Recently I had the opportunity to visit one of the most populated countries on earth, The Peoples Republic of China.
To be honest it was never top of my list for places I wanted to visit, but when a deal came along that was far too good to pass up, I threw caution to the wind and started filling out my Chinese Visa Application.
Before visiting any new destination, I always love gathering tips from like-minded people who have actually walked-the-walk before me. Sure I know I can trawl through the internet and read all the various Chinese travel forums, but there are often things people won’t write on the internet (for fear of offending people) and I assumed China was probably going to be one of those countries where a little inside knowledge was going to come in very handy.
So I did the rounds and spoke with a number of friends who had visited China in the last few years. I was starting to feel those excited little butterflies and was expecting to be loaded up with tons of useful tid-bits from enthusiastic well-wishers But no.
Even though I told my friends I was going to Shanghai and Beijing, two of the most modern and civilized cities in China, I was bombarded with nothing but hell-fire and brimstone. Endless horror stories about every aspect of the trip.
Oh you’ll hate it! We couldn’t wait to get out of the place
There so rude and the food is disgusting, hope you like eating pig faces and boiled tripe?
But thankfully they were all WRONG. I had the BEST time in my short 1 week visit to China and can’t wait to go back again.
If China is somewhere you’ve been curious about visiting but have perhaps been put off by a scary story or two, then this article is for you.
Here’s 5 Things That You’ve been lied to About China, so you can stop worrying and start planning!
Lie #1. No-one Speaks English
OK, I expect that if you travel out into the countryside and further away from the main cities, this is probably going to be a little more likely, but if you plan on visiting the main cities in China (Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Macau etc.) then you’ll have no problems being understood.
Here’s a quick fact for you:
There are more fluent English speakers in China than there are in England.
Lie #2. The Food is Horrible
For starters, the Chinese food you get from your local takeaway is not anything like you’ll get in China. Well, to be fair, you can get that kind of food, but it will only be served in a western-style restaurant.
Fried rice is actually the equivalent of leftovers in Chinese cooking culture and in some provinces, it can actually be quite offensive to offer fried rice to guests.
Must Read: 8 Most Popular Chinese Dishes You Should Eat
But this is not a problem even for the fussiest eater, because my International Cuisine Theory applies in China too. (Huh?)
Lie #3. It’s Really Dangerous
This is absolute rubbish, I felt safer in both Shanghai and Beijing at all times of the day and night than I do in my own city (Auckland).
Chinese people are steeped in culture and tradition and the media portrayal of Asian Crime Gangs and mafia style activity is usually happening outside of China.
It would be hard to get away with anything here as the whole country is being watched by millions of cameras. Take a look up, look around you, your being watched the whole time.
The subway is well lit and safe, they often have dozens of attendants on the platforms and help is never far away.
The metered taxis are legit and very cheap (don’t be a moron and take a ride from those touts outside the airport and train stations shouting VIP ride, no waiting! you’ll just get schooled).
Stay in a brand name hotel (these are VERY cheap by western standards) and keep your valuables hidden as you would anywhere.
Standard stuff really. Don’t be a dick.
China is VERY safe. Relax.
Lie #4. The People Are Very Rude
No they’re not, you’re just ignorant.
Don’t worry, because so was I.
I’ve experienced the Asian family pushing in front of me in the supermarket line, I’ve been shoved aside when stepping on to an elevator and I’ve been cut off by that Asian driver. But you know what? They didn’t do that because they were trying to be rude or to offend me, they did it because that’s what they do in China!
You need to get into China Crowd Mode from the moment you land and accept that these people need to get where they’re going and they don’t have time for niceties or politeness, they’re busy!
Once you take your first subway ride, you’ll get it. Don’t be a dick, don’t hurt anyone, but try it. Get into the personal space of others and gently push your way through. No one will bat an eyelid, they will likely even smile at you. This is a knowing look of you’re one of us now!
One thing you will find hard to get used to is the blank stare. Smiling is not something seen as necessary in China, they’re not unhappy, they just don’t do it a lot.
Don’t be offended if you bust out your biggest beamer and it isn’t returned, it’s just not their way. Again, they’re not being rude, they’re just being efficient.
Once you understand this, you’ll actually find it quite funny.
Of course this doesn’t mean you should drop your own standards of manners and politeness at all. Always remember you are a guest in their country and strive to be a good ambassador for your own.
Lie #5. The Toilets Are All Horrible With No Toilet Paper
Traditional Chinese toilets are the same as ones found in most Muslim countries yes the dreaded holes in the ground where you have to squat over them without getting any of your business on your clothes. Oh, don’t forget to put that paper in that basket too, not down the drain. I know, it’s gross.
But if you use your brain, a good old Western style toilet is never usually too far away.
Take a look around you, see any major chain hotels with logos that you recognize?
Simply waltz on in to any of these places (like you’re staying there). Have a casual glance around the lobby or head towards their conference center, there will always be a nice clean western style thunder box waiting for you to grace it with your presence (presents?).
Since the Olympics in Beijing (2008) and the modernization of Shanghai, our regular porcelain thrones are becoming a lot more common in high tourist areas.
Many older malls and restaurants however do still use the glorified long drop and sadly the toilet paper thing is 100% accurate. There is none.
Always carry a packet of tissues with you. I found that some toilets had vending machines where you could buy a packet of toilet paper for 1 Yuan, but more often than not, these were empty or broken.
Let Go & Enjoy Yourself
As long as you can appreciate that China is not going to be like most other countries you have visited and you’re prepared to embrace change you’ll find China to be a wonderful to place to visit.