Our recent trip to China was fun, inspiring, and adventurous, it was truly a once in a lifetime trip that we’ll never, ever forget. China is an absolutely beautiful country, so rich in both culture and history. However, at times we also found the country to be overwhelming and difficult to navigate.
We came up with a list of things that we found the most surprising, difficult, confusing, and that we wish we knew before we went! If you have an upcoming trip to China, and are visiting for the first time, we hope this helps you to prepare.
Drinking water: This was something we found out almost immediately (even before arriving in China). We were on an overnight flight with a Chinese airline. At one point, about halfway through the flight, I woke up feeling extremely thirsty. Thankfully they soon came around with water service. I reached for a cup, the flight attendant filled it up, I started to gulp- and nearly spit it out as my poor, dry, sandpapery mouth was met with hot water. Quite a shock and not so thirst quenching! We quickly learned this wasn’t just an anomaly on our flight. It seems a very, very rare occurrence that Chinese people drink cold water. Even in the 40 degree temperatures in Sanya, Hainan Province we found it challenging to find cold water. We were met with odd looks and confusion in restaurants when we asked not just for cold water, but ice water. At times we had to wait for ages as they had no ice on hand. Thankfully at corner stores and hotels this didn’t seem to be as difficult.
Traffic: Being a pedestrian in China is a serious challenge. It feels like you’re taking your life into your hands at every attempt in crossing the street. Remember the 80s game Frogger? Someone likely came up with the idea while trying to cross the roads there. Crosswalks are pretty much useless and I can’t even fathom why they wasted the paint on them. Even crossing at green lights can be a challenge as right turning vehicles make no attempt at stopping. So word of warning, be very, very careful! That being said, we thankfully didn’t witness anyone being hit!
Also- be warned of constant blaring horns. From what we could determine, drivers don’t seem to beep at anything in particular, it just seems to be part of their method of getting around. If your hotel is really close to a busy road, you may want to ask for a room away from the noise, especially if you’re a light sleeper.
Toilets: I know being North Americans, perhaps we’re spoiled when it comes to doing our business. But I’d argue that there’s nothing wrong with this. As a human, it’s a requirement, and there’s nothing fun about being stressed every time you have to go! Thankfully, the majority of washrooms we visited we’re clean (and a lot seemed to have a full time attendant/cleaner), however, what especially stressed me out was the SQUAT TOILET. I know anyone that has ever travelled to Asia is used to them. This being my first visit to the continent, I was not adequately prepared (mentally or physically). Presumably after more visits, I’ll get used to it- but at the time, every trip to the bathroom outside of our hotel consisted of me frantically searching the stalls for a sit toilet. The majority of the time I was successful in finding one, but there were absolutely bathrooms I visited that had only squats.
Smog: We didn’t even notice smog in South China, but Beijing is as bad as everything you’ve read about. On most days the air feels thick and heavy, almost overcast but with a slight purple tinge that tells you it’s not clouds covering the sun. It’s almost a tease as you can see the sun, just a bright ring up in the sky trying to make it’s way through to no avail. We found it hard to imagine anyone with any sort of breathing problem living there, the almost constant stale air gives you the feeling of being stuck in a parking garage for an extended period. It also gave us an appreciation for why so many people in Asia wear face masks, they are almost a requirement in Beijing.
All-in-all we had an amazing time in China, and in no way do we want to come across as ignorant or culturally insensitive. As the title suggests, this is just a list of what we wish we knew before visiting! If you’re lucky enough to visit, you’re sure to have a wonderful trip!
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