Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Stranded in China (The Horror, The Horror)

Many Americans are afraid to venture out into the world, a problem that's often exacerbated by fear-mongering in the media. Reading this article in USA Today about an American businessman who mistakenly found himself in Taiyuan instead of Taiwan, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. China is a perfectly safe place, but the poor man seems to think he was lucky to make it home in one piece, and the hysterical tone of the article only justifies his irrational panic. Travel is about getting out of one's comfort zone and embracing the unexpected. Arriving without an itinerary in a place like Taiyuan can be a good thing, but stories like this make it sound like a crazy idea. Pity the college student planning a trip across China whose parents come across this irresponsible piece of journalism, pity the good people of Taiyuan who did nothing to deserve this reputation and pity the readers of USA Today who believe what they see in print and will never take a vacation abroad. Maybe USA Today has a kick-back deal going with the cruise ship companies?

Taiyuan, Shanxi Province
Originally uploaded by AlexLiu.

I originally found this story on World Hum, one of the best independent travel sites on the web. Here's what they had to say:

Business Traveler on Chinese Brothel: I Had to "Damn Near Fight My Way Out"

No, this is not from the pages of the Onion. It’s from an AP story about an American business traveler in China who wound up flying into the wrong city—Taiyuan, a place with 1.5 million residents—and seemed to nearly fear for his life. We’re not sure what’s more shocking: the business traveler’s level of anxiety over a situation backpackers experience more or less daily, or the AP’s breathless account, which doesn’t begin to question the traveler’s response. (How does any city with 1.5 million people qualify as “remote”?)

And here are some comments from people posting to the JET message board Big Daikon:

"I've been to Taiyuan. It's not all that remote. You can get trains to Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai and other places without many problems (I paid about $25 US to get from Taiyuan to Xi'an when I was there). It sucks that he had no money, and I can understand being upset and panicky, but it's hardly rural Siberia or something. He should have been able to get a flight to Beijing for under $100 US.

I'm sure it wasn't enjoyable, but his life was hardly in danger. The way he was talking (and the article was written), you'd have thought there were armed, roving gangs running around or something. And this would be a good lesson in why it's smart to travel with some cash, no matter where you think you're going. How the guy allowed himself to wind up in a brothel, I can't begin to figure out. There are hotels and stuff right by the train station!"

"well, at least it sounds better than 'Man stupidly takes wrong plane; locals, man kind of frightened'"

"So just to get this straight, he went to China on the "wrong flight", went straight to a brothel then stayed for four days while his wife sent him money........ "

"You know, this article was picked up by dozens of major news outlets in America, not just USA Today. The headline sounded familiar, and sure enough, I found the exact same story in the Post.
What is the hidden message in this?
Clearly China is a land of savage barbarians, dangerous and unpredictable.
Why would major news outlets want this story?
Anything China relates is selling like hotcakes right now with Hu visiting the US.
What is the effect this crap will have on Sinai-American relations?
Tourism drop, investment drop, rising antipathy towards immigrants.

Its like the papers WANT America to villify someone. It sells, right? You might say, "no one will read this frickin' article and actually avoid China" but thats just want many Americans will do. They read it and it becomes gospel. "

Contribute to the conversation here.

UPDATE - Swing on over to Shanghai List for a great take on the debacle.


Blogger biffa said...

It really does sound like an Onion article. I like the way he reportedly broke into tears at the 'reunion' with his wife and kids.

On a different note, I like the little mistake made by the big daikon writer who finds concern for future Sinai-American relations as a consequence of the article. All those Egyptians are going to wonder what the hell's going on.

11:01 PM  
Anonymous NiHao said...

It's always so embarrassing when it's an American who makes that kind of mistake! While those of us who do travel can just shake our heads, I always wonder what the rest of the world must be thinking.

2:40 PM  

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