As a seasoned debate nerd, I dedicated a decade of my life (11-21) to telling people, “Stop talking. You’re wrong. Here’s why.” Especially when it comes to China. China terrifying for some people. As a rising super power, people will find any reason to cast it in a negative light or spread information that isn’t accurate. But I’m on the ground. I can immerse myself in the culture, observe the movement of politics, and catch food poisoning every month. There are so many benefits, it’s hard to control my excitement. So after a year of on-site research, here’s a few myths that I want to address when it comes to traveling in China:
1. Communism is a dominant force in everyday life.
FALSE: The government won’t bother you if you don’t bother it.
“Hey how’s communism?” seems to be a popular question to email me. It’s time to set the record straight. In China there is a LARGE variety of wealth-distribution, Chinese people do have Facebook accounts, and unless you’re passing out anti-government pamphlets, you will successfully avoid a tour of the luxurious prisons that China has to offer. While reports of censorship is somewhat true, none of the decisions that you will face while on the road will be influenced by the state; except for the Visa application. Make sure you don’t have any “priors” because you will be denied entry and to be honest, I don’t blame them.
2. Chinese people LOVE foreigners for no reason at all.
FALSE: Chinese people see foreigners as accessories to show off to their friends.
While traveling in China, you will probably be asked to take a photo with some random stranger or to sit down at a table in a posh nightclub simply because you’re foreign; and that’s okay. Enjoy the free bottle service on China. Here’s why this happens: hanging out with westerners implies that you have the education and finances necessary to communicate and “hang” with other cultures. It’s a subtle, but effective way to show off. For that reason, Chinese companies have been known to hire foreigners to be models in business meetings or a “friendly foreign face” at the front desk of hotels, spas, and other service industires. It’s a power play and it works.
But this creates obvious problems. Because there is an enormous difference in salary, benefits, and influence between foreigners and Chinese nationals, there is a deep seeded sense of resentment in society. Accusations of foreign men for dating/”taking Chinese women” and dominating business unfairly are some what true. If you are blonde-haired and blue-eyed, you are at the top of the food chain; no matter how weird, undereducated, or awkward you are. Therefore, drunken-nights often end in large scale brawls where 4-10 Chinese nationals will take on 1-3 foreigners in a fight; and this is a one-way ticket to a Chinese jail or prison.
If you get into a fight, throw down all your money and run. Bribes are the only way to keep these people from beating the crap out of you.
Disclaimer: Not all Chinese people hate all foreigners. That should be obvious. But I’m trying to paint a vague, general image of the type of cultural practices you will experience while traveling in China.
3. Everyone Speaks English
FALSE: Everyone has studied English, but very few people are confident enough to speak it.
Chinese people are constantly concerned with embarrassment. For that reason, they will avoid speaking English to save face when it comes to incorrect conjugations or mispronounced words. Normally, only those who are financially fortunate enough to study abroad are confident enough to use their English on a regular basis. If you need help, go into an internationally recognized hotel chain or any luxury hotel because they will have someone who speaks English on site.
4. Traveling alone in China is dangerous.
FALSE: The fear of punishment is a strong enough motivator to keep people in line.
Chinese nationals fear their government just as much as we do so they will keep their head down and avoid conflict as much as possible. The only crime that happens is pick-pocketing and the occasional “throw-myself-in-front-of-your-car” stunts to try to get bribes or benefits from unsuspecting travelers or rich Chinese people. There are no guns in China. Drugs are punishable by death. This immediately eliminates many potential threats that we deal with in western communities. The most dangerous situation that you’ll encounter is one that you create while traveling.
While there will be tragic terrorist attacks every so often (like in any country), most of these attacks are towards Chinese Nationals and put down immediately.
5. Traveling in China is expensive.
FALSE: A little money goes a long way.
The standard of living in China is far below that of western communities so you can spend less and get a whole bunch more. Right now, the exchange rate is 1 USD to 6.18 RMB. The cost of Chinese food will range from 2-40 RMB; so MAYBE you’ll spend more than 1 USD on a meal. Maybe. Western food is more expensive and will cost you upwards of 30-100 RMB, but it’s pretty easy to live on a super serious budget regardless. Cheap beer costs anywhere from 2-10 RMB and what more do you really need during a personal financial crisis?
Hotels are a bit more expensive because their aimed at the international community so they will cost you anywhere from 70 – 1,000 RMB depending on what you consider “standard.” When traveling in China, avoid flying and use the train system whenever possible to save money! To take the fast train from Beijing to Shanghai, it’ll cost you about 500 RMB for first class accommodations. That’s like…. five meals at a western restaurant in Beijing. It’s even less than my CrossFit membership. It’s all about budgeting according to what’s important to you. Keep in mind that major cities are dramatically more expensive than smaller less-developed cities. Prices are subject to change based on how international the city is or isn’t.
Want to high light your positive traveling experiences in China? Tag me on Instagram @wanderonwards and I’ll give you a shout out! Thinking about teaching English or working in China? Like my Facebook page @wanderonwards to stay on top of what’s going on in China and what resources you have available. Follow my smart-ass comments on Twitter @wanderonwards and stay tuned for more articles.
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About Vanessa Elizabeth
Vanessa Elizabeth is a cultural chameleon currently based in London. She enjoys sports (such as CrossFit and dating), cooking, and demolishing her savings account. When she's not busy blogging about her feelings, she works full-time and practices Chinese with her English/German friends.
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