10 Things to know before traveling to China

In this article we will try to describe some things about China that should save you (at list a bit)
from so called “cultural shock”.

 

 

Yes, China is very different from your country, especially if you are coming from western civilization.
It is developing very fast, and in many things chinese people, adult and young, are trying to copy the westerners.
But in many ways it still remains the mysterious and unfamiliar place for foreigners eyes.

1. Controversy

We assume that you will travel by your own, and not using special one-two week tours with special buses, and special english-speaking tour guides. Because if you travel by yourself, the roads can take you to different places. Who knows, maybe even to countryside.
Then you will notice how far the modern China facade is from old chinese backyard in terms of development.
We live now in a big city in middle of China , and in its different parts we can see different sides of China.
One part is like a museum, it is what China was before – poor, unhealthy, dirty. In another,
new part of the city, you can see China, as it is now – busy, working, driving good cars,
building enormous amount of new 30-storey  buildings, surrounded with banks, restaurants
and small shops. In the third part you can see what China wants to be in the future -
beautiful, clean, reach, full of fashion stores, supermarkets, monuments, art museums,
gigantic concert halls and cinema centers… and at the same time cherishing
its cultural and historical past.
Like one of my friends said: “At one moment you look around and you become filled
with astonishment for this nation, but at another moment you turn your head and you become filled with disgust”.

A construction site with new skyscrapers

A construction site with new skyscrapers

2. Smelly toilets (we beg your pardon)
We peak this issue as one of the first, because this is when your astonishment can easily
become a disgust. We are not the first time in China, and we still cannot figure this out.
Why do their toilets are in such poor condition? No matter where you are, in every part
of the city – old, developing or new, – you will meet the same problem.
The only advice we can give is: always have a toilet tissue with you and keep your nose.

3. Smoking.
If you are not a heavy smoker yourself, this can be a huge impact on your good impression
about this country.
First impact will be the amount of smoking people on the streets. It seams that everybody is smoking here.
You will find people smoking in restaurants, in small shops, in hotel lobbies and rooms, even in elevators.
The good news are, that they are not smoking in the public transport like buses and subway and also not in supermarkets and shopping centers.

4. Spitting on the street.
We still argue among ourselves if this is a direct result of heavy smoking or just an old nation-wide habit.
We talk about spitting on the streets. Here and there you will hear this awful sound of man clearing his throat and then spitting, with all the noise that human being is capable to produce while doing this. You should be very careful, especially while riding a bike or running, and watch for the spitting people. Or else, you are in danger to get a “direct hit”.

5. Chinese driving habits
Another shock you are going to have is , when watching how chinese people drive.
Again, in some parts of the city, mostly the new one, the traffic is organized and
calm. But in another part you will be exposed to the Chaos in all its glory.
It is still a mystery to us, how , in spite of all this chaos, they still manage to drive and get to their destinations. How!? How, when none follows any rules, the sight of the car accident is still very rare? But if you watch very closely, you will notice, that there are rules, but they are so different from what we expect them to be, that for our western eyes it seams like only chaos.

6. Crossing the street.
This topic is strongly related to the previous one. You see, in any western country, while crossing the street in the correct and marked place, you assume that the driver will stop and let you pass. Well, you must know that in China it works the opposite way.
Most likely the driver will accelerate before the pedestrian passage. Why? We don’t know.
The only explanation we’ve thought about is – overpopulation. There’s simply too
much pedestrians, who want to cross the road, but also too much cars that want to move on. If drivers will stop and wait for pedestrians to cross, then the big traffic jam may occur.
We invite you to come up with your explanation for this. The drivers and pedestrians are always playing cat and mouse game, which looks very dangerous.
Good news are, that this game is played only in places without traffic lights.
But again, in one year of living in China we haven’t seen any accidents on pedestrian passages.

7. Pollution.
This is a big one. Pollution of air and water is one of the biggest issues in China. It’s a price that this country pays for quick industrial growth, which everyone is so proud about. In the big cities there are many days, when we can’t see the sun because of the dust and smog in the air. If we want to drink fresh water and to be sure that it is clean, we will usually buy it in the bottle. Almost in all offices, and in many homes  locals hold a cooler with big jar of fresh water, which is very chip to refill (only 10 RMB).
This jars contain purified and mineralized water. It is not recommended to drink tap water, that was not boiled before.

 

beinginawe's Life in China album on Photobucket

 

8. Public transport.

Trains.

You probably have heard already, that Chinais improving its railroad system. This is true. They build new railroads and open new bullet train lines every month.
From our own experience their railroad system is good and inexpensive way to move around the country.
If you are not saving every penny, use the soft-sleeper type of cabin. But if you do save, then hard-sleeper type is for you. But be aware of smoking men there, because they do smoke in trains.
Yesterday we tried the bullet train for the first time. It was clean, no smoking,
very fast – 350 km/h -, and altogether a pleasant journey. It took us 5 hours instead of 13 to cover the distance from Xi’an to Beijing.
The price? Just 520 RMB (around 80$).

Brand-new Xi'an metro

Brand-new Xi’an metro

Buses.

The intercity buses are mostly OK and cheaper then trains.
For the first time in our life we’ve traveled in so called sleeper-bus. This is a bus that is usually going from city to city in one night and as you can guess it has beds installed in it and no seats. Our first trip was from Yangshuo to HongKong and we liked it.It is easier to sleep in horizontal position of the body, with warm blanket covering you.

Inside the sleepr bus

Inside the sleepr bus

If you are going to use the local buses inside the big city, be aware about the peak hours, when regular chinese citizens are going to or returning from their jobs.  At these hours, the buses are overcrowded, to say the least.  If you will use them at this time, be ready to be squashed and pushed.

Also, it will surprise you,  but if you are far from the city center or in a small town and you are waiting for the bus, sometimes it just will not stop. The driver is probably in a bad mood, or he didn’t like your face, or from some other reason the bus will not stop. Stay calm, the good chance is, that the next bus will pick you up.

9. Great Chinese firewall.

We all like Internet, because it is full of free information and services, that make our lives and trips much easier. This is why, coming to China and discovering that your favorite sites are blocked can be very annoying and frustrating. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Technorati and many others are blocked. The ancient and famous Great Chinese Wall has today its modern relative – The Great Chinese Firewall.

HideMyAss VPN

HideMyAss VPN

Almost all foreigners, which we know here, are bypassing it using the VPN service. There are a lot of such services on the Internet for around 6$ a month. We are using the one called HideMyAss.com, and it works good.

Great Firewall Of China

Great Firewall Of China

10. Extra attentions to foreigners.
First of all you will need to learn the new term, which is widely used in China to describe the foreigners. This term is – “laowai”.
There is a good article about it here:  http://bit.ly/oeDX71

In Beijing there are many foreigners, and locals got used to it. But in other parts of China there are still places, where meeting a foreigner is a very rare event. So, don’t be surprised, when someone is staring at you, taking your picture, trying to touch you or all of a sudden starting to speak with you. Sometimes you can even start to fill as a celebrity. When we walk on the street for instance, many people all of a sudden says “Hello”  to us. Sometimes we answer, sometimes we don’t and we are getting used to it.

And for the conclusion we wanted to share with you what one good chinese guy, said once to the group of “laowais”:
“Remember, you came here not because this country is cleaner or better then yours. You came here to enjoy the difference”.

Maybe this article will seam to you a bit negative, but trust me,China is big, beautiful, interesting country that you have to visit.

 

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