Cultural differences – life on tour – Inner Mongolia
Maeve Fearon, Irish Dance Troupe, China Tour
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Leaving Beijing behind, we were off again…next stop, Zhengzhou. After leaving such an amazing city, this place was always going to be a disappointment and I have to be honest, unfortunately it lived up to our expectations. Upon arrival, our Chinese hotel left much to be desired. For some reason, in China they insist of having no proper privacy in our en-suite bathrooms. We have been in many hotels now where they actually have windows from the bathroom into the bedroom. In one hotel, Jason O’Neill’s toilet was enclosed in a glass compartment along with his shower! Now there’s a new idea. Zhengzhou was no different with both our toilet and shower enclosed in clear glass with no door, no blinds, just a tiny curtain. This is just one of the many examples of cultural differences here in China.
I am compelled to tell you this week about some of the dining experiences we’ve had since we got here. The restaurant staff at our hotel in Zhengzhou were among a large number so far who find it very difficult to understand what we are trying to order, even though they have both English and Chinese translations on the menu. Understandably, they don’t speak English but they tend to just stare at us and laugh repeatedly whilst we try to order. Picture a group of tired, frustrated and hungry dancers pointing at dishes on the menu and making the most comical hand gestures to describe food. In Zhengzhou, it took us about 20 minutes to get a glass of cold milk (It’s amazing the lengths you go to to have a half decent mug of tea!). On night two of our stay here however, we had a lovely night out in an a hip little bar just moments from our hotel. It was a special occasion with it being Fiona McCabe’s 30th Birthday and we had a fantastic night with all members of the company in attendance.
Back to the “Food situation” as we like to call it and let me give you a few more interesting stories. A few evenings ago, troupe members Craig and Shane decided they wanted french fries at our hotel. With a failed attempt at describing them over the phone, the reception staff paid a few visits to the room and using Google translate, they finally understood their order and replied “No”…no explanation, just “No”. So off they trotted to McDonald’s and a little while later, they returned and visited Maggie and Nicola’s room only to find Maggie enjoying a lovely plate of french fries from room service. More recently, they waited an hour on a vegetarian pizza, only to be served a large bowl of popcorn!! On another occasion Brian Shinners wanted “Chicken with Parsley Sauce” from the room service menu. Six different phone calls and visits from not one but four hotel staff, (including the chef!!) he decides he’s had enough and orders a taxi to KFC. When the taxi arrives he changes his mind as it can be quite dangerous going solo. He returns to his room and there it was….his “Chicken with Parsley Sauce” and of course his roommate John in convulsions of laughter. Callum Spencer also spent a considerable amount of time spelling out words like “eat” and “food” and tells me “I will never forget the music they played when they had me on hold!”.
After Zhengzhou, we were ready to brace the extreme cold of Inner Mongolia and arrived early afternoon to Hohhot. With temperatures as low as -21C, it was no surprise that the majority of the cast stayed indoors. Our talented physical therapist, Garrett Dockery fully embraced the weather however and went wandering. Not long later, he informed me he spotted a group of locals ice skating on the frozen pond and decided to join them..no bother to Garrett! The highlight of our visit here was yet another amazing theatre which boasted a grass roof! And of course it would’ve been rude not to visit Zara and the likes in the shopping mall close to our theatre, where once again we suffered another impossible dining experience at Pizza Hut. In China, it seems acceptable to sit and wait for over and hour on your dinner whilst all other members of your party have been served. Unfortunately this time the ill-fated diner was me. Restaurants also insist on giving just one menu to a table of two or more and ask that you pay immediately after you’ve ordered.
Our journey from Hohhot to our next stop, Yingkou was somewhat different as we boarded a tiny little plane (difficult times for the ‘tall people’ of the troupe!) Unfortunately in Yingkou, there was very little to do in the surrounding area. We also had more comical dining experiences at the hotel restaurant and suffered the relentless, terrible version of Samantha Mumba’s 1990s classic “Always come back to your love”. Every time we went for breakfast, lunch or dinner the tune was played and it became a running joke within the troupe, to the point where we had to politely ask them to turn the music off. Nicole McKeever ordered dumplings and got not one but three wrong dishes and Shaun Kelly also ordered a coffee and was handed a spoon ten minutes later.
So, there you have it, another typical week in China, and no doubt I will have more comical experiences to report in the final few weeks of tour. The cultural differences are more and more apparent and certainly make our tour more interesting. I’ve also included some of the humorous translations we’ve seen during our stay, and some of the bizarre sights I’ve seen to date.
Enjoy! : )