Posted by: patenttranslator | October 11, 2012

After More Than Two Decades of Japanese Domination Chinese Tourists Have Driven Japanese Tour Groups Out of the Heart of Europe

The last time when I was in Prague 4 years ago, an elderly Japanese gentlemen holding a Japanese guidebook asked me in nearly incomprehensible English on Kaprova Street near Franz Kafka’s house for directions to a museum of marionettes. He seemed only mildly surprised when I responded in Japanese and told him after a brief consultation with a local resident that his guidebook was obsolete because the museum was moved to a different address.

Prague and Český Krumlov, my hometown near Austrian border, used to be besieged by legions of Japanese tour groups for more than two decades after the fall of communism in 1989. Everywhere I went, I used to hear Japanese all around me, and the pictures of the streets in Prague that I took on the seven or eight occasions when I was revisiting my old haunts used to be full of Japanese tour groups.

But although I saw plenty of Asian faces during my pilgrimage to Prague and Český Krumlov last week, I only heard Japanese spoken by one lonely group of 4 young Japanese women on Nerudova Street between Charles Bridge and the Castle. All the other Asian tourists that I heard spoke Chinese.

And there were lots and lots of them.

The restaurant in the small town of Český Krumlov where I used to go for a beer well before I turned 18 on the main square used to be called in Czech “Mĕšťák”, which means something like “The Town Restaurant”. Then they changed the name to something German, I don’t remember what, when the town was flooded mostly by wave upon wave of German speaking tourists in the nineties, and now the same restaurant where I used to drink as a teenager the real Budweiser, as opposed to the cat p*ss that is sold here in America under the same name, is divided into three sections: one is called “The Old Inn”, a new section in what used to be the basement is now called in English “The Catacombs Pilsner Beer Cellar “, and upstairs where I went to my first disco and ended up dancing with a lonely fat girl when I was about 17 is now a Chinese restaurant called “Shanghai Restaurant”.

The Czechs in Krumlov must have figured out that since most Germans know some English, there is really no need for German names on restaurants and hotels, but that it’s best to put some Chinese characters on a restaurant to make sure that hungry Chinese tourists will not miss it.

I used to live in a house on that square up until I turned 18 and decided to go to Prague to study languages. The house is a hotel now. I remember that I saw a photo of Hitler giving a speech in front of the City Hall on the same square across from the house where I used to live. I wonder what he said on that occasion. Probably a variation of what he reportedly said when German army triumphantly entered Prague in 1939 (“Prague is the prettiest German city I know”).

One morning when I was 16, after I walked a few steps from my house to the square to buy something, to my surprise I was surrounded by Russian tanks … and the gun turrets of the tanks were for some reason pointing at me. When I started practicing my halting Russian with the soldiers, I noticed that they seemed even more confused than I was as some of them thought that they were in Germany. Many of them had Asian faces, but I am not sure what nationality they were. I was too polite to ask. It’s rude to ask something like that people that you just met, especially when they are pointing their guns at you.

After Hitler and Russian tanks, the small town where I grew up is now coping with new waves of tourists whose nationality seems to keep changing every 20 years or so. It’s probably progress – tourists bring money, and unlike dictators and tanks, they are generally not really dangerous.

They are generally harmless, as long as they remain tourists. Once they stop being tourists and settle down some place, they tend to change the town to their image. Big chunks of San Francisco are now more Chinese than American, let alone Italian or Irish as they used to be a hundred years ago.

When I mentioned to the cab driver who was taking me to Prague Airport how surprised I was by the sudden absence of Japanese tourists and the large numbers of Chinese tourists, he told me that he likes to pick up Japanese people at the airport because they are friendly and good tippers, but that he personally never had the pleasure of picking up a Chinese customer.

He said that the reason for this is that there is a whole small Chinese town on the outskirts of Prague where there are Chinese shops, schools, buses and all kinds of businesses and services catering to Chinese clientele, including taxi services.

ATM machines at the banks in that Chinese town on the outskirts of Prague must have instructions in Chinese, English, and Czech, probably in that order.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for this article about your hometown.
    It holds pleasant memories for me as my husband and I visited it on our honeymoon – we were two of the many tourists who flock there every year. I bought a calendar and enjoyed pictures of Český Krumlov for the whole of the following year.

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  2. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and your stay in my hometown.

    We went for our honeymoon to Hokkaido because my wife has never been there and she wanted to experience the only part of Japan where people still have plenty of space. We traveled in silent, comfortable trains with white covers on the seats which were nearly empty in May, and got off the train whenever we wanted to talk to pushy fish mongers at tiny markets who enjoyed the opportunity to speak to a foreigner in their language, or walk by the coast line to the next ryokan (bed and breakfast) in small towns where we were usually the only tourists.

