So I landed in Beijing China with no clear itinerary. The initial idea was to travel to Guangzhou for business. You know a girl like me cannot waste an international flight and a Visa for a few days of business, right? I had not planned on Travelling China so I became open Minded. I ended up going to 4 cities in china; Beijing, Shanghai, Xian and Guangzhou. I had never even heard of Xian before, but it came highly recommended for tourists (Even Though I do not consider myself a tourist; rather a traveler / an explorer). After spending 3 weeks in China, one post is not nearly enough to do justice in unpacking this experience. I would have to share my experiences over a few posts. #African-Girl’s-Travel-Through-China. In this post I want to share with my first impression about China, the things that I liked, which you may like too when you go there. However, I have to wonder what their impression of me was though? I must say some of them looked at me like they believed I was an Alien that had just landed in China. They must have been seeing a black person for the first time for sure! For a few weeks, I was actually the only black person I had seen there… until I got to Guangzhou, where I found surprisingly a community of African living and doing business there.
Look out for my next posts about : “The things I did not like about china” , “The culture shock things that left me gaga for words”, ” Doing Business in China”, “Best Way to Experience China”, “How to Budget and plan your Trip”, “Food in China”,
10 thinks I liked about china
- The Public transportation system: The Chinese have an impressive, elaborate public transport system that works like a well-oiled Machine. From the airport, there was a train ride to my destination. Be aware when you get there though, I spent 2 hours trying to ask where the bus was to take me to the hotel as I had previously read online that there is a bus for 23 Yaun. The people in the airport kept on referring me to the agents in the airport with private taxis that wanted to charge me 400 Yuan. I was getting desperate and almost about to give in when I finally found someone who told me to go to platform 3 for a bus. I got of the bus and took a “Tuk- Tuk” ( or the HUman controlled tricycle) who still charged me 40 Yuan for a short distance that I discovered later that I could have walked – Of course he did take a long road around. needless to say that was the first and last time I used these. Beijing has a train every 2 minutes and Busses every 10 -20 min. There is an Underground metro rail, a long distance inter-city rail line and a bus metro system. When in China there is absolutely no reason to get in an expensive metered taxi. The only trick is to understand the language / symbols and know where you are going.
In most cases, its written in both English and Chinese symbols, it sometimes becomes tricky to keep up if its only in Chinese. Fortunately, most staff at the stations can speak basic English. It is quite impressive how the underground train system connects to every corner of the City. The plan is to understand and map out your stops and where you need to connect. The Train System was cheap at only 4 Yuan to get around to anywhere ( compared to the meter taxi which is from 60 yuan to 200Y. At Any given time there is a flood of people in and out the train stations, it resembles the Serengeti Migration. People are always going somewhere in a rush but the system is effective and proficient. The one thing about some of the stations though is that there is a lot of walking. You could literally walk 2 kilometres from one train to connect to another (not a problem really when you are used to walking- but for someone a little lazy like me… not so nice) but I soon got my fitness on track and endured burning the kilos. It can also be daunting if you are pulling a lot of luggage or you are not wearing comfortable shoes. One thing that still boggles my mind though – How did the Chinese build such an elaborate underground subway structure. It Seems like an interconnected underground city… Really fascinating. You will also find bicycles for rental anywhere. That makes it easy to get to the stations or locally anywhere. The ride on a metro bus was about 2 Yuan – to get from one point to another ( I even took a bus ride up to wherever the bus ended, too have a view of the city, then hop off and get the next bus to somewhere else for 2 Yuan) . Should you need to hop on and off at more than one destination, it is advisable to get a full-day pass at 18 Yuan for the train, which is quite affordable. It is a good idea though to take the bus as it gives you a nice view of the city. Although I found that busses were more complex as no one was ever there to help and signage is in symbols with no English translation or illustration.
2. Green Environment and manicured gardens: Let it be known that I am an African girl who is in love with all things nature, green trees and water; which would explain why I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the Chinese are so fanatical about planting trees in the city. It gives such beautiful aesthetics to the city. Boy was I relieved to realise that despite all the talks about pollution in China, I still had plenty of oxygen to breathe from the trees. It was like a combination of green living and city living. As much as there is not much free land left they tried to create some green spaces like parks and rivers which are very well kept and maintained. I loved it!
3. The Food: Talk about food-food-food. My Goodness! One of my favorite cuisines in the world is Chinese cuisine. The Chinese have so much variety in food, so much so that you could eat a different meal every day and not repeat the same meal for 1 full year. From as little as 10 Yuan / $6 or R23 up to Y160 you can get a local meal. Depending on what your flavour is. As you know in every place, the best way to taste the local food and understand culture is by going for backstreet foods. I only discovered these backstreet restaurants about 4 days into my trip and realised how much I’d been missing out. Its advisable to Always ask where the locals are eating. Get engulfed in the culture, that way you get the best process and best experiences. Besides, it is always a fraction of the cost form the mainstream touristy restaurants.
