This article is not meant to be fact or imply that your experience will be the same if you visit China. In no way do I imply I am right. It is simply my opinion that grew over my 21 days spent in China. I do not intend to offend anyone but I do intend to be honest in my writing regarding my experiences.
I found China to be polarizing. At times I was glad to be there and having a great time, but in many others, I wanted it to be over soon and never look back. I cannot recommend mainland China to most people—maybe if you’ve already checked off many other countries of your bucket list. But if you do decide to go, either make sure you have a friend or guide with you everywhere you go that speaks the language or stick to high end places where you’ll be able to communicate. However, going to high end places means you won’t get a local experience but a westernized one.
My main issue with mainland China is the people. Not all of them but enough to make you question why you’re there. Simply put: they are rude and make you feel like an outsider at all times. Many times it feels like they’re doing you favors and that you should be thankful they acknowledge your existence.
In many of the places I dined alone, they would give me the menu by (literally) throwing it at the table. To be specific, it is not the case where one end of the menu is placed on the table and the other half is let to fall, but rather the whole menu is let-go in mid air. I never took it personally since they would do the same to other locals, but that doesn’t make it right. Once the menu is thrown at you, the waiter will stand there waiting for your order. I felt pressured to hurry up and order, but to be fair, later I learned that in China, it is customary to give the menu and stand by so that they can guide you through it. So this particular complaint is merely a misunderstanding. It is no different than a Chinese tourist eating in an American restaurant, and getting confused when the waiter disappears after handing them the menu; they wonder why the waiter won’t help guide them through it. But I could argue what’s the point of them standing there when they don’t speak English, and I’m fumbling through my phone trying to translate dishes off the menu? I’m being petty, I know. Cultural differences aside, there is no reason why the menu should be thrown instead of being placed on the table or handed directly.
The above is just an example, but this kind of attitude extends to many others in different professions. I should be clear and say that it’s not that I want someone kissing my ass, no. I just think there’s a certain level of respect with which you should interact with other human beings. In many of the places I’ve visited (outside China), locals seem proud and happy to have foreigners visit their home town. But in mainland China, they make you feel like it was a mistake for you to go there without learning Chinese first—like you’re something they have to put up with. One restaurant even denied me service because they asked me a question and I did my “I don’t-understand-a-word-you’re-saying face” and they just said: “closed.” And ushered me away. Literally made hand gestures to go away as I peeked inside and there were people eating. It really sucks because I had put in the effort to find the local food rating app that’s only in Chinese then browse through it for about an hour trying to decipher where I should go to only to get turned down in a matter of seconds. And while it’s possible that the restaurant does close in the afternoon – that’s not what upset me – it’s that there is no reason to be spoken to that way and to be ushered away the way that I was.
I spoke about this dissatisfaction with many people. Every time I was asked: how do you like China? I was honest: Its ok, but people are rude. Many Chinese would respond that there’s still a huge portion of the population that has not been educated. But, I still can’t buy that argument. I’ve lived in India – which still has high amounts of population without education, and they were not rude. India’s population is akin to China’s and it’s even about to surpass it in the next few years so I don’t think it’s a population issue either. In India, the most poor and illiterate were the most humble and nicest people I’ve met there. So I found it very confusing as to why so many people are rude in China.
Then there’s those that are educated but feel it’s ok to throw garbage on the street because someone else will clean up after them. In many cities of China, I saw people whose job it was to clean the streets, but they have their work cut out for them since so many others count on them to clean their garbage. And then there’s the spitting on the floor… Now look, in China, my nose became a booger factory. Yeah I said it. So I understand the biological need to want to expel things out of your body, but it was unbelievable how many people just empty their mucus out on the streets, in front of everybody and as loud as they deemed necessary. I’m not going to say I’ve never done that. There’s been times where I was unable to breathe properly so I cleared my throat and spit it out. Sure, it’s just as gross but at least it’s only when absolutely necessary and I was discreet, not doing it in front of others. For sure, I didn’t make a full production out of it. But maybe part of the reason so many people spit in the street or anywhere is that smoking is not banned. I had many meals with smokers sitting right next to me. Everyone smokes wherever they want and spit wherever they want. I suppose you can ask what kind of places I was going to, but what I’d say to that is that it doesn’t matter. Spitting the contents of your throat shamelessly and with gusto is just disgusting anywhere in the world.
