Give Chinese overseas tourists a break

Updated: 2013-08-07 15:22

By William Daniel Garst (China Daily)

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When instructing English at a no-name university during my first year in China, I saw a similar behavior pattern among the older American teacher colleagues. As we pulled into the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum parking lot on a group trip to Xi'an of Shaanxi province, our Chinese guide warned us not to buy the miniature soldiers hawked by local farmers, saying that they were shoddy and overpriced. But an older instructor, a 60-something lady, said not once, but twice, "Can't we just bargain them down!"

It was as if our main purpose in going there was to haggle with farmers over tacky souvenirs rather than seeing Emperor Qinshihuang's terra cotta army. For this teacher and the other older instructors, all of whom made no effort to study Mandarin or learn about Chinese culture, the big country was one big flea market for buying things on the cheap.

Despite my strong dislike for tourists, I am willing to cut Chinese tourists some slack in both the group tour and shopping areas. Unlike Western Europeans, Chinese people do not have long vacations, so seeing a lot in one short go is often done out of necessity. And thanks to import duties and high taxes, luxury goods are much less expensive to buy overseas than in China.

Thus the number of serious travelers, vs. tourists, is on the rise in China. This could not come soon enough, as Chinese tourists are creating a serious image problem for their country.

But as much as people in other places heavily visited by Chinese tourist might kvetch about the latter's conduct, they are also surely quite happy to see these visitors part with their money. Before complaining about Chinese behavior, foreigners should remember who is helping to butter their bread.

The author is an American corporate trainer in China.

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