4. Town Planning and Architecture– You’ve got to give it to the Chinese. I’m not sure how and when they built some of these cities that I have seen, but everything looks so well planned, well thought through, synchronized and well matched. Besides extraordinary architecture, you will notice as you get by in each city that buildings are matched per area. You hardly ever see a lonely building with no matching partner. This I found very fascinating as I have not seen it much anywhere else in the world. I found myself just snapping away the whole city, street by street. This, in Summary, makes most of China very neat and organized. Of course there are always some rundown buildings in every city, but I loved it. Check more photos in the gallery – fascination.
Architecture – Until I visited China, I did not know how much I loved Architecture. Whether it is the old Traditional Chinese architecture or New Modern Architecture, the Chinese will amaze you. The Chinese Architecture is so breath-taking. Every town I visited in China _ (Beijing, Xian, Shanghai and Guangzhou had a unique architecture. Each City has a unique character and unique charm to it. They really hold a lot of pride in their history and architecture with such meticulous attention to detail
Beautiful Shanghai By Night – Architecture
5. Organic, back To Basics living – As much as we know the Chinese to be manufacturers of modern things, it is well worth noting that they still remain true to their organic ways. You will find organic Vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts everywhere. What was more fascinating was how I watched while a guy made sweets (Candy), Handmade Nuts crackers, Sugar quoted nuts, Dried chili powder, paste and chili sauce… I even watched while another man made cigarettes. Their commitment to traditional ways of making things is captivating. If they don’t make it manually, they have some very basic machines to help them in the process. Oh, and what’s more beautiful is that they serve the freshest ingredients ever. Like, you know your seafood is fresh when they take it out of the water alive to cook it for you
6. Cleanliness: I was pleasantly surprised to see such well-organized, well-kept clean streets. This was nothing like the filthy disgusting China Town I had left back in Johannesburg South Africa. The Cities are very clean. There is always someone cleaning up the street (but of course there are some filthy corners here-an’-there but generally, impressively clean.
7. Public Safety – Coming from South Africa, this was a very refreshing thing for me. There is visible policing everywhere. Although it can be intimidating at times, but boy was I happy to see police everywhere. It felt good to know I was safe. Being able to walk about anywhere, anytime of the day was like heaven… especially as I was a female travelling solo. The Trains end at midnight, and even then it is still pretty safe to be travelling from one point to another. Taking from where I come from and most countries, tourists are usually victims of crime, but China felt so much safer with police in every corner. Just don’t take any pictures of them… not allowed!
8. Late night Buzz – Talk about the city that never sleeps. Most places in the cities I visited closed late between 10 pm – 12am. This was lovely because the public transport system finished at midnight. There are markets and restaurant districts / streets that open until the wee hours of the morning at 4am. So if you are a night-crawler, this is perfect for you. In Xian I was very surprised to see a flood of street vendors setting up at midnight as I was coming back from my sightseeing. These guys were setting up as shops were closing; only to pack up at 4am. They would mostly sell food and drinks, and a few other street market items. Beijing has a night market where you can go to experiment on eating the kinds of foods that appear on Bizarre foods TV show. This is not for the feint-hearted. Here you can eat anything from Frogs to scorpions, snakes to crocodiles, and other such foods that will make your stomach turn!. This was fascinating to see. One thing to make sure you do is to take a trip around the city at Night- the city comes alive with lighting. Chinese are very big on lights, mostly dominated by the red, green and gold, but the light effects and decorations are breath-taking – a 2 Yuan Bus ride would be perfect for this, or take one of those Tuk-tuk / tricycle rides for a higher cost.
9. Carefree Attitude: I just found it amusing that the Chinese seem to be living their life carefree. It seems so very anti-social how they like to be on their cellphones while they drink green tea. They are not bothered by fashion or trends. They really dress like anything anyhow. One may be forgiven to think that their ugly cheapest clothes are from the 1800! Most women even dress like Disney characters and don’t give much care… but mostly they really like to be comfortable, I suppose because there are always long distances to be walked. There are odd instances like in Shanghai when women at these very expensive hotels dress to impress. Of course they must. But this must make life really simple in china. This works perfectly as there is no pressure on how one dresses going to places.
10. Abundance of water . Coming from a country that was recently hit by drought, I am sure you will understand my appreciation and love for water. China has an abundance of water. There is water everywhere in some parts of China. I cannot tell you where this area is, but when I took a train ride from Xian to Shanghai, I awoke in this area that was practically built on water. I suppose instead of cars and roads they have rivers and boats. I wonder if these parts of China do not have malaria problems? I have not heard of such. Anyway everywhere you look there is water. Methinks, this and the lack of enough free land has promted the Chinese to build bridges everywhere. They have really mastered the skill of building bridges because they are some of the best in the world. I am sure living on water has its disadvantages. I noticed how buildings look grey and worn out, probably from too much rain waters in some parts. The people living there must be facing a myriad of challenges and are probably not as fascinated as a traveller passing buy seeing the beauty in this abundance of water. The water in Shanghai gives it its particular beauty and charm.
Bonus : Free Wi- fi . Yes this was great indeed. all the hotels I had booked at had unlimited internet access. This was a breeze as I was not roaming. To stay connected I had to be online. Wi-fi is a must for every traveller.