When traveling in any foreign country, there are always both advantages and disadvantages. Too often we let the disadvantages and frustrations keep us from enjoying the very fun and unique advantages of traveling in foreign countries. This is definitely true of China… and at times, of me. However, I’ve found that the graciousness of the Chinese people I’ve encountered has helped me to put the emphasis on the positive most of the time.
Since I was taught to lead with the positive, I’ll talk about the advantages of living and vacationing in China. First, is the cost. The price for plane, train, bus, and subway tickets are inexpensive compared with American prices. Eating out is also very inexpensive. If you eat where the locals eat, especially if you try the street food, you can put together a very good meal for under ¥10. This is less than $1.50. Even some of the more expensive sit-down restaurants where you can order such things as Hot Pot or Malatang, which to western eyes is very similar to Hot Pot, you can get by with spending between $2.50 and $10.50. Of course, of you want foreign (American) food the price goes up considerably. McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks and other American chains often have prices that, once converted to dollars, are very similar or even a bit higher than they would be in America. Not only are transportation and food inexpensive for the most part, most hotels are fairly inexpensive as well. You can also opt to stay in a youth hostel. Prices there run from $5-6 per night for a shared dorm style room to $25-30 a night for a private room. In my experience, youth hostels are clean and comfortable if a bit on the no frills side. Of course touristy places and tours can be a bit expensive but even here, a bit of research can net some real bargains.
Another advantage of living and vacationing in China is the incredible sense of history. Chinese history goes back 5000 years. There is always something nearby to investigate if you’re interested in that sort of thing. For example, the small town (population just under 1,000,000) where Sias is located is reputed to have been the birthplace of the first emperor of China, Huangdi. There are also at least 2 museums located here. That is often the case wherever you travel in China. Also, from talking with my students I’ve discovered that each town and city has their own signature foods and attractions. Sometimes the attractions are special scenery, mountains, lakes, or ocean, etc. Other times they may be specific industries such as porcelain making or some other industry. The inhabitants of each city are happy to point foreigners to where they can experience these things. Some of the lesser known destinations can be very rewarding.
One of the things that surprised me about China was the prevalence of English signage. This appears to be pretty much all over China. Public Transportation stations all have the signs written in English as well as Chinese. Most major street signs are also in English and nearly anywhere you go, you will be able to find someone who has enough English to help you find your way especially among the younger generation. They are required by law to learn English from the third grade on.
Last, if you feel that you only get the feel for a city by walking through it, I have good news for you. Chinese cities are ideal for this. Not only is there lots of foot traffic during the daytime. Chinese people love to meet with family and friends at night as well. They will walk through the streets or meet in tiny restaurants until quite late. There are always little street food vendors, fruit and vegetable sellers, snack shops, etc… open until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, weather permitting. This is one of the things I love about Chinese cities. What’s more, I have always felt safe during my evening strolls around various Chinese cities.
I could go on and on about the unique advantages of living and traveling in China but, of course there are also some challenges. Despite what I said earlier, one challenge I’ve had at times, is the language barrier. I have found that to be one of the biggest challenges for me at times. Simply being able to say, “Where’s the restroom”, when I can’t find the sign, would be a great relief at times.
Another challenge for Western travelers at times are the crowds. China is a population dense country. With a population of nearly 3.4 billion people, most places are crowded by Western standards. In addition, single file lines are a somewhat new concept in some areas so if you wait courteously for the person in front of you, you may find yourself at the end of the line. Westerners need to learn to crowd up behind the person in front of them and be a little aggressive to maintain their place in line. I experienced this phenomenon and was puzzled by the fact that I could find myself stuck at the end of long lines for inordinate periods of time before I figured out what was happening.
Finally, a challenge that really took me by surprise was the challenge of finding a western toilet in many places. This is one I never considered. Never having traveled in Asia before, I simply assumed that everyone the world over used the same kind of facilities. This is not the case. Being in my sixties, using traditional Chinese toilet facilities was initially a challenge for me at times.
Although there are challenges to living and traveling in China, in my opinion, the unique advantages far outweigh the challenges. I’m quite enjoying my time here both as a worker and as a tourist. I hope you’ll consider joining me soon.
Where have you travelled outside of your home country? What are the uniquenesses, both positive and negative that made the experience memorable? I’d love for you to share some of your memories here. Please drop me a line. And if you have questions, I’d love to answer them. 再见 (Zàijiàn) for now.