What the Travel Guides Didn’t Tell Us About China


what the guides didn't tell us about china

Traveling so easy a Gingerbread can do it!

  • English-speaking tour groups are a popular attraction.

As our guide stopped in front of historic monuments to educate us, non-English speaking passersby would stop to watch and on occasion join our tour group for various lengths of time. We were instant celebrities. Locals asked to take photos with us and we received smiles and laughter anytime we posed or waved for cameras. Our photos were taken while we waited in lines, ate dinner, talked to each other, and walked down the sidewalk.

  • English is not common.

In some areas signs are in both English and Chinese, but not everywhere. We encountered very few English-speaking people other than tourists. We communicated with taxi drivers using Google Translate and displaying our destination’s address on a cell phone. The app can also translate written characters into English on menus, signs, and tickets.

  • Manners are a bit different. 

Very few people turned their head or covered coughs or sneezes. Spitting was also very common. In line for dumplings, I felt the sneeze on the back of my neck from the woman standing extremely close behind me.

  • Prepare to be last in line. 

There was very little personal space in crowded areas and we were invisible as we waited in line. We were cut in front of, ran past, or pushed out of the way. Mitch was handing his money to a cashier to purchase a ticket for the ferry. A man stepped in the small space between Mitch and the window to start a new transaction. After the man received his ticket, the cashier continued with our purchase as if there was no interruption.

  • There are no eggs for breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of Lo mien, vegetables, dumplings, fried rice, and fruit. The milk for cereal was hot. If coffee was available there was very little of it. We were frequent customers at Starbucks towards the end of our trip in search of breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee.

  • It’s unusual to only order alcoholic beverages at a restaurant. 

In Beijing, we asked our guide if there was a bar nearby we could have a drink at before a show. He was confused by this question. After some explaining, he laughed and said no, if we’re drinking, we’re eating. Still wanting to grab a drink, we sat down at a table in a nearby restaurant, held up 2 fingers, and said Ting Tao. Our waiter returned with chop sticks, plates, and menus. Mitch walked to the cooler, pointed to 2 beers, and tried to hand back the menus. We received our 2 beers, but regretfully caused a lot of confusion.

  • USD are not accepted most places. 

Having very little Yuan, we asked our guide for the estimated cost of a taxi ride from our hotel to the airport the next morning. Exceeding the highest estimate he provided half way through the ride, we began to panic. Attempting to pay in a combination of Yuan and equivalent USD for the remaining fare, the driver was not happy. Only having $20 US bills left, we handed him one and thankfully he accepted.

  • Rickshaws are not impervious to traffic jams. 

While a rickshaw is much quicker than walking or a taxi, there are still delays. On the way to dinner, our rickshaw encounter several traffic jams of bicycles, motor bikes, and small trucks making deliveries on the narrow streets. Our driver skillfully  maneuvered through several back alleys to reach our destination.

  • Bathrooms are used by residents and customers.

In a more residential area of Beijing, we saw signs for bathrooms every block. Our guide informed us, the public washrooms are used by the nearby residents and customers. In that area, 4 families live in a square home without a bathroom, one family per side. The middle is a shared open air kitchen and garden.

  • Taxi drivers reach destinations very quickly.

Our taxis drove along the side of the highways to avoid traffic and never decelerated to merge, change lanes, yield, or turn. It is legal in China to make a left hand turn at a red light.

  • The electric to the hotel room turns off when the room is unoccupied.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts of turning on the lights, we realized a room card must be placed inside a small pocket on the wall to turn on the electricity. This did cause some difficulty. We were only able to charge electronics at night and only brought 2 adapters with us.

  • The hotels exceed our expectations.

G Adventures arranged all of our accommodations.  All of our hotels were clean and had western beds, western toilets, hot water, slippers, shampoo, soap, and a toothbrush with toothpaste.

  • Americanized Chinese food is served in China. 

Our first night in China we ate kung pow chicken, chicken Teriyaki, Peking duck, steamed broccoli, white rice, sweet and sour pork, and fried rice. We were so disappointed. Later, we learned Chinese order Americanized Chinese dishes at restaurants because this kind of food is not prepared at home. We were glad to eat at authentic Chinese restaurants and home cooked meals the remainder of our trip.

  • The seafood is fresh. 

Waiting for our meals at an authentic Chinese noodle restaurant for lunch, I walked to the counter a few from our table to order drinks. While waiting to pay, I  heard a loud splash followed by a squeal from our table. I looked just in time to see a man’s hand emerge from the fish tank grasping a large, flopping fish before disappearing back into the kitchen. 

  • Beverages are frequently served warm. 

Finally arriving at our Beijing hotel after 2 days of travelling, we were shocked to open our mini fridge and find warm beer, water, and soda. Throughout our trip, many restaurants, markets, and stands served us beer and water at room temperature.

September 2017

Author: The Traveling Gingerbread

My husband, Mitch, and I have been traveling together over 6 years. Living and working full-time in Pittsburgh, PA, we travel as much as our vacation days and finances allow. We cram each adventure with activities, tours,  and experiences to maximize our time. We always try to visit to a local brewery and can't walk by an Irish pub without stopping in for a pint of Guinness. CREATION OF THE TRAVELING GINGERBREAD: In Tokyo, we smiled every time we saw someone talking on their large, animated phone case. We had to buy one. Having an obsolete IPhone 5, the selection was limited. We purchased a gingerbread off a neglected rack in Shinjuku, Tokyo and The Traveling Gingerbread was born. You can purchase your own gingerbread friend here! The Traveling Gingerbread offers realistic budget travel tips for full time employees, fun facts, and where to find the best craft beer.

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