Culture, Travel Tips

China – Know Before You Go

I understand Asia isn’t for everyone.  China can be loud, unorganized, overpopulated and is of course not 1st world by any stretch of the imagination.

So what’s the draw? And how do you learn to appreciate it?

There are many draws! We’ve compiled the shortlist here:

  1. Asia is cheap. And I mean really cheap, for those traveling from the US and most European regions. You can literally get a 4-5 star hotel for $25-$50 USD per night for 2 ppl anywhere in China. Hostels are $3-$10 USD per bed in a dorm or $30 for a private room. Street food is $1-$3 USD.
  2. The scenery, temples, and ancient structures are breathtaking. Literally. Some of the most amazing creations you’ve ever seen – many existing in precarious locations (a top mountains, carved into caves, underground, etc.) Nearly every direction you turn your head, you’ll be impressed or intrigued by something.
  3. The landscape is varied and at least 5 locations in China make the list of top 25 most unbelievable in the world. The Avatar mountains (Tianzi), Great Wall, Mt Huashan, rice terraces near Guilin, and the Rainbow Mountains. In addition to all this you have the ganzee river, desert, and vibrant cities to top it all off.
  4. Nearly anything is possible by way of product creation and manufacturing. There are of course barriers to entry, but it may be worth the work/effort of partnering with someone in China if you have any product design or import/export ideas. This is the place and the opportunities in this realm are more plentiful than anywhere in the world. Specifically Shenzhen is the place to be, just outside of Hong Kong. Get hooked up with a broker and they will present options for every sort of manufacturing imaginable.
  5. Chinese locals want to help you and are very happy when you make the effort to communicate. Charades are great in addition to sounds, calculators, pictures and translator apps. Just be patient and speak slowly, they really do want to help, but remember you are in their country – try at their language, it’s fun!  You will experience the kind nature of the locals this way and exchange plenty of smiles and laughs 🙂 To read about our two favorite apps – we have a separate post here.
  6. Vegetable and fruit markets are plentiful. It is like a full time farmers market all over every town and city – great quality produce at unbelievable prices. Two full bags of vegetables will cost you $3. Buy a 4L jug of water for $1 and wash them down before making a few meals out of them! It is a great way to stay healthy and support the local economy.
  7. Immense diversity is the name of the game in China. Since this is where apparel and products for the world are created, it’s one massive melting pot of trends and styles. Take time to notice all the things that exist – it is mind blowing how many varieties are out there. Many an idea can be born in your mind here just through observing your surroundings and paying attention to all the details.
  8. Transportation is abundant and affordable. Cab, subway, train, bus – they are all in every city and cost next to nothing $0.25-$0.50 for inner city subway, $1.50- $5 for most inner city can rides, $3-$5 for most 2-4 hour bus rides, $3-$15 for long distance train rides.
  9. China is the land of copycats, so there are really good local websites and apps for travel/booking. It is also extremely easy to get a SIM card for your phone if it’s unlocked. Service for 2 months here with 800MB per month, 60 local calling minutes and text cost $20. Reloading your phone with $$ is also possible at most convenient stores – family mart, 7 eleven and everyday.
  10. Advertising and utilization of lights/screens is the most extensive and advanced in the world. If you can illuminate something, they’ve done it already. Even the inner subway tubes are lined with LED screens that sport animated advertisements that you watch through the windows along the ride.
  11. They have no design boundaries or standards (in a good way). Many of the building designs you see here are extravagant and over the top. While I don’t know of the exact codes or regulations, it does seem like nearly anything goes. The wilder, the better 🙂 The construction sites here boast wild imagery of what is to come – they are all quite impressive/modern and not typical of the US styles.

Now for some of the largest drawbacks to understand and get your head around:

  1. Pay no mind to cleanliness.
    Just get over it now. There is garbage and pollution almost everywhere. It will smell at times and you will likely get things on your shoes and the bottom of your bags if you aren’t uber careful. I suggest just letting it all go, the filth is hard to deal with at times, but it won’t kill you 🙂
  2. There are too many people.
    The country is vastly over populated, which means prepare for close encounters. You will be brushed and run into quite a bit. I am not suggesting any of this is necessarily intentional, but people are just trying to get places and there is only so much space available. Don’t be irritated with the constant invasion of personal space, they have no real concept of this since they’ve not ever been afforded the luxury so to speak.  Often times when you would expect an organized line or queue it will instead be a mad rush of people, so play along while in China, and know exactly where you need to go at all times if possible.
  3. Cigarettes are ok everywhere. If you’re a smoker that may make you happy, but for us nonsmokers it means your clothes and hair will smell anytime you get lucky enough to be sitting next to a smoker. I was quite surprised by the pervasive smoking tendencies, but the Chinese like to smoke. A lot.
  4. Squatting exercises become a daily norm. Outside of your accommodations, expect to use a hole in the floor for a toilet. Warning number 1 – these bathrooms usually smell quite awful and have wet floors  (let’s try not to think about why), they also typically lack door hooks (for bags) and almost never supply toilet paper. Best case scenario is carrying around a pack of travel tissue, having a friend hold your bag and then switching off. I bring hand sanitizer as well, for the post squat hand cleaning.
  5. Spitting and yelling are natural and should not be seen as offensive.  The sound of hocking a loogie will become a part of your daily Chinese sound track. In fact in public buses they even place small trash bins every 3 rows or so for the common practice of intensive spitting. Men and women both do it, so don’t assume it to be gender specific. Yelling will also be a regular occurrence in the soundtrack. Again, pay no mind and certainly do not assume anything is wrong. Most of the time this is just a standard in their method of communication. If you see anything physical whatsoever added to yelling, then you may want to avoid the situation, but I’ve yet to see that once in all the yelling I’ve encountered this month.
  6. Sugar or Sodium ridden sauce is packed in every dish.  While most of the flavors in China are delicious, they are packed with MSG, sugar or sodium, and this is pretty unavoidable in any Chinese restaurant. If you have any food allergies whatsoever you will have somewhat of a difficult time navigating at first. I personally had to learn how to sustain without any sauce while on my journey and have written an extensive post to help and encourage others.
  7. Internet Access is Limited.  Not only is the speed slower than molasses many times, there are more than 2,600 websites blocked entirely (Google, Facebook, and Twitter to name a few). Get a solid VPN if you expect to access your usual sites when visiting the country and book hotels based on reviews of their wifi if you need to work.

All this being said – David and I had a great time in China and once you process this list of critical “know before you go” items, I am sure you will too!  Keep in mind the cultural differences at all times and learn to love China for everything that it does have to offer 🙂

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