What was I so worried about?
Before we came to China I was genuinely concerned about visiting this vast and diverse country. I think the language was my biggest fear. Language and lettering. As a (self-acknowleged) control freak I think I was bothered that I’d potentially be truly lost all the time.
Now that we’ve been here for nearly three weeks I’m wondering what the hell I was so worried about.
Sure, we can’t speak Mandarin or read the script and have to use a phrasebook or rely on some random stranger who can speak English to help out but overall China has been quite easy to navigate so far. There are, of course, some areas for improvement e.g. ordering in restaurants that don’t have an English menu (or English-speaking staff) so that we don’t end up with stewed eggplant when we thought we were ordering bbq ribs.
We do know how to say “two cold beers” in Chinese and that’s been working pretty well Priorities, priorites, people.
We’ve met a greater diversity of people in Chinese hostels than in South America or South East Asia. Most YHA China hostels seem to offer private rooms which give a pleasant respite from shared showers (and their sometimes noxious drains) and the hostels themselves are genuinely comfortable. There are Hiltons and Marriots and similar international chain hotels in most of the Chinese cities we’ve visited but the hostels, although sometimes out-of-the-way and maybe a notch or two on either side of “good” or “bad”, are giving us a locally hosted and internationally flavored version of China which is better (I think) than the uniformity of brand hotels.
We have had to change our travel style in China. It’s too damn big and there are too many people. We’ve found that we just can’t turn up at a train or bus station and get the next transport out. The Travelzen website has been a life-saver. I still prefer trains, but honestly, the distances are too far. I had initially dismissed internal flights as too expensive until a friend introduced us to Travelzen. We’ve been able to get seriously cheap flights (less than USD$100) between large cities booking less than three days in advance. This has really helped logisitics for this part of our trip.
We’ll be in Beijing for a week. Today we visited the heavenly Palace of Heaven in beautiful sunshine. We plan to see the Forbidden City, the Great Wall (natch) and the Ancient Observatory over the next few days. Then we’ll swing west to follow our planned route over the old Silk Road into Central Asia. If you’d like to follow along at home, I highly recommend Insight Guides Silk Road. We picked this book up in Shanghai and have been loving the photos, stories and background information.
Information on traveling to China with Children.