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Female-friendly advice from China


California travel writer Carla King is celebrating her 40th birthday by riding a motorcycle through China. We are delighted that she has chosen to send us exclusive excerpts from her journal written as she journeys.

Foreign women become honorary men...

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 thatthe 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 conceptof 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 your family.

Chinese Theater

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.

Practical things? 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/creampackets.

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,'s super-cheap and there's always some regional specialty to choose from.

Older people are the best...

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 witha 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 - Spring 1998

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, 1990)

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