We just returned from 10 days in China. I still haven’t completely formulated all my thoughts on the experience. I’m thrilled to have seen some of the major sites, but man, China is weird. So much smog. So little sun. So much freaking spitting. So much traffic. So many people.
If you know me, you know that people spitting all the time and making spitting noises pretty much drives me mad. On the airplane, at the breakfast table, during dinner, in the mall. Curse words. So many of them.
Also, how did I not know that spitting was a *thing* in China before I went? Where did I miss that piece of information in the blogosphere? Google? You failed me, and you failed me before I went to a place where you are outlawed. Double fail.
Like travel so frequently does, going to China really provided me with a lot of perspective. I seem to talk about China a lot at work, well, because a lot diseases/new strains of bird flu originate in China (it’s true–not making this stuff up to denigrate China). A “little” city in China is not like a “little” city here. At all. There are millions of people. Millions of cars.
They haven’t done a census since 2000, I don’t think, but estimates put Beijing’s population at 21-22 million. People. Apparently Beijing is also trying to cap its population by 2020–at 23 million. I wish I had seen that before we went so I could have asked one of our guides about it, because while desperately needed, I’m curious as to how they will even propose to accomplish it.
I haven’t complained about DC traffic since I’ve returned, that’s for sure. Also, seeing blue sky at least 5 times a week is something I have much new appreciation for.
I actually didn’t think that there was that much actually useful information about traveling to China before we went, or at least information I thought gave me some idea of what to expect. So here are my highlights:
- Do not expect people to speak English, particularly if there is a problem that they need to help you solve. Repeat. Do not expect people to speak English–be excited when they do.
- Many signs in exhibits are only in Chinese. We had guides in each city and found them generally helpful (except one) and knowledgeable. Worth the money to avoid frustration getting around and figuring out where things were. Plus, it’s nice to occasionally know what a sign actually says.
- Spring for nice hotels. Five star hotels in China cost a fraction of what they do in the United States, and after a day in smog, grime, and millions of people, what’s nicer than a beautiful shower (that was probably the size of half my condo). Kidding. But it was huge.
- Are you a runner? Do NOT expect to run outside! Not only is it bad for you, you’ll be miserable. I opted for the treadmill and my lungs still burned. Again, new appreciation for clean air. See previous point–opting for luxury hotels with great gym and pool facilities was the best choice ever.
- Do not worry about wearing clothes that “fit in”. In major cities, you literally see everything. China is ENORMOUS, and people come from all over China to see sights like the Great Wall wearing everything under the sun (there were prom-type dresses to Gucci shoes and levis). Plus, I’m 5’8 and blond, it’s not like I’m going to “fit in”. Unless you are going out clubbing or have meetings in the fashion industry, wear things that are comfortable and practical.
- Yes, you can’t access Google, Facebook, Twitter. It’s easy to VPN over it; the free app Betternet was wonderful. Fast, efficient, and worked like a charm so I could read my email. Also amusing…most of the gym equipment had Twitter commercials as screensavers. Mixed messages galore in China.
- Even when you think you have a translation for something from Chinese, don’t hang our hat on it being right. My favorite of the trip? A rotini pasta dish with tomato sauce translated to “Italian Surface Screw”. Awesome.
So much more with panda pictures (I’m already squirming in cuteness) coming soon. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to the Galapagos as well. I’m really behind on photos at the moment. Sigh.
Shikha (whywasteannualleave) says
It sounds intense Heather! Even as a Londoner, I’m not sure how I’d cope in the pollution, crowds etc I’m China but I would be very intrigued to visit. My husband went many years ago with a guided group and really enjoyed it. And as for the spitting thing – it’s a total bug bear of mine too!
Hi Shikha–I really preferred having a guide for at least the ‘major’ attractions–just made life so much easier! I have a whole new appreciation for what “crowded” is, for sure.