Official To Chinese Tourists: ‘Be Quiet, Don’t Spit’

Chinese tourists
Kim Traynor

A senior official in China has urged Chinese tourists to improve their behavior, the South China Morning Post reports. Vice-Premier Wang Yang said the “breeding” of some Chinese tourists leaves something to be desired and there are problems with them, “talking loudly in public places, jay-walking, spitting and willfully carving characters on items in scenic zones.”

Mr. Yang is backing up his warning. He made the comments at a meeting where the Communist Party passed a law that will allow travel companies to cancel their contracts with tourists who “violate social ethics.” While the wording is vague, it basically means tour companies can send embarrassing guests home.

Needless to say, this bit of news is causing much snickering in the Western press, but personally I haven’t noticed that Chinese tourists are any ruder than any other kind of tourist. Having lived in tourism epicenters such as Madrid and Oxford, I’ve seen plenty of Chinese tour groups and never witnessed any spitting. The only bit of obnoxiousness I saw was a group walking through Oxford with a tour leader giving her spiel on a megaphone. Yeah, passing through the dreaming towers of academe with a bloody megaphone. The Oxford police must have put a stop to it because I never saw it again.

Considering that the Chinese come from a culture where international tourism is a very recent phenomenon, I think on the whole they behave quite well. As China reaches out into the world, however, the government has become increasingly image conscious, doing such PR blitzes as putting on grandiose Chinese New Year’s shows in places like the Estonian capital Tallinn, a city with only a tiny Chinese population.

So congratulations to Mr. Yang for being overly cautious. If only David Cameron would tell the English not to go on drunken stag trips. If only Barack Obama would tell Americans to not be so damn loud and arrogant. Yes, these stereotypes only apply to a small minority, but it’s those obnoxious few that we tend to remember.

The Pacific Ocean: Is It Really True That One-Third Of Young Americans Can’t Find It?

Pacific OceanWhile reading fellow Gadling blogger Chris Owen’s post about a Twitter mix-up between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, I was horrified to read that one-third of young Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean.

I was horrified, but not surprised. I taught for several years in a community college and no amount of public ignorance surprises me anymore – not after a student handed in a paper stating that Iraq and Afghanistan were cities.

But I’m always suspicious of statistics. It’s a well-known fact that 85 percent of all statistics are wrong, so I emailed Chris and asked for his source, which turned out to be the Around the World geography project. They cite a National Geographic study that found 29 percent of U.S. 18-24 year olds couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map.

Looking at the original study, it turns out they got it wrong. “Only” 21 percent of those quizzed couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. The 2006 study quizzed 510 Americans aged 18-24 on a number of geographic issues. The one that concerns us here was a blank map test to see if the participants could correctly point out certain countries and geographic locations. Boundaries were clearly labeled; they simply needed to match the shape and location with the country or ocean.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only hard-to-find location. A staggering 63 percent couldn’t find Iraq, despite near-constant media coverage. Closer to home, 50 percent couldn’t find New York state. Check out the link to read more disheartening statistics.

I suppose we could blame the educational system, but 48 percent of the participants said they had a geography class sometime between sixth grade and senior year, so I suspect the blame lies with parents for not instilling a desire to learn about the world and the young Americans themselves for not realizing this information could be useful.

When I was discussing this post at the breakfast table my7-year-old scoffed, “I know where the Pacific Ocean is!”

I decided to test him. He correctly pointed out the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I stumped him on the Sea of Azov, though. Can’t let him get too big for his britches.

Of course he enjoys a key advantage – parents who channel his natural childhood curiosity into learning about the world around him and foster an enthusiasm for exploration and discovery.

In other words, we give a shit about his education.

[Image of the Pacific Ocean courtesy NASA]

New Agers Trash Mayan Pyramid At ‘End Of The World’ Party

Mayan, Tikal
Revelers at an Apocalypse party at the ancient Mayan site of Tikal in Guatemala have damaged one of the pyramids, AFP reports.

Temple II, built at Tikal’s height around 700 A.D., was damaged when a crowd of partygoers ignored signs saying it was off-limits and climbed up it anyway. An official at the site didn’t reveal how extensive the damage was but did say it was permanent.

About 7,000 tourists visited Tikal on Friday to mark the end of a cycle in the Mayan calendar, which many wide-eyed dupes believed would bring the end of the world, or at least some New-Agey world transformation that would imbue their crystals with deep spiritual significance.

