We’re back into our real world again readjusting to our Belgian rhythm, and when I have more time this weekend I will tell you more about our trip. While stuck in the airport (no offence China, but we will do our best to avoid ever having to layover in Beijing again), I wrote up my list of things you should know before going to China. I’m sharing these bits to spare you from embarrassing moments like the one I had on our very hot, noisy, long, stiff-seated flight to China on a Chinese airline.
A parched me was overjoyed to see the flight attendant strolling the aisle with a tray full of water cups. “Yes please,” I croak, only to find out it was a steaming hot cup of water — no tea, no coffee, just scalding water. My crabby self didn’t edit or think when a little too loudly I blurted out “Why in the fuck would I want hot water?”
Turns out hot water with a slice of lemon is as common as ice water is to we Westerners. It’s what you’ll get at restaurants too (although Westerners should stick to bottled water because our bellies can’t handle what comes out of the tap).
Be careful of the ice too. A refreshing gin and tonic at a cafe bar in Beijing will not make (the next day) for a comfortable hike on the Great Wall —- trust me on this one.
Which didn’t stop me from posing — lol going by my hand placement I’m not entirely sure I’ve got it under control. LOL nor is Joe, but hey we’re smiling!
Spitting and sucking one’s teeth is common place; chewing gum is low class or something rude like that. Sitting next to men swishing spit between their teeth (or hacking it out on the sidewalk) was gross to me , but I’m sure there’s shit I did that they considered gross as well (eating with forks perhaps?). Culture is a finicky cat —- oh and it’s totally cool to wear a bubble backpack and shove your cat in it while you stroll the city. Don’t have a cat? Go to one of the many cat cafes (also popular in Seoul and Hong Kong). Cats are cool here!
And so are you! OMG if you’re tall, fat, light eyed, light haired or black you will be stared at. If you’re more than one of these things you will get pointed at. You will also have couples come up to you begging for a selfie. Others will still snap your picture, thinking you’re too high up to notice the camera is pointed your way. Joe and I are Chinese Social Media super stars. I’m sure there’s captions like “Look! You can put lipstick on a Godzilla,” or “Fee Fi Fo Fum he didn’t eat me.”
LOL even fat Buddha and his minions get stared at by standing Buddha…
If you book a hotel because you’re wowed by its pool pictures, do know that you will be expected to wear bathing caps while in that pool. If the pool man says, “you want new or borrowed?” go for new. We thought he meant disposable caps, but what we got were two wet bathing caps.
And yeah you look like this —- new wouldn’t have helped us on this one. Joe might divorce me for posting this pic.
Ladies work out your thighs. Squatty potties are real; toilet paper is not.
And food is racist…
Last but not least: Don’t be fooled by the adorable little old ladies hobbling near you. They will smack you on the bum or push you in the belly to get ahead. Turns out there’s old lady karma too because I accidentally pawed one in the face when she was trying to whiz past me going up the stairs to the Grand Buddha. I had no idea she was down there. I felt bad then, but by the time we got to our layover in Beijing I was so disgusted by being pushed and prodded. All I wanted to do was windmill my arms to take out as many as I could.
Crowds are everywhere … it can be pretty intense
I always do my best to respect another culture, and I get that my way of doing things is not THE way of doing things. But, I do not get what we experienced at the mosh pit of hell trying to board our plane. I also do not appreciate the dirty looks I got from some passengers on the crowded, loud plane —- especially considering that these same folk were half my size and took up twice as much space and would not stop moving and talking. So, yeah, I guess I’m still a little bitter about getting pushed.
Things we knew but also should be stressed: Google maps or translate will not work in China, nor will your social media. I downloaded WeChat so that I could communicate with my friends there. The language barrier is also as vast as the Great Wall. Traveling in China is not easy if you don’t know Mandarin.
If you leave the touristy areas make sure you have lots of cash on you because no matter how good your travel credit or debit card is it will not work in much of China. Luckily we had friends who picked up our tab more than once and booked all of our didi (their version of Uber) rides. We did not pull out enough cash, so shame on us for that one.
For Americans, the visa process can be complicated, BUT if you stay in Beijing for less than 72 hours (maybe it’s higher than that) and leave for another country (say Korea) and then pop back into Shanghai for less than 144 hours you will not need a visa. You can get a transfer visa at the airport, but don’t expect friendly agents (then again isn’t that common in most airports?).
But it is all worth it to see sights like this and experience a life different than ours.
We’re still glad we went, and so glad we caught up with friends. Spending time with our peeps, hiking the Great Wall (even with an angry digestive track), sipping champagne at the Hyatt rooftop bar in Shanghai, walking through the shopping village in Wuxi and spending the day at a Buddha park were all worth the inconvenience of being aliens in a place far from our own. And we also met many friendly, helpful locals who made us feel welcome in their land. So thank you China for sharing your corner of the planet with us for a few days.
Up next: Korea, Hong Kong and some of the oddities we met along the way.