Based in Houston, Texas, GEV is a blog by The GreenEyed Venuist. Her posts explore travel and photography through her green eyes.

10 Things I Learned While Visiting China

I got back from China on Friday (here's a preview of some pics)

I am full of things to tell you guys! 

Before I left, I did tons of research on what to expect - I watched videos, read blogs, etc. 

My favorites were the lists other people posted of things I should expect. It helped me to prepare myself for this new adventure, I've never been to any Asian country so I was a little nervous. Still, there was the culture shock. Even though I took note of all the tips, nothing really prepares you....you have to be there and see it for yourself. 

Now that I've been, I can make a list of my own! Here it goes, in no particular order:

1. The traffic in China is unlike any traffic you've ever seen before. I've been to LA, NYC, I live in Houston, Rio, etc....but nothing I've seen compares to the traffic in Beijing, Xi'an and Shanghai. In Beijing, for example, the estimated population is currently 23 million people. Of those people, over 5 million have cars. The traffic is so bad that the government has limited use of a car to certain license plates on certain days. There's even a lottery system for license plates...it could take years to win. The tour guide explained that plates have been purchased for as much as $10,000 USD. It literally took about an hour to get everywhere...even places that were right down the road took forever. 

2.In addition to the horrific, buzz-killing traffic, if you step out into the street, you will get hit (especially if you have no experience navigating the mean streets of China). Lanes and traffic lights mean nothing to Chinese drivers. They are literally just on the street for decoration. Traffic is just a huge mess of bikes, scooters, motorcycles, cars and pedestrians all trying to merge into one lane at the same time, turning with no warning, crossing the street without looking, no yielding...no application of brakes whatsoever...and lots of horn honking. In Texas, you're supposed to yield to pedestrians. I think that's a thing everywhere else but China. It was like a rite of passage to cross the street...once we did it, I truly felt Chinese lol.

3. If you're tall, or look different at all, you will get stared at. But, not just staring...gawking is more like it. Like...stop in the middle of their tracks, right in your face and gawk..and look you up and down. I lost count on how many random Chinese men gawked at me within the first hour of being there. It was like I was from a different planet. It became a running joke between my cousin and I. We couldn't figure out the exact reason but, I've seen that look before so I have an idea. 

4. People will touch you with no permission or warning. Whether they are street vendors or people walking near you in a crowded shopping area. They will grab your arms to get your attention. They will step in front of you, push ahead of you, and do all sorts of things that violate your personal space. And, if you have super curly hair like my cousin, they will reach up to your head and touch it and giggle from sheer amazement. 

5. The street vendors and salespeople are REALLY aggressive. They will shove merchandise in your face, grab you, and if you disagree with their pricing, they will damn nearly chase you down the street and give you the item for free...just so they don't miss the opportunity to make the sale. Obviously not for free but bargaining is a real thing. I bought a wooden fan that was listed as 680RMB. That's roughly $110 USD. I walked off b/c that was clearly an outrageous price. The sales woman begged me...and I mean begged me like a man who had done me wrong begged (baby, baby please on my knees type begging)...and asked me what I wanted to pay. I told her 100RMB ($16 USD). She pouted...jumped up and down...thru a small tantrum and eventually agreed to sell it to me for 185 RMB ($29 USD). Looking back, I think I couldn't have gotten her to accept less but the production she put on was incredible. Also, beggars are pretty pushy. 

6. You may have to pee and go no. 2 in a hole in the ground (or toilet holes as I like to call them)....and bring your own toilet paper.... (I'm not kidding either...I mean an actual hole in the ground. You walk into a stall thinking there will be a public toilet you may have to squat over, but no...it's a hole and your idea of squatting will be shattered). Imagine an intentional hole in the ground, someone has had the audacity to pave with porcelain, and it has a flusher. Then imagine how a child might squat down with its legs folded under him to draw in the sand with a stick (knees up, butt down). Now, finally imagine that you can't flush the toilet paper, which you may not have b/c they usually don't have tp inside the stalls, so you have to toss it in a waste basket near the hole. Overall its an unsavory experience (and all the things you wish you could flush are pretty much staring you in the face) and I was shocked that they had these types of bathrooms in the airport. I carried Cottonelle wipes with me the entire time, just to be safe. The tour guide made sure we knew if the washrooms had "western" toilets or not by referring to them as 4 star and 5 star toilets. In fact, there is a government sanctioned rating system that's posted outside many of them. 

7. The smog isn't as bad as I thought. I purchased masks to take with me but I think that the combination of cold weather and high winds made for pretty pollution-less days. In cities like Xi'an, there was definitely a haze and pungent stench of smoke in the air as a result of the coal refineries but it burnt off around mid morning and turned out to be a beautiful day.

8. You better learn to use chopsticks. If you ask for a fork, they'll look at you like you just cursed their mother. I think there was only one time when I saw forks. Needless to say, I had some knowledge beforehand so I was ahead of the class but now I am proficient at chopstick dining. 

9. You will not be able to post anything to Facebook, or any other social media site...or Google anything. The Chinese government has blocked access to all social media and Google in an effort to maintain control over it's people. I get it, I think, but it was the worst thing ever especially since I had friends looking out for the "I made it" posts. Its crazy how dependent we become on these sites...I had read that I wouldn't be able to access FB but I think I was in denial. I got there and tried it....and nothing. 

Fortunately, I realized that if i used international data on my iPad and turned wifi off, then I was able to get on.  I didn't figure this out until like the 4th day and by then some of my friends had already filed a missing person report. 

10. You shouldn't drink the water. We were told not to use the tap water. We brushed our teeth with bottled water and avoided ice at restaurants. I think that wasn't really the case in Shanghai. I was a daredevil and brushed my teeth with tap water there and managed to survive. I was actually doing everything I could to keep from getting sick. I had read that getting food poisoning or sick from the water was a real possibility. 

Alright, this isn't an exhaustive list but it's what stuck out in my mind after 9 days in China. I'm sure other things will pop up and I'll include them in the following posts. Until next time!!

~GEV

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