I’ve been pondering a lot lately, over the misconceptions I voyaged to China under and how disgruntled I was when I got here and realised so much of what I had been told was not true. You think you are totally ready to take on this huge country, you have set your mind to a certain mission, and then BOOM, it’s nothing like you had expected.
There were so many absurd notions of China floating around at home it would have been impossible not to be slightly anxious, but still, it really was nowhere near as bad as people made out, in fact, I would probably rate it in higher regard then I would home. So I felt that I would personally put some of these rather hilarious concepts of China to rest in hope that more people should want to visit this amazing country and get the most out of it.
- 1. Chinese people are very friendly.
My first impression of the Chinese was most definitely not a positive one. I was waiting at Doha airport for my connecting flight to Beijing and the waiting room suddenly became occupied by 99% Chinese. Now due to being the first person in the waiting room and being first at the door I expected to be the first one out of the door and onto the plane. How very wrong I was. The Chinese pushed and shoved and certainly do not have any concept of the word ‘queue’. I was pushed, pulled and shoved into every corner of the waiting room until I was the last one in there before making my way to the plane thinking I had made a serious mistake by coming to China.
However, after a couple of days in Beijing and after speaking to some Chinese people I realised that we, the British, are just far too obsessed with queuing. Ok, it’s not nice to be pushed and shoved, and if you have been waiting half hour and then someone saunters up to the kiosk and gets served before you, you are ready to stab them with your keys, but other than that the Chinese will honestly do anything for you. They are unquestionably the friendliest people I have ever met, and the most honest. If you ask them a question they will not beat around the bush and they will not patronise you. They enjoy it when you show some enthusiasm in their culture, language and politics and if I were you, I would take advantage of this as China is one of the most interesting places I have ever been to.
- 2. ‘You will, at some point, witness the police beating people, even small people, and you must not get involved.’
Firstly, do you think I am an idiot? As soon as I told people I was traveling to China it was almost like they thought all of my common sense had been zapped away and I was going to become this absolute wally who got themselves into all different kinds of trouble and stupid scenarios. Secondly, the police are actually very friendly, extremely helpful and put up with a lot from Western tourists who seem to get away with many things. The policemen that I came across couldn’t speak a lot of English but always tried their best to help us, and they always seemed to have good rapport with any of the Chinese I saw them with. I am yet to see one Chinese policeman beating someone up and all I can say to these silly rumours is that maybe one day a Westerner saw a policeman manhandling a Chinese and blew this all out of proportion. I am sure that at some points they have to use their authority to make sure there is no trouble, but beating random Chinese people in the street… No it doesn’t happen.
- 3. You will find chicken feet and brains in all your food.
When I heard this I must admit I was a little naive to think that maybe they did actually put random stuff like guts and giblets in your dinner. However, these dishes are actually quite expensive and considered a delicacy so do you think they would actually sneak this stuff into your dinner? I highly doubt it, and if they do you should consider yourself lucky.
- 4. It is freezing cold in winter in China.
When I first considered coming to China the main reason was because I thought it was hot. I haven’t looked at a map since about 9th grade and think everywhere but Britain is hot. To say I was erroneous would be the understatement of the year. As I was happily packing my shorts and T-shirts, bikinis and smocks my dad looked at me in utter bewilderment, he was probably thinking that somebody could not be this stupid and if it was really a good idea to let me go half way around the world on my own to teach Chinese students English. As he handed me a pack of thermals and a jumper, winked at me and walked off, I knew I was in trouble. I ran to the Internet to check out the weather for Beijing in January and shivered as minus 20 hit my screen. My flip-flops came flying out and the Uggs went in. Conversely, do not let this put you off as it is early May and hitting late 20s every day now. Even jeans get uncomfortable some days and walks along the beach in the evenings followed by a cheeky Tsingtao can be very refreshing.
- 5. You won’t be able to access anything, ever, again on the Internet whilst you are in China.
I am currently laughing in the face of the great Chinese firewall. Of course there are ways around it… If there wasn’t I’m pretty sure a lot of westerners would not come here. You can access proxies but they can be very temperamental and so I suggest that only extremely patient people use this method for accessing the Internet. A better option is to get a VPN. You will have to pay for most of the decent VPN’s but these aren’t expensive and allow you to get on Facebook, Twitter, Google…
- 6. The Chinese language is one of the top three hardest languages to learn in the world.
I most definitely agree with this statement. If you wish to be at an advantage start learning Chinese before you come here. I have been here four months and I have learnt very limited amounts of Chinese and not through lack of trying. If you can get around the four different tones, the finals and initials, and the utterly ridiculous sounds that you have to be able to make to utter a lonely syllable in Chinese you’re probably only a tenth of the way there. You don’t have to be a linguist to pick up a language, you have to work hard and I wish I had started learning Chinese before I came here. You must also not assume that wherever you go in China people will speak English. They will not. Yantai, a small fishing port where I currently reside is mostly Chinese speaking and the people you meet that can speak English speak a very small amount.
- 7. You will get extremely strong leg muscles when you come to China.
I’m sorry to break the news to you but yes, you will have to use squatter toilets and yes they are in the majority of places unless you can afford to eat in western restaurants every night and stay in western accommodation. I am lucky enough to be based in an international school and have western style living accommodation so squatters are not part of my daily routine. However, if you go out to Chinese, Japanese and Korean restaurants, have to visit the hospital, go to nightclubs, go shopping, go to the Chinese country, go to the zoo, the great wall, etc. you will have to get used to squatting because that’s the only toilet you’re going to get. Even Beijing University where I spent my first two weeks had squatters and they weren’t very clean let me tell you. Most shockingly, the worst squatters I have come across is joint between the sleeper train and the hospital believe it or not. Another tip, carry tissue on you as some places are not accustomed with supplying toilet roll for their customers.
- 8. There are rice paddies everywhere you go in China.
This is an extremely ridiculous misconception of China. Do you really think that the fastest developing country in the world could do that solely off the back of rice farmers?