10 things to expect when travelling in China
While China is a huge and beautiful country to travel around, it’s also good to know what to expect to avoid being thrown off by the lack of courtesy or intense culture shock. After all, it’s all in good fun, and one should never expect to step foot in a foreign land only to expect it to be exactly like their home country. Here’s a list of 10 things you can expect when travelling around in China:
1. Never expect things to be on time.
Most buses have a schedule, but often only leaves when it’s full. Make sure to plan extra travel time and include delays. The good thing though, is that if the bus departs late, the drivers tend to go a little faster, aiming to arrive at the destination on time.
2. Never trust people fully.
Now, I’m not saying that all Chinese are liars. But it is very common for information to be falsely passed on, even from a legit company, especially for unsuspecting tourists. There are little scams here and there, for example when a bus we took stopped all the passengers at a food store, claiming that it was the “official” information centre and there is no charge for asking questions or using the toilet. Not that any of that is a lie, but they often get you to sit down, purchase tea or food and arrange for attraction tickets for you at an extra cost. Be aware of these little scams. It’s not impossible to meet genuinely kind people, but most “free” services come with a price.
3. Directions – double check, triple check.
You can ask for directions or information from locals and it is rare to get ignored. But bear in mind that it’s not uncommon for people to give you wrong information even if they’re unsure, as long as it gets you away from them. To avoid going the wrong way, check with multiple people to get the right information. It’s also very common for people to give inaccurate distance/timing estimates, a 20 min walk could be “just 100m ahead” according to locals recommendations.
4. Be aware of people offering “blackmarket” services
While attempting to get a refund of the metro card at Beijing, we were approached by a security guard in uniform asking if we were looking to get a refund on our metro cards. Thinking he was a staff, we said yes and he took our cards, offering us 40 yuan instead of the 50 yuan that we could get. These are blackmarket card sellers who make profit from buying your deposit and cards at a cheaper price only to sell them for more. And there’s probably blackmarket people selling anything and everything too.
5. Always make advanced bookings where possible.
Call head of time, make a reservation for bus/train tickets. You will be told that long distance bus travel tickets can only be purchased on the day of travel, and a couple of hours ahead the time of departure is sufficient. More often than not, it is completely full by the time you get there. Make sure to arrive at bus stations way ahead of time, or use a local line to call the bus company to make a reservation. And the rule of thumb is… ALWAYS ask if a reservation is needed, even if it seems unnecessary.
6. The shoving, the pushing, the lack of courtesy – it’s very real.
But don’t let any of those stand in the way of enjoying your visit or that negativity could ruin your time completely. I’ve found that none of this is actually personal. It’s more of a “me-first” mentality which makes the Chinese react this way, they’re not actually trying to physically attack you, they’re just worried they won’t get a space or get their turn.
7. Student cards = discount tickets!
Bring one, it could save you 50% of many things – from attraction tickets or museums etc. Some places aren’t too strict and you might be able to slide by with any photo ID or PADI licence and claim you’re a student.
8. Ignore the touts.
Touts, they’re almost everywhere, at every attraction, at every famous food street, at every ticket station. While its generally polite to put your hand up and say “no thank you” or smile and shake your head, the smart thing to do is to actually ignore their existence and walk away. Touts can sell you services, tickets, objects and anything black market, and they don’t just target foreign and local tourists, they also prey on the locals. There is a chance that if you acknowledge them that they may just take it as you expressing interest, and who knows, you might get followed or pestered until you buy something from them.
9. Yelling is normal in restaurants
In most cultures, it’s common to maintain eye contact with a service staff/waiter before waving them over with a gesture. While Chinese restaurants have an impeccable level of service, I wouldn’t say the same for fast food eateries or In China, it’s about yelling out “fu wu yuan” (服务员) and then proceeding with yelling out what you require – Be it the bill, or to order more food, or to top up your cup of tea. The service staff don’t respond too well to eye contact here, with their gaze shifted to the ground most of the time.
10. Persistent repetition is THE key to understanding (or so it seems).
If you fail to understand something, it’s very likely that the other person would simply repeat what he/she originally said, but in a louder and more emphasised voice each time. This happens until you give up and nod in confusion. The Chinese don’t seem to know how to re-explain themselves in an attempt to help you understand anything. Repetition is the way they try to get you to buy anything/change anything/do what they wish/communicate, so don’t bother too much, just move along with it.