So you kinda liked the spitting and staring stories and came back for more? Great idea! Here’s the second and final part of my mini-series about culture shock in China!
Before reading on, make sure you’ve read part 1: the crowds, the spitting and the shameless staring!
The fact they always send you somewhere, even thought they have no clue of the right direction
First of all, if you go to China, you can be sure of one thing: you WILL have a language problem at some point of your trip. Few people speak English and they often don’t understand ‘simple’ words like bus, train or hotel. Look up and write down these words before you go or ask somebody from your hotel to write down your destination for you. Charades is another option, but after having imitated a train for the 47th time you might start wishing you would have just written it on a god damn piece of paper. Why 47 times, asking once or twice should be enough, you might think? Keep on reading, you’ll get it in a minute.
OK so now you know what to do to make sure people will understand you. But if you’re thinking you’re all ready to get to your destination without any problem, think again! I have no idea why, but for some reason, Chinese people will NEVER tell you they don’t know the way and ALWAYS point you in some direction, which might very well turn out to be in the total opposite direction of where you were headed…
Even when they do know, with the language barrier, they often don’t manage to explain the whole itinerary, so they just send you in the right direction to start with but you have to ask again at the next crossroads – and hope the next person doesn’t have another road in mind. Starting to understand why I told you not to put all your chances on charades? 😉
The pushing and skipping the line
This one… ooooh it drove me crazy! Imagine you’re waiting for the elevator or the bus, just minding your own business, when suddenly a whole group arrives and jumps on it before you even have the time to realize the doors just opened… and the elevator/bus leaves without you because it’s full… Or at the airport, waiting to check-in, alone in the line just waiting for the person before you to finish, when this woman arrives and just puts herself in front of you holding at least 35 passports… And when you tell her that – just in case she didn’t notice you standing there still with your 1m80 and huge backpack, bringing your total volume to around 4 times hers – you got there before she did, she starts pointing at her 35 passports, convinced it’s only normal she goes first, and looking at you like YOU’RE the crazy woman in the story…
Or imagine waiting in line for 2 hours at the Great Wall of China ticket booth, only to realize there’s more people skipping the line than people actually standing in it… And when you finally get to the point where you buy the tickets, there’s 5 hands on each side of you trying to put their money through the tiny hole in the window just to get their tickets first… And although you’ll probably be able to handle that part of the trip without too much danger for your mental health, the adventure of getting back to Beijing after your visit might just make you slightly lose it…
‘Slightly lose it’ like in you standing there screaming at 450 eager Chinese people who have no fucking clue of why that European woman suddenly decided she needed to go completely insane…
I visited the Great Wall of China at the very end of my trip to China, so by that time I had already survived a 3 weeks’ non-stop mix of all of the above (click here for part 1 of this article). The trip from Beijing had been relatively calm and the part where we had to buy our tickets, well it was annoying but nothing to drive a normal person crazy (I am in no way insinuating I fit into that category, but you get my point :p).
So we had a walk on the Wall and even though it was an exhausting experience that I wouldn’t even really recommend, we were in a pretty good mood when we arrived back at the bus stop. Well, that was until we saw the hundreds of people waiting in line for only 2 or 3 buses… Preparing ourselves mentally for another couple of hours of waiting in line, we headed towards the end of the row. We stood there for a while and buses seemed to come regularly so we were pretty hopeful we would soon be on our way back to Beijing.
The end of the row was just a huge group of people – almost all Chinese – standing there, without any delineation. Nobody tried to pass in front of the other people, and it all seemed quite calm and peaceful. Except when another bus arrived, and they all suddenly started pushing like hell, for god knows what reason… I mean it wasn’t like the bus was going to get bigger if only we pushed hard enough, was it?!? Everybody got squeezed together and you had better held on to your intimate body parts because there was always somebody that seemed eager to
accidentaly touch grab them. This went on like that for almost an hour, after which we arrived at the start of the fencing installed to guide the people into a row.