If they had asked the Maya themselves they would have learned that the world wasn’t actually ending, but why do that? Traditional cultures and UNESCO World Heritage Sites are only there as props for jaded First Worlders shopping for a cheap semblance of spirituality the same way they’ll buy Save The Whale T-shirts made in Filipino sweat shops.

They’ll also blithely ignore the real historical and cultural significance of such sites in preference for silly theories about secret civilizations, aliens or Atlantis. This sort of New Age archaeology is rooted in racism. As some locals complained, the party wasn’t really about the Maya at all.

Dave, an old friend of mine, calls the New Age movement “Newage,” because it rhymes with “sewage.” I propose a worldwide movement to adopt Dave’s term for these callow crystal-clutching consumers. Protect ancient Mayan sites by flushing the Newage movement!

[Photo courtesy Mike Vondran]

6-Year-Old Saves Manet Painting For UK (With A Little Help)

ManetLast weekend my family and I visited the Ashmolean Museum here in Oxford. My 6-year-old son loves this place because of all the headless statues, the bow you can use to shoot deer in the Prehistoric Europe room, and the gold coin of the Roman emperor Julian, who he’s named after.

In the European art section we came across several paintings by Manet. One was “Portrait of Mademoiselle Claus,” painted in 1868. The Ashmolean has been campaigning to keep this painting in the UK.

As an Ashmolean press release explains, “The painting was purchased by a foreign buyer in 2011 for £28.35 million. Following advice from the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art, the picture was judged to be of outstanding cultural importance and was placed under a temporary export bar … the painting was made available to a British public institution for 27% of its market value.”

So the museum set out to raise £7.83 million ($12.25 million). Julian puzzled through the fundraising plea with a serious look on his face, reached into his pocket for some coins, and plunked them in the box.

Three days later the Ashmolean announced they’d raised the money.

This is what I love about museums. They connect people with the world’s heritage. In some cases, like with the Ashmolean, they connect them for free. Art like this doesn’t belong in the living room of some asshole banker who makes his money from sub-prime mortgages and keeps it in offshore accounts. More and more, art and antiquities are seen as investments for the super rich, commodities to be bought and sold instead of appreciated. I’ve had to mingle with these plastic people in galleries like Sotheby’s in London. It’s the only chance I have to see the art for sale there before it disappears into a private collection.

I don’t even like Manet all that much, but that’s not the point. His work has touched millions of people for more than a century. So congratulations, Ashmolean, thanks for keeping this painting in the public eye where it belongs. And thanks for teaching my kid an important lesson in democracy.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Travel Clichés: They Go With The Territory

ClichésI’ve recently been dipping into “The Cat’s Pyjamas: The Penguin Book of Cliches” by Julia Cresswell, which is a good summer read.

Cresswell really put her nose to the grindstone for this weighty tome, leaving no stone unturned in her quest for the real deal about cliches. We’re informed that “wend your way” dates back to the Anglo-Saxons, with “wend” meaning “to go.” It was on its way out as a word when Sir Walter Scott and other nineteenth century romantic authors breathed new life into it.

Other cliches come from the Bible, like “the four corners of the earth” and “the ends of the earth.” Cresswell writes, “the persistence of an expression once it has become fixed is evident in the way that no one is uncomfortable with these phrases, despite the fact that flat-earthers are few and far between.”

Some phrases are of more recent vintage. “The fast lane” can only be traced back to 1966.

Bad travel writing is filled to the brim with cliches. Terms like “unique” or “hidden” or “authentic” or “off the beaten path” are like nails on a blackboard to my ears. Yet none of these chills me to my marrow more than that most wretched of adjectives: “quaint.”

When I became a travel writer ten years ago I swore upon a stack of Bibles never to use “quaint” in an article. I have stuck to that vow like glue, except when a snake-in-the-grass copy editor stabbed me in the back. I had written an article about British thatched roof houses for a certain magazine that shall remain nameless and titled it simply, “Thatched Roof Houses.” The copy editor stole my thunder by adding the subtitle, “The Story Behind The Quaintness.” This led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Sometimes travel cliches can be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, especially when they perpetuate stereotypes. Here’s some tongue-in-cheek advice on writing about Africa that will have you splitting your sides with laughter. So, fellow travel writers, I beg you on bended knee, when you put pen to paper and are stuck for the right word, don’t fall back on cliches. Avoid them like the plague.

[Photo courtesy shutterbug Jonas Bengtsson]