China! One of the most challenging and exhausting countries we’ve visited so far. It is also one of the most interesting and beautiful. Am I glad we went? Most definitely! Do I want to return anytime soon? Absolutely not! The following are my impressions of China. Kathy will blog about her impressions in an upcoming post.
One of the best things for me about our Chinese visit was that my best friend, Lecia, came for part of the trip. We got to explore Beijing (The Great Wall and Forbidden Palace) and Xian (The Terracotta Warriors, a Taoist temple and the Muslim Quarter) with her. As expected, our time with Lecia was absolutely delightful. We also visted Hangzhou and Guangzhou after Lecia left. All together we spent exactly a month in China.
One thing totally unexpected, for me, is how very crowded China is. 1,400 billion people is just a number to me. Experiencing a country with so many people in reality meant crowds and queues everywhere. The Chinese also have very different cultural norms around personal space. People get right up against you in lines and I was often pushed, shoved and uncomfortably crowded.
An unexpected, but very pleasant aspect of China was how much natural beauty there is. We expected to see beautiful and historic places, and we did. But we also visted lovely city parks, small temples and just city streets with lovely greenery. This was very nice in cities full of enormous, rather unattractive, skyscrapers.
I think the thing that made China most exhausting was the fact that there are very few black visitors there. Everywhere we went we were stopped for pictures. We experienced this is Vietnam as well. However in China were were really stared at, pointed at and at times felt we were being laughed at. I have heard this is not just something black folks experience in China. All non-Chinese experience it to some degree. Interestingly, Guangzhou has the largest number of African ex-pats (over 10,000) in all of China. We were rarely asked for pictures there and were pointed and stared at much less.
I was pleasantly and unexpectedly surprised by the level of affluence we saw in the cities we visited. We saw none of the abject poverty that friends, who had visited in years past, had prepared me for. The Chinese seem to be doing very well. This was reflected in higher prices than we have experienced in other parts of Asia. China is definitely the most expensive country we have visited. This includes food, hotel and transportation costs. Another wonderful, if unexpected, experience was the excellent public transportation in all 4 cities we visited. We went everywhere by bus or subway and despite our non-existent Chinese we never got lost.
We were somewhat prepared for, but still found difficult, communications in China. Facebook, Google, Gmail, You Tube, Instagram are all blocked in China. I was able to get on by using a VPN, Hide My Ass, however this was very sporadic. We usually have no difficulty buying cell phone service in the countries we visit but found it very difficult to do so in China. This meant relying on the wifi provided by our hotels which was also iffy. There is virtually no English spoken in most places but charades type sign language and having important things (hotel names, places we wanted to visit) written out in Chinese was very helpful.
So overall, we are very grateful for our visit to China, for safe travels, new experiences and one more country under the BOLT belt.
Do you have a Chinese experience to share or question to ask?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.