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From the eyes of a tourist

It was interesting being a tourist in Shanghai, we were lopped in with other tour groups from elsewhere in China and the UK. After touring the city for a few days I couldn’t help but think about how the tourist industry in Shanghai was aiming at making it seem that China was westernized. Most of the places we toured had western toilets, toilet paper and soap available. This was the first city on the trip that was portrayed in this fashion. It is difficult going from a growing city such as Tianjin where the people represent the true way of living for the Chinese, and go to a city where they are sugar coating the true Chinese culture.

I could best compare our trip in Shanghai to going on vacation in Mexico. There are clean bathrooms, tourist attractions and forks. But in all actuality, we are highly aware of the poor conditions in both locations where there is poverty, cheap labor and heavy pollution. In Shanghai and most Mexican tourist hot spots there are markets to shop for souvenirs, in both places they expect you to bargain for your goods and it is not uncommon to hear them try to lure you into their shop to check out their goods. In Shanghai, they don’t understand the meaning of a firm “no? or “no thanks? as they try to sell you a fake Rolex watch or cheap souvenirs.

The hotel we stayed in at Shanghai was definitely treating us as Americans. It was the first time that every entrée was listed in English, there were eggs, toast, and cereal for breakfast and they gave us forks for every meal. At dinner it was interesting to compare a Chinese tour group to our own group. They served the Chinese group tea with meals, something which we had been accustomed to throughout the trip, but were not offered. The Chinese group was also given chopsticks to eat with instead of a fork. At the dinner there was a Chinese group, UK group and our American group and it was interesting to see the dynamics in our eating styles. The group from the UK had ordered fancy drinks, the Chinese drank hot tea and we drank soda or beer. The Chinese used chopsticks, we used both chopsticks and forks, and the UK group used forks.

The takeaway from this portion of the trip was that it is important to go off the beaten path to experience the true culture of a place. This experience has made me think about the next time I go to Mexico and how it would be beneficial to see the true Mexican culture, go see the farmland where they grow agave plants and where there are villages full of true Mexican cuisine and the true way of life. Traveling to Guangzhou was my eye opening experience; it gave me a taste of the Chinese way of life and culture. In thinking about studying abroad, I think the best way to engulf oneself in the culture is to do a home stay with a family in order to experience the language, cuisine and way of life of different cultures.