Sunday, 20 November 2011

China: Do's and Don'ts!

China is a country unlike any I've been to before. There are more people than I thought it was possible to squeeze into a space (you have to see it to believe it!), and this has a huge affect on the attitude and actions of those living there. In order to get ahead, there is a degree of ego-centrism needed, and although this can result in a bit of pushing and shoving, we met a number of people who also stopped to ask if we needed help when we clearly looked a little lost, and the physical demands on infrastructure mean that on the whole, things are up-to-date and work efficiently. Here are some do's and don'ts to help get the most out of a trip...


- Take advantage of the brilliant metro system. Clean, shiny-new trains, English signs and cheap prices - the metro system is popping up in major cities and was the best way to get around - providing you avoid rush hour! Put down a deposit on a metro card if staying more than a few days and it can be topped up quickly at one of the many English language ticket machines. One of the best underground networks I've ever been on.

- Be prepared to put on a bit (or a lot...) of weight sampling the delicious variety of Chinese food on offer. From regional delicacies to the universal noodle soups, the cuisine was incredible. Best of all were the 'cook it yourself' options such as the very spicy Sechun hotpot, where you can tailor your choices and see what you are eating. Most restaurants we visited had some form of English language menu (often including comedy translations - "michellaneous bacteria" being one of my personal favourites), although even the Chinese menus have pictures to give you an idea. If you have any taboo foods then check the menus carefully - there are some ingredients we won't eat on principle which crop up often - leading to a near disaster when we spotted a yummy looking soup on 'special price' which we realised contained shark fin. Luckily, we managed to grab the waiter and change our choice in time, but be aware.

- Come prepared for the effect China will have on your body. Although this one might sound strange, I had never imagined the physical impact the country (and particularly Beijing) would have. The smog coupled with pollution left my hair sticky and grimy, my skin dry and dull, my head pounding and my body lethargic. A decent supply of headache tablets will ease the third problem, whilst the others might just require some TLC on your return home. If you are very sensitive to any of the above, then timing your trip to coincide with the best weather and pollution conditions might be wise.


- Be disheartened by the sheer number of visitors at every popular sight. From the thousands of people flooding the Forbidden City to the many groups on the Great Wall, Chinese tourists by far outnumber foreign visitors, and there are many of them. Our experience at the Terracotta army was a classic example of the detriments of this, but don't despair. Hidden gems such as the tomb of emperor Jingdu were virtually empty as they don't make it onto the tour itinieries, and if you can give yourself enough time at the big sights (a whole day for each would be ideal), then as soon as you spot a flood of groups, retreat to the nearest cafe and watch them swarm in and then out before continuing your own visit.

- Expect much spoken English, but also don't panic about being able to get around. Although it is true that the level of spoken English is very low, we always found enough English language signs to lead us in the right direction. The newer museums nearly always have multi-language displays, and learning a few Chinese words will take you a long way. Please, thank you, no thank you, can I have the bill and a few numbers took us far, and good old-fashioned pointing at a map or hand gestures often got the point across. - Forget to the play the wonderful translated signs game. An oldie but a goodie, finding the best translation is always fun. Along with our 'michellaneous bateria', but also had 'no slapsticking' at the Great Wall (clearly other forms of comedy are fine...), and my absolute favourite 'no flushing when meeting emu' in an overnight train toilet.

Like this post? Check out others on China:

The less-famous tomb: Xi'an's hidden gem
Cute, fluffy eating machines: Pandas in Sichuan

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