Getting to Know China
I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.
As far as everything else… don’t worry too much about any of it. I traveled there this past fall and met plenty of English speakers. Most people were really friendly and helpful. I’d suspect a lot of the students at the University campuses will speak English to a certain degree and some of them will engage you in friendly conversatiin just to practice. Others will be very modest and embarrased about their speaking skills so it’s always nice to encourage them and thank them for their help. And you’re already at an advantage since you have some familiarity with Mandarin. I know absolutely none and survived just fine. You find creative ways to communicate. Also, there are English signs like everywhere in Beijing.
You’ll probably be asked to take photos with people but I actually found that to be really fun. I found Chinese people to generally be shy and sheepish so you can usually tell when someone is building up the confidence to ask for a photo. You kind of feel like a bit of a celebrity when that happens so I’d say just enjoy it. You can also smile and say no if you’d prefer not too. You won’t offend anyone as long as you’re nice about it. People that live in Beijing will probably care less that you’re white because it’s a worldly city. It’ll most likely be domestic tourists from rural China that will be more interested in you. People will definitely stare though. Like constantly. You’re something new and different, and it’s a good experience to go through. You gain an understanding of what it’s like to be an extreme minority and to be set apart just because of your physical appearance.
Read up on all of the scams and constantly be on guard, especially in Beijing. Everyone there will try to scam you. You’ll probably pay higher prices for street vendors items. Don’t accept any invitations to tea ceremonies and be wary of tuk-tuk drivers and cabbies. Make sure the price is agreed upon before driving and make sure the meter is running if you take a cab. Also, never separate from your luggage. Sternly vocalize your displeasure If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation. They’ll leave you be if you give them a “I’m not putting up with your shit” face and a stern “no”. Remember that you are always in control of the situation and keep that mentality. You’ll feel overwhelmed by people and vendors at times but you’ll make it through.
Know that the smog will probably be terrible in Beijing. Bring an inhaler if you have one (Maybe check customs rules on that ahead of time). I couldn’t believe how bad it was when I first arrived but you get used to it after a few days. It’ll also get better at different times of the day and after nighttime rainshowers. You may have some blue sky days but don’t be surprised if it’s grey.
Most importantly, have fun! China’s appeal to me are the societal and cultural differences. There was no point in my trip where I felt like “I completely understand everything that’s going on right now”. That makes it fun though, so enjoy. And feel free to reach out if you have any more questions. I was really nervous before my trip but there’s nothing to worry about.
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