    When I was growing up in Krumlov, the houses were falling apart after decades of neglect, but it was so much fun to play cops and robbers in the streets of that medieval town until dark.

    When I see American kids riding their bikes through the same boring cul de sacs in their safe, gated subdivisions, I feel sorry for them.

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  3. Very cool story – thanks for sharing it! So you are from Krumlov – of all the places you could’ve been from – I hear that’s one of the nicest places in Czech!

    I’m just confused about one thing… what year was this that the Russian tanks were pointing guns at you? And why were those soldiers so confused, thinking they were in Germany?

    Also, I’m curious – was this area once part of “Sudentenland”? Since Hitler spoke there, I’m wondering if the residents of the town at that time were mostly German? Are you perhaps ethnic German yourself? I guess they were not all driven out of Czechoslovakia at the end of WW II, right? But I don’t know how it was decided which ones could stay and which were expelled? Do you know?

    Regards,
    Alex

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    • Hi Alex:

      Thanks for your comment.

      1. Russian tanks liberated Czechs and Slovaks from their own government, such as it was, on August 21st, 1968. Since I was sixteen then, I am 60 now.

      2. Cesky Krumlov was a part of Sudentland and 70 or 80 percent
      of the population were German in 1939, the Czechs were a minority in that town back then.

      3. I am Czech, not German, although I had many German friends when I was a kid growing up in Cesky Krumlov since not all Germans were expelled and forcibly moved to Germany after World War II.

      4. Some Russian soldiers were confused about which country they were ordered to invade because they were not correctly informed by their officers who were also uninformed, and because the place looked like Germany.

      Also, the Czechs removed most road signs back then and replaced them by signs in Russian indicating the numbers of kilometers to Moscow and signs saying in Russian things like “Go home, Ivan, Natasha’s waiting for you”, or “Natasha is in bed with Volodya”.

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  4. forgot to check to request e-mail notification…

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  5. “I was too polite to ask. It’s rude to ask something like that people that you just met, especially when they are pointing their guns at you.”

    Funny way to describe the situation.

    “After Hitler and Russian tanks, the small town where I grew up is now coping with new waves of tourists whose nationality seems to keep changing every 20 years or so.”

    We talk about the changing of every 20 years in Chinese “二十年風水輪流轉,” which means, good fengshui rotates every 20 years. Who knows, there might be new waves of tourists from South America or Africa?

    “They are generally harmless, as long as they remain tourists. Once they stop being tourists and settle down some place, they tend to change the town to their image.”

    This reminds me of how Count Martinof, a Russian feudal landlord in Pierre Mille’s L´oiseau qui s´est tu, says about gypsies:

    « … Je les aime mieux que les Juifs: les Juifs sont aussi des nomades mais plus embêtants : parce qu’ils se fixent, et deviennent riches. Ceux-là ne deviennent pas riches ; ils volent, bien sûr, mais ça se voit ! Pour les autres, ça ne se voit pas, ou c’est permis… Les tziganes ? Des Juifs qui n’ont pas réussi et no cherchent pas à réussir. Je leur en suis reconnaissant. »

    I guess we, freelance translators, are gypsies, much more beloved than those nomads in Wall Street.

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  6. Great comments, Wenjer, as usual.

    If the good 風水 comes around about every 20 years, it better start rotating my way right about now since that’s about as much time as I have left if I’m lucky. I have not noticed much movement in that direction recently, but perhaps that is because I am not very perceptive.

    I noticed that you comment freely on les Tsiganes et les Juifs, but you left out les Chinois from your comparisons, which you presumably know something about too.

    I look forward to your next provocative comments.

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    • Well, I wasn’t commenting on les Tsiganes et les Juifs. I just quoted a passage from Pierre Mille’s short story of 1939.

      It’s better that I don’t comment further. You see, we are about the same age and I need good fengshui for the next 20 years. :o)

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  7. なるほど、ね。

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    • When we say “Good fengshui rotates every 20 years,” the sentence is still incomplete. It should be “二十年風水輪流轉,十年河東,十年河西” (Good fengshui rotates every 20 years – 10 years in favor of the East riverside, 10 years the West).

      Since the numbers of years in Chinese are not to be taken literally, we usually say only “風水輪流轉” which means “It can be your turn and it can be the turn of others.” This expression bears a tint of the meaning of the German expression: Wer kann, der kann.

      It were French in turn. It were then Germans and later Japanese in turn. It is now Chinese in turn. There can be some others in turn. Fengshui rotates. Everybody can be in turn. All you need to do is to seize the day.

      I like the way you describe your hometown, how you grew up there and the changes of times. Thanks for this post.

      Like

  8. […] an extremely strong currency at this point, Japanese tourists seem to have disappeared from Europe as I wrote in this post, or rather have been replaced by Chinese […]

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