My last complaint is the government’s lock down on the internet. That which they don’t block, they scan. Commonly blocked things are Google services (that means: no gmail, no docs, youtube, google map, etc), FaceBook, and Instagram. WhatsApp is not completely blocked, but messages can take days to be delivered. This can quickly become a serious problem because it’s difficult to keep contact with family and friends back home. In a land where English is very limited, it means not having access to google translate or maps to get directions in English. Yes, I know about the offline features on these apps, but you would’ve had to download them prior to coming to China. So it can be a real issue. It was for me. VPNs do work and sort of get the job done, but your connection will be unbelievably slow and will constantly drop. You really do feel disconnected from the rest of the world. It is not a nice feeling. From what I understand, the government wants to control the information its population receives. For example, they want a specific version of what happened in Tiananmen Square to be available. Since Google refuses to filter search results as per governments demands, it is blocked. And that means that whatever results retrieved by Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, have been filtered by what the government deems it okay to see. Not cool.
There were countless other interactions that formed my opinion about mainland China, but I’ll end it there. I do wonder, if part of my issue with China was the shock of coming from Japan where they are so insanely respectful and uniquely clean.
Despite my feelings above, I did manage to make some happy memories but they came mostly from friends I had previously met in NY that are now living in China. My experiences with them rescued me from completely disliking China because things went a lot smoother since language wasn’t an issue and locals didn’t really have a chance to give me their attitude.
The capital was my entry into China and lucky for me, I had dinner plans with a friend of mine and her husband. They took me to a place famous for their Peking duck and boy was it delicious. It was incredible how the skin literally melted in my mouth. Needless to say, that duck was the best ever and the rest of the meal was amazing.
While in Beijing, of course you have to go to the wall. I went on a Monday afternoon and it was a perfect time to visit. The place was empty! There’s many gates open to the public, but there’s a very popular one where cable cars take you to the top of the wall and you come down in a toboggan! For those wanting to hike up to the wall, you can do that too. The wall is impressive. It’s hard to wrap your head around a man-made structure that continues as far as the eye can see.
The guide I got for the wall recommended a Kung Fu show and while part of me thought: tourist trap, tourist trap, run, run, run! I decided to go with my gut instinct that maybe she actually was recommending something worthwhile. Given the price of admission, I went with it. It was actually very good and would recommended to anyone coming to Beijing. But since she did the planning of it, I have no idea what it was called but it’s in the Red Theater.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to visit the Forbidden City, which is supposed to be very beautiful, since it was closed the day I could’ve gone. 😦
Hong Kong’s skyline is one of the most breathtaking of any city in the world. It has the most high rise buildings and sky scrapers in the world. This is as vertical as any city gets. The surprising thing is that Hong Kong is actually much bigger than I thought, but it doesn’t feel that way because 75%-80% of their population is concentrated in 20%-25% of their land. I managed to get out of the city to Stanley and it’s quite beautiful. I didn’t know they had such pretty beaches. I always love when a city can completely change its vibe within a one hour bus ride or less, and Hong Kong does it with flying colors.
One of the most unique things about Hong Kong is the clash of new and old buildings, even within the same vertical structure. It gives it this very cool look that makes you recall Blade Runner. It has this weird look of a highly vertical city, where it looks both aged and dilapidated yet simultaneously new and futuristic. The juxtaposition of old and new at the same time never lost its charm.
The island is king of dim sum. Needless to say, they had the best dim sum I’ve ever had anywhere. Well, except for pork dumplings. For me, the best are in a small Nepalese restaurant in Dharamshala, India. Still, I’m happy to report that western influence hasn’t changed the Chinese roots of their cuisine much and eating in Hong Kong was always good. I cannot not talk about Hong Kong food without mentioning Tim Ho Wan’s pork buns. They really are incredible and for what they charge, it feels like you’re robbing them. Also to try out in general is Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) as they are awesome almost any place you go. But my favorite were in Paradise Dynasty as the presentation itself is on another level, and they have the taste to back it up.
It was perfect taking a break from mainland China in Hong Kong. You literally feel free being able to use the internet as you wish. But the people were a bit different too. I’m not going to say they were much nicer, but they at least did have a certain level of common courtesy and respect that made me feel they never crossed the line. I felt much more comfortable.
Sigh. Having been dubbed the ‘Vegas of Asia,’ I was so looking forward to Macau. Unfortunately, it’s more like the Atlantic City of Asia. Macau has a fair amount of casinos, sure, but that’s it. What makes Vegas Vegas is the ton of entertainment options outside of gambling available. But in Macau, it’s all about gambling. The entertainment is reduced to literally one great show—The House Of Dancing Water—and that’s it. There’s a few others, but they’re not worth going to.
The House of Dancing Water Show
In terms of activities outside the city, there’s also practically nothing. I had planned to stay in Macau for two days but ended up only staying for one. Even though getting to Macau is an easy, single 45 minute ferry from Hong Kong, it seemed like a huge hassle after being there.
