Carla King sends her female-friendly advice
Foreign women are
In general people
are very supportive and give me the thumbs up when they
figure out what I'm doing. They think that American women
can all fix engines and tromp around the world all by
themselves without a second thought. There's no criminal
element to fear here. Getting held-up or raped or murdered
doesn't cross my mind. Getting stuck on a desert road
with the camels and an overheated motorcycle engine does.
But there's always some kind soul who will stop. I was
resting the other day and a trucker stopped to see if
I needed the bike trucked to the next town. Maybe one
day foreigners won't be so exotic but I say get in on
it here before we become ho-hum. I've given rides to a
couple of stuck truckers already. They just can't believe
it when they see I'm a foreign woman and are so delighted.
And I have a guide to the next town!
Foreign women become
I've met a lot of
really smart women here, mostly English teachers. They
are familiar with the West via literature, and are anxious
to practice the language and to ask about fact versus
myth. Also as a Western women I have been privy to the
mens' world, (as in Africa, sort of the "honorary man"),
while the women cook and clean, you're invited to drink
beer and play cards...or you can go help cook which is
always fun. It's up to you. The women think it's a gas
when you "ooh and ahh" over making noodles. Really quite
a talent to us but very mundane to them.
Don't be shy...
The best advice
I could give about visiting China so far is don't be shy!
If you want to take a picture, go up and babble in English
to them and most of the time they will proudly pose, by
themselves or with the food they're cooking or their cool
motorbike or whatever. They are so proud of their children,
too. I was surrepticiously taking a photo of a little
boy asleep on a donkey cart full of hay and got busted
by the parents. I thought they'd be angry but they just
turned the cart so that the boy was in the light for a
better picture. They're probably still bragging about
how the foreigner thought their child was so beautiful.
(He was!) The Chinese are really loud and boisterous and
their concept of personal space is very different from
ours. So if you talk loudly and make big movements and
laugh and just do what you normally do in a bigger way
you will get along great!
Things to pack...
Bring photos of
Bring two phrasebooks,
one to refer to and one to let them look through. When
I return to China I'll bring lots of tiny phrasebooks
and other little books in dual-language English/Chinese
to give as gifts. There's a bookstore in San Francisco
that sells them, in the Chinatown area, and I've also
seen some at the foreign language bookstores here.
I will also bring
a blazer and some nicer shoes. I had a bus driver ask
my new Chinese friend why I dressed so badly. (I was wearing
black jeans and a black top and black shoes, and they
were a bit dusty.) I claimed it was because of the motorcycle,
but they hoe fields in navy blazers here. (Their clothes
might be ripped to shreds but they're still "dressed"
). Just a jacket would do, and some semi-prissy shoes.
All the women wear platform sandals with really thick
nude stockings, sometimes only sock stockings. It's dirty
here so there are no bare toes showing, ever.
Tampons, pads, individually wrapped wipes, a ton of those
little packets of tissue (there seems to be a shortage
of toilet paper here), and a couple of pairs of gloves--thin
dress gloves. Many women here wear them. You can buy them
here in the department stores along with shoe brushes
and polish. I'm really not a clean freak but these are
the things I've become self-conscious about.
And, oh yes. They
do the tea thing in a big way here. So if you need it,
bring coffee! It doesn't exist except in little coffee/sugar/cream
Food is super-cheap...
I've been surviving
on street food: noodles, dumplings, grilled skewers of
meat, bread, fruits and vegetables, all kinds of breads
(try flaky pastry filled with red mung bean), ice cream
pops, peanuts, raisins, dates...it's super-cheap and there's
always some regional specialty to choose from.
Older people are
The only thing I've
been unhappy about is the tendency to be too crowded sometimes.
It's frightening to have a hundred people watching you
eat. There's no air and it's just weird. I've learned
to stop in places with a lot of older people around. They
never let a crowd start. I've had many a snack in a darkened
little shop on a stool with three or four old people watching
me, not letting anyone else into the store. Reminds me
of visiting my grandparents in the Blue Ridge mountains,
with all the old guys sitting around the potbellied stove
at the corner store. Very charming, and sweet. They've
been giving me tastes of things...little pastries, a pickle
mixture. Read up on what these people have been through
in the past 60 years and you'll realize why they can empathize.
Women's Words on China....
I'm not sure how
differently I'd be treated if I were a man in China. I
think I'd be drinking a lot more beer with the guys. Women
are lucky, we can drink beer with the guys and beg off
if we're not feeling like making a contest of it.
(Source: Excerpt from Carla Kings Travel Journal -
At the Beijing Hospital
of Obstetrics and GYnecology, 97% of the doctors are females.
Since the end of the Cultural Revolution more and more
women are demanding that they be treated by females.
(Source: She Healers East and West, Evelyn Hannon,