How To Survive In China
1、A Little Introduction to China…
China is a chaotic yet serene place, a country of hyper-development and also of history, and a destination that many travelers put in the “love it or hate it” category. Some people certainly love it. And some hate it. However, this descriptive mantra doesn’t do justice to the China travel experience. In reality, everyone loves certain aspects of the country and begins to hate others. So first the good…It’s beautiful, alternative, packed with culture, full of fascination, and every day brings something utterly memorable.
So what is there to hate? Well…pollution can spoil, never-ending crowds can be tiresome, language barriers frustrating, and certain customs repulsing. In China you can’t go in halfhearted. From the moment you land you’re engulfed in everything that’s good and bad about the country. Even when they offer specialist luxury tourist services, it tends to be more Chinese than everything else. At first, some of these challenges are nothing more than challenges. They add excitement, can be thrown to the back of the mind, and ensure entertainment. However, most travelers seem to have a breaking point, reached when the residual moments of China’s bad build to an unstoppable level. It won’t happen in your first week. Maybe not even in your second month. But almost every traveler reaches a time when the bad outweighs the good.
2、How to Make Peace With China…
Reaching this saturation point can spoil a whole trip. The great memories are displaced by images of smog, spit, and rough nights spent on a grubby sleeper train carriage. Managing the oscillating emotions is essential in keeping China high and happy in the memory bank. Here are some ideas:
• Long distance travel can showcase some of the worst of China. Filthy carriages, landscapes ruined by pollution, locals continually spitting on the floor. Taking too many long distances in a short amount of time really builds on the nerves. But these trains can also be wonderful experiences, especially if you’re pay for the first class carriages.
• While China can be cheap, the cheapest isn’t that much different from the mid-
range. Paying a little more goes a long way to maintaining your sanity, especially when it comes to somewhere to sleep.
• Spending money to relieve the stress can be worth the hit on the bank account. For example, taking two nights at a lavish mountain resort can recharge the batteries after a few days on rickety mattresses.
• Take the language barrier with a pinch of salt. While it’s frustrating, it can be funny
and there’s always the surge of pride when you decipher the symbols.
• The Chinese are generally honest and unlikely to deliberately rip off tourists, English speaking taxi drivers being the chief exception. Sometimes you hear groups of locals discussing you and it’s easy to assume the worst. They’re more likely to be arguing to ensure you get the best.
• Tourist rip offs are far more likely to be organized by the local government, involving outrageous entrance tickets to relatively average attractions. If it’s too much, just say no.
• Book long-distance trains a few days in advance to ensure a bed on an air- conditioned sleeper carriage.
• If you can’t use chopsticks carry a fork in your pocket.
• Most importantly, take advantage of any home comforts whenever they arise.
China offers one of the planet’s most overbearing culture shocks. A thousand faces stop and stare, grandmothers leave meters of phlegmy spit on the floor, whiffs of stale tobacco come from many street corners, and you wonder why you came. Then there’s the crowds and lack of space, or the shockingly limited visibility as smog swirls and finds a way into your nostrils. But don’t worry, there are also good things about Chinese culture. And rather than criticize foreigners for not following Chinese customs, the locals will be gracious whenever anyone is willing to try.
The strangest aspect of the culture shock is the local fascination in you, the Western skinned visitor. In rural areas you’ll meet locals wanting to stroke your arm hairs or running a hand through the head of blonde hair. Unsuccessfully attempting to be discreet, hundreds will be snapping photos
of you on their camera phone. Don’t get too annoyed. It’s only the same as you wanting to take a photo of some enchanting looking local in a traditional village. Gradually the shock wears off and it all become parts of daily life.
Food can also be challenge, although some will claim that it’s a highlight. There is nothing wrong with the food of course, it just gets a little monotonous when you’ve only been eating Chinese for a month. That’s Chinese breakfasts (no cereal here), Chinese snacks, Chinese dinners, and so much rice you’re about to pop. Regional variations help break the routine. While a number of tourist leaning restaurants offer Western dishes, the quality is almost always a disappointment: think two inch thick pizzas, too many chips, and bread that tastes of sawdust.
But perhaps hardest to get used to is the lack of foreigners. Of course there are other visitors. You’ll see them at hostels and at major attractions. So where do they go? They’re not in your train carriage or in the same local restaurant. Even in a heavily touristic area, you still get a semblance of shock when you spot another tourist on the street. This lack of visible tourists is a prime reason why China’s excellent hostel network is a highlight of the experience. When you go long without seeing a foreign face, or speaking English, a hostel’s sociable atmosphere is key to your sanity.
Language is one of China’s great challenges. In most countries, it’s relatively to easy to learn a few basic phrases and combine them with locals’ pidgin English. Unfortunately, Mandarin’s tonal structure can make ordering a bowl of rice a two month learning curve. Speaking is not the biggest problem. Reading often brings the most frustration. Turn up at the train station and a dazzling collection of symbols indicate your destination. So which is Shanghai? And which is Guangzhou? And what do all the strange lines and slants mean on the train ticket?
In the last ten years there’s been a huge move by the Chinese government to incorporating Chinese. This is centered on Beijing and the city was transformed for the 2008 Olympics. Shanghai is also relatively multilingual, and Hong Kong will pose no problems (it was a British colony after all). In these, and many other major Eastern cities, you’ll find signs in English in
train stations and on the streets. These cities are also the hub of a growing English speaking population. Elsewhere, the situation is improving quickly in urban areas. Rural communities and smaller destinations are where you’ll face the biggest challenges. High-end tourist establishments understand the importance of English communication, but note that many mid-range places will be tailored to the local market.
Millions of Chinese are learning English as the country modernizes. Many of these people have never had the opportunity to practice their English with foreign visitors. It’s become a huge source of pride to communicate in English and help out a tourist. Remember, it’s still common for locals to take discreet photos of foreigners. Imagine how they feel to be able to converse and then pose for a selfie afterwards. In most places, there’s likely to be someone who can help. And that person will desperately want to help. All across the country you’ll see Mandarin translated in English. Well, not really English, more the crossbreed of Chinglish. This makes for some hilarious moments as the phrases are pushed through google translate or equivalent. For example: “happy to come to eat the shop;” “to abuse plastic bag – please pay money each 2 dollar;” “this WC is free of washing;” please leave off after pissing or shitting;” and “erection in progress,” to describe that a path closed for roadworks.
Hostel staff and tour guides are also invaluable in overcoming the language barrier. When booking a train ticket, they will write down what you need so you can silently approach the ticket office. They can also write down the basics for ordering food, like the symbols for meat or rice. The key rule is to ask for help, muddling through on your own is a last resort.