And that’s when it got ugly…
There were less and less buses and people from the end of the row had started running towards the few buses that arrived and simply jumped onto them in front of all the people who had been waiting for more than 1,5 hour now and were ‘stuck’ in the fenced part of the line. Everybody was getting nervous and the pushing rapidly turned into a constant thing, in order to try and beat the running people to the buses. At times they pushed so hard it got difficult not to fall and we were holding on to whatever we could reach first in order not to. By the 47th time someone grabbed my ass, I couldn’t take it anymore. And I lost it. I just. Totally. Lost it.
I turned around. And I screamed…
What followed were the 5 weirdest seconds of my whole life: a few hundred Chinese people just staring at me with their mouths wide open… It seemed like an eternity. The laughs that followed afterwards – pretty much just in my face, obviously – were almost a relief. But believe it or not, from that moment on, nobody touched me anymore! They were probably all to scared to get close to that nut job European woman…
We finally got on a bus after almost 3 hours of waiting, and than this happened… It didn’t take more than a couple of minutes, but it made the whole trip worthwhile…
I’d give you tips on what to do to make it ‘better’, but I guess you kinda understood from what I wrote at the beginning of part 1 of this article, that I actually believe trying to escape it would be a big mistake. Yes I’m the first to admit culture shock isn’t always easy to handle, but I do absolutely LOVE it! Well, except maybe for the spitting part, but trust me, you won’t be able to escape that one no matter how hard you try. So here’s the only piece of ‘survival’ advice I want to give you when it comes to culture shock, in China or in any other country for that matter:
DON’T HIDE FROM IT!! Go look for it, embrace it, live it and enjoy it even while you’re hating it. Remember the life lessons it teaches you. Look further than what you see at first sight and truly get to know the country through its people and their habits.
It’ll be one of the most rewarding travel experiences you’ll ever have!
Not just thinking about submitting yourself to the biggest culture shock of your life, but on top of that thinking about doing it by yourself? This solo travel in China guide will come in handy!
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I remember getting to Beijing from Mongolia, in the middle of the night, at a bus station in the middle of nowhere. I had no map, and I had no clue where I was. I started to walk in the direction of the first tram I’ve seen and soon I arrived to a non stop McDonalds, where I’ve waited for the morning to come. And then, I started to ask people about the metro, the underground, the subway… nobody could speak any English. Luckily, my Transsiberian Lonely Planet saved me, as it had a few pages on Beijing with a few casual words in Chinese. One of them was… “metro”. I was saved! 🙂
Hehe that sounds like quite the story! 🙂
OI, line jumping drives me nuts! It happens here in Orlando all the time (hello tourists), and it’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact that queuing just doesn’t seem to be a thing where they are from. I mean, I get mad when someone cuts me off in Starbucks! Sounds like I would lose it REAL quick in China.
Haha I’m glad I’m not the only one! Thank you for making me feel a little less nuts 😀
It looks wonderful!:) Thank’s for your colorful review!:)
Have lots inspiration and luck! 🙂
Thanks so much!! 🙂
Liesbeth, I have no idea how you handled that for so long lol. I really don’t blame you for snapping after all that pushing and shoving; likelihood is I would have power bombed someone after all that stress!!!
Would have been interesting to see a video rant about this – especially with all the emotion involved.
Nice read! 🙂
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I once screamed at a woman in Shanghai when she not only shoved me aside to get on the ferry, but also almost knocked over a little toddler! And I had not been waiting for 3 hours – I can only imagine my reaction if I had!
The best part was that after I got on the ferry I ended up giving up my seat to a blind man, going up to the top deck which was completely empty and had a great view, and got a very happy welcome handshake from the captain!
Hilarious article! What a crazy experience…but that’s what we look for when we look for ‘authenticity’ when we travel. Culture shock is great and like you, we embrace it except when we end up being the targets of a scam…like in Morocco and more recently, Zanzibar. Still…very authentic we guess!
Lili that is the best article I have read in ages! We get so much negativity in the world these days it’s great to read of someone who can appreciate(?) differences. My wife and I will be dragging our 70 something bodies around China early next year and this article has really put us in the picture. Thank So!