A Follow-up to My Expectations for a First-Time trip to China
A few weeks ago, I returned from my first solo trip to Beijing, Datong, Xi’an and Shanghai. It was an incredible experience that changed me in so many ways. Before my trip, I wrote here on College Tourist about some of the things I was expecting to encounter, and I’m back today to tell you whether my expectations turned out to be true or not!
I was worried about encountering very high levels of air pollution, especially in Beijing. This turned out to be pretty accurate: the levels were crazy high when I was there, but got even higher once I left! I take beautiful blue skies for granted in Canada, but pictures like this (taken on a day with NO clouds) show just how serious the environmental situation in China has become:
Feeling like a Westerner.
As a petite brunette, I wasn’t expecting to be the object of too much fascination in China, but it turns out I’m still pretty interesting! At one point a 6 foot guy was mobbed by Chinese girls, so he was definitely more of an attraction than me, but I was asked for a surprising number of pictures. My very first day in Beijing, a middle-aged man took about 10 FLASH pictures of me while I was standing on the subway…without asking. I felt highly uncomfortable! This whole picture-taking thing was very new to me, and it got way easier to deal with as time went on.
Ah, squat toilets. Horrible, horrible, horrible.
In my original post I said there must be a certain art that you have to master quickly, and I must say I never mastered that art. I was generally able to find Western toilets in the cities, but on sleeper trains there were only squat toilets – I once put off using the bathroom for my entire (overnight) train ride because I hate them so much.
It’s true – China’s sights will blow your mind. The Great Wall of China was a particularly unbelievable experience, but the Forbidden City, Yungang Grottoes, Terracotta Warriors and Shanghai’s skyline were also fantastic. Everywhere you go there’s another example of gorgeous Chinese architecture, so even a walk down the street is like being immersed in an ancient world.
Terrifying & amazing food
I talked about how picky I am in my expectations post, but I’m happy to say that China helped me get over some of my food fears. The cuisine there was seriously amazing and I’ve discovered a newfound obsession with dumplings! My biggest problem with the food in China was worry that I’d be served meat, since I’m a vegetarian. This kept me from just pointing randomly at dishes, but the restaurants with English menus are just as authentic.
There were dozens of people everywhere I went in China. This, in my eyes, is a good thing – even if I was walking down a hutong (alley) at 10PM, there were tons of other tourists and locals alike to make me feel safe. As a paranoid solo traveler, I never felt in danger! I also never felt overwhelmed by crowds at major attractions or busy intersections. Although sometimes lines were long, they were always quite orderly and I have no complaints!
I am not even exaggerating when I said I got lost at least three times a day in China. The problem with getting lost in a country where you don’t speak the language is that you can’t really ask for help! In somewhere like New York I can ask anybody, but in China getting directions was an elaborate process involving my guidebook, dramatic gestures, and sometimes some tears of frustration. I managed to find my way almost every time, so that’s a plus.