Before visiting China, my impression about China was – it is a large country, it is very advanced when it comes to infrastructure and technology, and it is a hard working country.
After visiting China, my impression about China just got multiplied by a factor of 10.
I visited Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, and it is also the city where Asian Games are going to be conducted in 2022.
I was advised to get my hotel name (where I would be staying in Hangzhou) and it’s address written in Mandarin Chinese, because the probability of the cab drivers speaking/reading English is almost zero.
I landed in Hangzhou airport, came out of the airport and flagged a taxi to pick me up. I pronounced my hotel name and the driver didn’t respond. Then, I showed him the paper where my hotel name and address was written in Mandarin Chinese. The next sequence of events were interesting.
The cab driver had about seven smartphones – all are at least 5″ in screen size, and all of them were neatly attached to the windscreen. His car dashboard was like a cockpit with too many gadgets. He picked up one of the phone, simply read (spoke) the address, the taxi app recognised the address in split seconds in the first try itself, and without any buffer the app displayed a detailed route map from airport to the hotel. There was zero lag in the app, and zero glitch in technology. Entire process was blazing fast.
In India, we have pretty much two major on-demand taxi service companies – OLA, and UBER. In China, there are at least a dozen of them. Some of them are – Didi Dache, UBER, Kuaidadi, Yongche, Yaoyao Zhaoche, Dahuangfen, eHi and more. “Didi” in Chinese stands for “taxi”. The “map” service provider in the taxi app was powered by the country’s largest search engine – Baidu – famously referred as the Google of China.
The taxi market in China is so competitive that UBER finally had to merge with the top player – Didi Dache. In some of the taxi hailing apps, users (us) have to offer a tip (via app) to the taxi drivers to pick them up. Demand and supply relationship is healthy in China.
During my 42 km long drive from airport to hotel, I could notice at least 500 “MASSIVE” under construction buildings. Imagine Gurgaon city buildings or Bangalore’s ITPL that’s spanning for 20 kms long. It looked like the entire suburb was going to develop into a densely populated area. Since I don’t speak Mandarin, I couldn’t ask the driver what are these buildings for.
Also, I could hardly see anything written anywhere in English. Only large buildings (perhaps, companies) had their building names written in English.
For a traveller, without knowing basic spoken words of Mandarin Chinese, exploring China is very tough. The local map app displays everything in Chinese. So, the only way to traverse China is to keep looking out for a local who speaks English.
China is no less to India when it comes to traffic jam. When it comes to cleanliness of the place in general, I found Hangzhou to be a decently clean city.
I stayed at Han Yue Hotel in Hangzhou. The hotel rooms were neat and great. As expected, breakfast buffet had only Chinese food items.
The next day, I went out to explore the city (more on this in later article), and when I came back to my hotel room, I noticed something weird. As soon as I opened the door, there were 4-5 business cards on the floor. I curiously picked them up, because I could see few English letters there. Finally, all cards had details of local call girls and their contact details. The average daily room rate in Han Yue Hotel was Rs 5,000, I was surprised to see that even a mid-segment hotel like this allows someone to slide in call girl cards in all of their rooms.
When it comes to internet access in China, all major international B2C websites (like Facebook, Google, Twitter) are blocked, so one has to buy a proxy software like i did for about USD 20, to access these sites. Until I bought this proxy software, I was browsing through Youku (YouTube version of China) to see if there are any Indian videos available and to my surprise, I found only countable number of videos. Note: Youku is blocked in India 🙂