I admit that it’s unfair to not like Macau simply because it doesn’t compare to Vegas, but what it really reveals is that I just don’t like gambling that much so only come here if you’re a real gambler.
This beautiful city looked most like what I expected China to look like. The architecture is really, really beautiful. There’s plenty of historic and cultural things to see and learn about China: from the gorgeous bell tower in the middle of the walled city to the Terracotta warriors. This city cannot be missed when visiting China.
It was the least impacted by western culture of the cities I visited but still has amenities of one that has: like a very affordable and great transportation system. But I barely used it since walking around was such a treat given the great Chinese architecture to see everywhere you walk.
The main attraction in Xi’an is the Terracotta warriors, which were recently discovered after more than two thousand years!
Big Wild Goose Pagoda and its surroundings are a must visit
Often called the Venice Of China, I was excited to come here and see many beautiful canals in one of China’s ‘water towns.’ I don’t know if maybe I didn’t go to the right area or what happened, but the canals I saw were not beautiful. Many were either almost dried up or very dirty or both. I didn’t even take any pictures of the town. The almost-redeeming tourist thing to do is to visit the gardens (pictured above). Let’s just say it was nice at best but no reason to go here from Shanghai.
For a city so big, there weren’t many activities for tourists to match its size. For example, Hong Kong and Xi’an are much smaller but felt like they had much more to offer. Nevertheless, thanks to two friends now living here that I had met from the states, I had a great time and shared yummy food.
The main attraction in Shanghai is ‘The Bund.’ It is a waterfront area where you can catch spectacular views of the Shanghai skyline. I went on a Monday night and the amount of people there was ridiculous. It was my first real encounter with how massively populated China is. Still, I managed to get opportunities to really enjoy the place and take a few pictures. I thought the view was impressive despite having clouds block the tops of the skyscrapers.
Food wise, the highlight was of course eating snake. It was a bucket list item that did not disappoint. My friend took me to a place that specializes in snakes, and it was a terrific experience. You get to see the snakes alive before they’re cooked. It really makes you question your choice of restaurant seeing them close and still alive. But man was it tasty! It tastes a little bit like eel and the skin feels like the skin of a fish. My addiction in Shanghai however was tea with cheese. It sounded weird, and I just had to try it—WTF: simply amazingly delicious. It’s basically like your regular bubble tea found around the world, but they add salty cheese on the top. Who knew that combination was so delicious. It is a very popular drink, and a lot of people are always walking around with one.
On my last day in Shanghai, I went to the People’s Square as it is one of the landmarks in the city to visit. There was something really fascinating happening: a real life Tinder for parents to hook their children up. The custom is to place an opened umbrella on the ground and place a kind of Resume or CV on top of it like an ad for your son or daughter. Typically, the ad would include information like age, weight, educational background, place of birth, and current residence. The amount of umbrellas on display was astounding. It took up a huge part of the park. My friend told me that there’s a section for children that live abroad and that often, the kids don’t actually know their parents are ‘pimping them out!’ lol
It was a really cool cultural experience to witness in a pretty clean park that as I was walking away, I started questioning my view of them being rude. I thought about this a lot while in the park; maybe I was unfair and maybe one bad experience colored my whole perception. I thought, I should give them another chance—then right when I’m about to exit the park, on a bench, some old guy prepared from the top of his lungs as much mucus as he could build up and spit it out.
First, I’d like to say that I am including my visit to the city of Taipei, in Taiwan, under this China article mainly because I am being lazy. I am in no way making a political statement that Taiwan is part of China.
There is currently a dispute where Taiwan considers itself an independent country: Republic of China (ROC). But the People’s Republic of China (PRC), what most people know as “China,” thinks that Taiwan is part of it. Leaving politics aside, Taiwan to me feels like its own country, separate from China. The people are just different.
It was very unfortunate that my entire one week stay was rain filled—not a single day was rain free. Still, I was still able to enjoy the city, its food, and its people. Many locals were curious what I thought of China and Taiwan, especially after they learned I had just been to mainland China. They were not surprised at all when I told them that I found Taiwanese to be much nicer and friendlier.
After a few days in Taipei, I began picking up Japanese cues. At times it felt like if I was in a city that was birthed by Japanese and Chinese parents. After looking into it, I found out that Japan had actually ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, and that of course explained the Japanese influence in food and the way people behaved. Still, a lot of the temples and its culture is of Chinese ancestry.
I do wonder if I should give China a second chance and visit other cities and perhaps experience different people. I do have the visa already:) The land was beautiful and there’s so much history the get lost in. Maybe. In the mean time, I left China with something. Something I knew all along but is now burned in me forever: it is the people that make a place wonderful.