My love affair with China began in the most unorthodox way. The ex-husband and his (fab) girlfriend spilt up while she was planning a trip to China to celebrate her 50th birthday. It had been on her bucket list for 25 years and she was determined to walk on the Great Wall on her birthday. So she asked me to go with her instead of him. As you do. I’m pretty well-travelled but quickly realised the only interesting facts about China I had were horror stories from colleagues who had done a stint in China and come back less than enthused. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. I was hooked and we booked our trip with an attitude of ‘whatever happens, we’ll have a laugh.’
Little did I know that I was about to totally fall in love with China and that it would become one of my favourite countries of all time. Everything from the people to the history, the natural beauty and the fabulous food totally blew me away. By the time our trip was over, we were already hatching plans for the next trip. After all, you really can’t ‘do China’ in just one trip and I do have a ’round number birthday’ to plan for!
When I told people we were off to China, I found that I wasn’t the only one whose only interesting facts about China were urban myths. It’s true that China has challenges, but it’s a truly amazing country with so much to offer to every kind of traveller, from adventure seekers to foodies to culture vultures. So, if you still have doubts, here are seven of the most common misconceptions about China and why they’re about as true as one of Pinocchio’s tales.
Interesting Facts About China (Debunking Those Travel Myths)
Myth 1: China is a Dangerous Communist State
Like millions of others around the world I watched the 1989 student uprising in Beijing (known in China as the ‘June the Fourth incident’). I clearly remember the brave lone student standing in front of the tanks sent to break up the protests and the horror of the bloodshed as troops opened fire on the assembled crowds, killing and injuring thousands.
For years after this, China was more closed than ever and difficult to visit, but times have changed dramatically and modern China is very different. It’s still an assault on all the senses, but in a good way. You will see police and you do need to have your wits about you, just as you would anywhere, but we felt completely safe walking around, even at night and in street markets.
Myth 2: If you don’t Speak Chinese it’s Impossible to Get Around
This was one of my biggest reservations going into my trip, as I’ve gotten used to travelling to countries where I can at least read the alphabet! We had opted for the luxury of a private tour guide but we did get out and about independently to explore and we found it incredibly easy to get from place to place. On the bullet train from Beijing to Xi’an, there are station announcements in English and the subway in Shanghai was very straightforward (and soooo clean!) to use.
The best advice we received was to take something with you that has the name and address of your accommodation on it, so if you do get lost, you can show this to a taxi driver. This worked for us after a long amble through the winding streets of the night market in Xi’an where we got a bit lost! And if all else fails, use a translation app….
Myth 3: The air pollution is dreadful
You’ll see plenty of people in China wearing masks – even in hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. We bought some as soon as we arrived (ask your guide/driver to stop at a pharmacy as they are so much cheaper to buy in China than at home!!). But, despite both being a pair of wheezy old asthmatics, we never used the masks as we simply didn’t need them. I might just save them for my next trip to London though…
Myth 4: China is Disgustingly Dirty
This is so far from the truth it’s laughable. I can’t stress enough how clean every single place we visited was. There were hordes of janitors, road sweepers and park-keepers everywhere we turned. The streets were spotless everywhere from the awesome historical sites to the bustling street markets, with no specks of litter to be seen. It made me rather sad that we don’t seem to have the same civic pride here in the UK.
Even the public toilets were perfectly clean, including the squat toilets (but you will need loo paper in your bag/pocket).
Note: Don’t drop cigarette butts in China as it’s a serious offence!
Myth 5: You’ll End Up Eating Dog Meat and Get a Gastro Upset
A few cautious friends were keen to re-hash 3rd hand horror stories about eating bugs, intestines and dogs, but I’m a pretty experimental foodie. I was thrilled at the prospect of eating ‘real’ Chinese food, not something in a tray from the local takeaway! Trying out a new cuisine is one of the best aspects of travelling to a new country for me.
Take it From Me – Chinese Food Is Seriously Awesome!!
China is vast, boasting many different cooking styles and regional specialities, so I was in serious foodie heaven. With one notable exception (the Hot Pot Horror) we ate like royalty throughout our stay. From our blow-the-budget champagne brunch to celebrate Mo’s 50th to awesome crab dumplings in Shanghai, beer fish in Yangshuo and our favourite seafood kebabs bought from a stall in the Muslim market in Xi’an, we loved all the food that China had to offer.
Do your taste buds a favour and step outside your hotel restaurant to go and find real local food. You won’t be disappointed and you’ll save £££s!
Hot tip: Lots of eateries have pictorial menus. You can order food even if the staff don’t speak a word of English! You might get mystery dinner, but it’s always delicious.
Myth 6: China is Seriously Overcrowded, You’ll Feel Claustrophobic Everywhere
It’s true that China is huge and that Shanghai and Beijing are considered ‘mega cities’, with populations in the tens of millions. It’s good to be prepared for crowding and queuing as part of your trip, just as you would for Disney or many attractions in London during peak holiday periods. As you’d expect, some times of the year are much busier than others and some places sites get very busy on Chinese National Holidays. As a rule of thumb, weekends are also busier than weekdays too.
BUT – most sites are massive and if you’re patient, you can get awesome photos just by waiting a few moments for gaps in the crowds.
Myth 7: The ‘Inscrutable’ Chinese are Not Very Friendly
OMG this was the complete opposite of true! In every single place we visited, lovely people greeted us with the widest of smiles. Even where there was a language barrier, people practically tripped over themselves trying to help us. We met some incredible people, swapped stories, laughed a lot and had great conversations with everyone.
We found it hilarious that so many locals wanted to have their photo taken with us but we said ‘yes’ to everyone that asked us. Posing for selfies with locals felt like being z-list celebrities but we got into it and had such a laugh. Chinese people are anything but unfriendly.
Can you see why I love China so much? It’s sad to hear people spouting old myths about this amazing country. We only had positive experiences during our trip and left loving both the country and the people.
Have these interesting facts about China convinced you to check China out for yourself? Drop a comment below to let me know!
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