China; The Land Of The Dragon
Every once in a while it is good to step out of your comfort zone and look for some real adventure that helps shape your personality. Being unable to come up with a legitimate explanation, till this day I choose to believe my father had the same thing in mind for us when one fine day he broke the news of going to China back in 2011.
After a week of skepticism and concern over this idea of a vacation from friends and family we finally set on a bumpy ride to the land of the dragon.
The pictures are proof of my enthusiasm for photography(ehm!) but in my defence
- They were taken with a 8 mega pixel digital camera which was a huge deal in 2011.
- Beijing is unbelievably humid in July(upto 80%), hence the haziness.
The country boasts a rich history and a richer architecture combined with breathtaking landscapes and the most diverse culture. Our experience would have been undoubtedly beyond perfect only if we did not have to face the issues that I am about to disclose
The fact that Chinese have a hard time speaking and understanding English is public information but of course learning a language with over 3000 alphabets was not an option either, so we decided to work on our sign language instead but our strategy failed every time we took a taxi. So? Could have used the train or catch a bus? I am sure that is a brilliant suggestion only if you can tell Cantonese apart from mandarin on the sign boards at bus stops and train stations.
Don’t panic, the solution to the problem is carry your hotel’s visiting card with you at all times and take your hotel staff’s help in writing down the address of your destination in Chinese. Luckily the literacy rate in the country is quite high so there you go, problem solved!
In case you are in dire need of having a conversation in English, choose a youngster to talk to (determining the correct age group in China is a challenge on its own). Chances are he/she would know a little bit of English and would also be willing to make an effort to speak the language.
Social media detox
Well not much of an issue but I can guarantee there is no place better than China, to discipline your kids and in case you want a social media detox for yourself. Why? Because you need to purchase a VPN in order to activate social media apps other than their own, such as WeChat. (try saying it in your head with a Chinese accent, trust me it sounds much more fun than whatsapp)
A packed restaurant says nothing about the quality of food they serve and do not judge a movie based on the size of the queue at the ticket counter. The country is home to the largest population of the world therefore over crowded streets, restaurants, shopping malls and beaches are no surprise. Do not forget to carry disposable masks to avoid catching viral infections.
Oh the street food tastes spectacular and the cuisine is an experience in itself BUT (how to put this nicely?) your strong sense of smell may be a problem for you. It’s you, not the food, it’s you.
Ordering authentic Chinese can be a bit challenging because all you have to rely upon is an image of the dish and leave the rest to your imagination in order to make the right choice. I would suggest, go back to your hotel and ask the receptionist to write down “chicken noodles” for you in Chinese. Otherwise you are welcome to experiment with your taste buds.
Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut because no one understands you anyway. As far as the former is concerned, you are in the land of tech geniuses so be careful with the mode of payments you choose. China otherwise is a very safe country and there should be no problem carrying cash for shopping and other entertainment purposes. Speaking of potential troubles you might get yourself into, also beware of private taxis. Only use the yellow cabs and go by the taxi meter for the fare.
We had the fortune to visit Beijing and Shanghai in their peak humid days accompanied by moderate rainfall almost every day but temperature does go below freezing during winters. It all comes down to your preference ?
Its time to roll out the good news; the things we enjoyed the most in China.
China has been successful in capturing the larger part of the retail market all over the world and that is what makes shopping in the heart of the retail giant so much fun. Do not forget to take a bottle of water and your bargaining skills with you to the street markets because the haggling that you can do is unbelievable.
Enjoy the Attention
The people are mostly friend-lee (pun intended :P) but violation of one’s personal space is not considered a serious offence in the largest population of the world. Do not feel terrified or conceited if a local requests to take a picture with you. Sorry for popping that bubble of self-admiration but that is what Chinese like to do.
Try to make things less uncomfortable and return the favor just like we did. Go one step ahead and start a conversation maybe? Because who doesn’t like making new friends. A little extra help and tips from your new friends can come in handy.
We thoroughly enjoyed the attention we got as Pakistanis and even got special 5% discounts at times.
There might not be much love but definitely a lot of national pride in the air. You might find it irrational and frustrating at times, especially when you repeatedly end up buying vitamin water instead of mineral water because no one would choose to speak English. But the fact that the nation has come a long way on its own and is one of the most self-sufficient nation today gives grounds for the strong sentiment. You would be surprised how it starts growing on you too.
There is so much more to this mystical destination, but sadly we were only able to scratch the surface in ten days. I would definitely love to go back with what I have learnt from my past experiences and from Kung Fu Panda(of course):P