot mentioned above, if you washed your hands in the water flowing from the spout (then quickly rub the loop handle before your hands dry) you would be granted eternal good luck in gambling.... Mind you, one return trip from Shenzhen is also a key competitor for my worst travel experience, but it loses out to group bus tours on the basis that it only lasted 24 hours.. ChinaTravel.net: You're currently based in Shanghai. What are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for the city? Dingle: Well...
  • Everyone knows about the touristy stuff in Shanghai: the Bund, Xintiandi, YuYuan, Tianzifang, going up a tall building in Pudong etc.... And they're fine if you want to see lots of other tourists and buy some tat, but they don't really tell you anything about China. Get them over and done with on your first day or so.
  • Get out to one of the old neighbourhoods while they're still standing. My favourite place to take visitors used to be the old town around Fangbang Lu, but most of that's gone now. These days we tend to head over towards the fabric market and walk north through the old town from there. Here you'll meet some real smiling locals who sometimes live in pretty dreadful conditions (a real eye-opener for first time visitors) but they are more than happy to see laowai walking around their neighbourhood and will often try to chat with you.
  • Go to a local Shanghai park. You'll see amazing things happening, especially if you get up early in the morning. It always astonishes me how active the elderly residents remain compared to our sedentary OAPs back home in the West. Take a walk in a park at around 7am and you'll see groups of retired residents doing Tai Chi, playing badminton, dancing with swords or simply walking backwards and clapping. The sense of community is astonishing. Even during the daytime, somewhere like Fuxing Park is a hive of activity. When my family were here recently we saw well-dressed couples ballroom dancing around portable stereos, a choir gathered around an electric organ singing Chinese opera, groups of older men with spinning tops or flying kites, crowds of people surrounding card games, a group of men practicing Jiu Jitsu. The breadth of activities was amazing.
  • Barter at a market. Get into a huge argument with a local over the price of a lighter in the shape of a Mahjong piece or a tailored suit at the fabric market. Feel the achievement at getting the price down by 30% only for that to be instantly dashed away as the owner of the next stall offers to sell you more of the same item for half the price you just paid.
  • EAT. This is a no-brainer really. The food here is amazing and normally the highlight of everybody's trip. Current favourites for visitors include Sichuan Citizen, Southern Barbarian (officially my family's favourite of their trip), lunch at Fat Olive, Lynn, the Xinjiang restaurant on Dongtai Lu, Di Shui Dong (always the Maoming Lu branch) and Lao Beijing (Henan Lu).
ChinaTravel.net: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving? Dingle: Well, that's a tricky one as I didn't really know anything about China before I arrived. I actually read a book on moving to China which proved to be absolutely useless. It contained advice such as "don't expect all the mod cons you're used to back in your home country, for example, in my home country we had an intercom system to summon the maid, however this was not available in China, we had to use a bell" and went on to make something as simple as dining sound inordinately complex (the book was written by a university professor who had regular dinners with government officials, which were understandably very formal). The truth was far away, of course. As long as you are polite, give people face and drink when you're asked to (even just a sip), then everything else dwindles into insignificance (we're laowai and thus expected to behave strangely!). I guess if we're talking about a single piece of advice which would have been beneficial though, it's just how much of a barrier the Chinese language can be for someone who doesn't speak or read Chinese. The worst was always taxis. I remember leaving my hotel on my first trip to China for a long walk and then trying to get a taxi back. I never gave a thought to the fact that place names would be completely different in Chinese. I must have said "Howard Johnson" in just about every way possible with no success. I tried writing it down not even thinking that the driver couldn't read English and ended up walking back to the hotel. The next day I learnt the name of the hotel in Chinese and tried again, with no success. The taxi drivers just shook their heads and waved me away, and I walked again. So, if there's one thing I wish I'd known it's that if you speak no Chinese you should never leave the hotel without a written address in Chinese. ChinaTravel.net: What do you miss most from home? Dingle: Well, of course I miss my family the most. Since I left the UK my sister has had two children. I've only seen my niece 4 times and she's already at primary school. Every time I go home she's advanced so much compared to the last time I saw her, it really hits me how long it's been since my last visit. The other things pale in significance: camping in the lake district, real bacon, proper English sausages, decent Cheddar and Stilton, a pint of Black Sheep.... ChinaTravel.net:What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow? Dingle: Well, where do I start? The food, the people (UK streets seem absolutely empty in comparison), the buzz. You always feel like you're going to see something exciting every time you walk out of the door. The optimism (the UK has been positively depressing in the last couple of years, particularly in the North, where there is a lot of concern about the future and people talk about politics much more than I ever remember). If I moved back to the UK tomorrow I would be in culture shock for weeks. ChinaTravel.net: What three words sum up your China experience? Dingle: Opportunity, amazing, dirty. If you've enjoyed meeting Dingle and would like to read more, head over and say hi at his China blog, Dingle Speaks.
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