China: A Few Cautions


Don’t go in August. Look, I live in Atlanta. I understand heat and humidity, okay? But South China is a whole different world. Imagine Savannah in August. Now, imagine Savannah in August without the ocean breeze.

I went through three shirts a day. Thank goodness, the local business community is made up of smart people (they’re Chinese, after all!) and they’ve adopted the polo shirt as the universal work uniform. I was literally the only person other than hotel/restaurant staff who I saw wearing a coat and tie… and I got rid of both as quickly as I decently could. But pack extra shirts, schedule time for extra showers, and consider having the hotel do your laundry once or twice. That’s how I managed.

Hot and Humid

And schoolchildren are on holiday during August… so tourist destinations are jammed.


Think twice—and do some homework—if you have mobility restrictions. Seriously. The whole country is handicapped-hostile, and Xiang Jiajie National Park is worse. Simple arithmetic implies there must be tens of millions of Chinese using wheelchairs, but they’re apparently not encouraged to get out of the house and play tourist.

Even in the urban areas, they still haven’t firmly established the need for curb cuts and smooth ramps and such. And a common architectural theme is dividing a room or outdoor area into raised and sunken sections by raising or lowering part of the room a bit, apparently just for the hell of it.

Sedan Chair

The country may be run by a gerontocracy, and they may have restaurants twice the age of the United States, but the overwhelming impression is of a young country… young people, young buildings, young cities. Curb cuts are for old folks. Don’t expect them.

Air Pollution

Ditto—think twice and do your homework—if you have serious respiratory problems. I had read about China’s pollution issues, but nothing — nothing — prepared me for stepping off the plane in Changsha. I started getting a metallic tickle in the back of my throat before even leaving the airport, and it got much worse as soon as we stepped outside.

Remember “Savannah in August” above? Now imagine Savannah in August, but you’re breathing through an ashtray. I’ve been to Mexico City. I’ve been to Sao Paulo. I’ve even been to Los Angeles back in the bad old 1970s during the leaded-gasoline era. But China… the air is just apocalyptic. The sky is orange with petrochemical nastiness. We got one afternoon of rain, which was welcome for washing some of the filth out of the air (although what it did to the humidity had to be felt to be believed.)

Changsha traffic

All of which makes you wonder… the Chinese are really smart people. Okay, as a centralized economic growth policy, they’ve decided to buy a bunch of cars and build a bunch of coal-fired powerplants. Those decisions have consequences through poisoning the air they breathe. As a result, they’re investing heavily in solar energy and cleantech, and I’m certain they’ll get on top of the problem.

But in the meantime, on top of that, why do so many Chinese smoke???

Young, old, male, female, urban, rural, you’ll see them puffing away.

Is it fatalism? “I’m going to get lung cancer anyway, so I might as well enjoy a cigarette or six before breakfast?”

I just don’t understand. As I said, China is different.

Now, Go!

The preceding three sections sound overly negative, and that’s not my intention. You can manage the weather with smart scheduling. Most people won’t have mobility issues. And the pollution… well, I wouldn’t want to raise a child in that air, but I don’t think you should let it keep you from visiting as a tourist.

Go! More on what you’ll see in the next posts.

View: The China Posts