My trip to China went very well. The point of going was to educate myself about the place, because I knew absolutely nothing about it. In my lifetime it will be one of the largest consumer markets on the planet, so getting to know this place better couldn’t hurt.
I honestly packed my bags like I would be hardship backpacking through some 3rd world foreign land…I was WAY off.
I presumed from all the comparisons I hear on the news that China was like India, but it was in fact MUCH different.
I primarily went to Shanghai and Beijing which are NOT representative of most of China. It’s like coming to the United States, only going to New York City and presuming the whole U.S.A is like that.
Here is why India gets all the international call centers instead of China: Very little English is spoken in China. We figured since we’re in Shanghai we would be able to get around very easily with only English…WRONG.
English was a very rare commodity, and when it was actually spoken, it was usually butchered. The Mandarin language is grammatically set up in a completely different way, so their English is sometimes very skewed….understandable….but skewed.
At a lot of restaurants we went to, they could not understand basic things like Coca-Cola, napkin, spoon, soy sauce etc.. If there were pictures on the menu, we would just point. Another tactic was taking picture of foods with my camera, then we would show the waiter and he would know “Ohh, they want dumplings”
Of course there were McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Pizza hut etc. all over China. McDonalds was relatively the same type of food and menu, I hardly noticed any differences. In these chains you would usually find people who spoke good enough (not good…just good enough) English to get you through an order.
IMPRESSIONS OF SHANGHAI
Most of my time was spent in Shanghai where I stayed at youth hostels or hotels, both always being quite nice. To me Shanghai felt like a mix between NYC and San Francisco. Just the impression I got.
I really liked it with all it’s very modern buildings, most of which had crazy illuminated tops or some sort of full-building lighting feature.
Pollution was quite bad though, as in on a clear day you cannot see the sun. It didn’t feel the pollution on the street that much, but a quick glance upwards and you can see the thick smog shielding the sun. I only saw the sun peer out fully one morning, and by afternoon it was gone.
The weather however was extremely pleasant and very mild.
Check out this picture of a relatively bright day with a bad pollution index. You can see how blurred the buildings across the river are:
The night sky in Shanghai was always lit up near this area along the river called the Bund. Lots of large buildings line the river, including “The Pearl” radio tower which is the big space needle looking thing. It’s like the Chinese equivalent of the Statue of Liberty, except it lights up in funky colors and is like a big lightshow in the night time.
As me and friends travelled we couldn’t help but stand out as foreigners, meaning we were magnets for the street sellers. In some of the more commercial and shopping areas we were constantly approached by people selling knock-off watches, bags…you name it.
And of course…I bought stuff. It was however time consuming to sift through the different sellers who had good quality stuff and bad quality. I bought some really nice fake watches:
Pictured are a Breitling, Emporio Armani, Mont Blanc, Luminor Marina and Omega knock-off watches I bought for between $10 and $15. They have tons of great rip offs, and if you find high quality ones they are damn near indistinguishable from the real thing by the average person.
I also bought stuff like fake brand name cuff links….I’m not even sure if Louis Vuitton has cuff links that look like this, but oh well :)
After bargaining you can get them for about $1.50/piece.
Getting around was actually pretty easy. The roads & highways were very modern, they drive on the left like in the U.S. and most of the cars were relatively modern too. I was surprised to find out their emissions standards are higher than in the U.S., and also found it odd that EVERY taxi was a Volkswagen Santana 3000. I also see why General Motors is focusing so heavily on China, there are Buicks everywhere. I hardly ever see Buicks cruising around in the U.S. anymore.
Cab rides were relatively cheap, I don’t think I ever paid more than $3 for a cab ride, and I’m almost sure they were jacking up my price from time to time.
One highlight of the trip was a 250+ MPH bullet train that takes you from the Pu Dong airport to Shanghai. It’s top speed was 431 KPH which translates into 267 Miles Per Hour! It was pretty amazing since I got out of the airport thinking this was a poor, 3rd world country. The train whizzes by all sorts of farm land, small cities and even by the freeways where you see cars travelling at a pitiful 60 mph as you blow past them like they’re standing still! The bullet train cuts the airport to Shanghai travel time from 1 1/2 hours to 8 minutes!!
As for NORMAL train rides, I took a 12 hour train ride from Shanghai to Beijing, the captiol of China. The train ride cost about $40 because I chose the highest class ride I could get. I figured it would be a pretty boring trip, but it was actually VERY nice. You get a good size compartment with 4 beds in it, and 4 people. You get two meals, comfortable beds with warm blankets, slippers, toothbrush, dining table and more. It was nice because I left at 7pm from Shanghai, messed around for a few hours on the train then slept a full 8 hours. When I woke up they served a breakfast and you’re ready to start your day at 7am in Beijing! I actually preferred this to travelling by plane.
IMPRESSIONS OF BEIJING
Beijing definitely gives you a reminder that China is still a communist country. I didn’t get that vibe at all in Shanghai. First stop in Beijing, the Great Wall of China!
We took a private taxi 1 1/2 hours each way to get there, total round trip cost: $35.
Most parts of the Great Wall of China have been degraded to ruble over the last 2,000 years, but there is a large section which has been restored for visitors. We went here to go see this stretch of wall.
I don’t know what else to say other than it’s a big freakin wall in the mountains. I think the main objective of going there was 1.) to say I went to the Great Wall of China and 2.) to take a bunch of pictures on the Great Wall of China.
Probably my favorite picture: Doing a handstand on the Great Wall of China!
Here’s a “Where’s Waldo” picture, except “Where’s Nev”
We spent some time at the Great Wall taking pictures and whatnot, they had all the usual souveigneers and junk like any tourist attraction. We left shortly afterwards in the same taxi we came in (Who fortunately did not drive away with all of our stuff) and headed back towards the middle of Beijing to see Tiananmen Square.
Tiananmen Square was just a big ass concrete square with a bunch of people walking around. Dotted through the square were communist police perched on boxes. Their postures were ramrod straight and they moved their heads side to side like robots. At the base of each box was two fire extinguishers. I’m not sure why they had fire extinguishers in the middle of a giant concrete square, and they didn’t look friendly enough to ask.
This attraction was more for historical significance than anything. Of course I felt like taking another handstand picture:
*Note: More might be added to this post later.