He Said/She Said: Crowded China

He Said/She Said: Crowded China

A well-touristed section of the Great Wall.


I like my space.  I like to be able to walk down the street without having to dodge people or have to deal with stop-and-go traffic on sidewalks.  I like to be able to go to tourist areas and take photos without other tourists walking into the shot.  I like to listen to chirping birds instead of voices competing to be heard.  I like to stand in an orderly first-come-first-serve line.  Due to this China’s crowds can become hell on earth.

For hundreds of years the Forbidden City was closed to normal people.  Daily tens of thousands of people are making up for the lost time.  The Great Wall spans almost 4,000 miles; if each day the visitors linked arms they could easily cover the length.  If it’s in the Lonely Planet, it’s crowded.  If it’s not in the Lonely Planet, it’s crowded.  The life of a tourist in China is one of patience, holding your ground, and enduring crowds that rival the rush of people leaving a Rolling Stones concert.

Aside from the tourist attractions are the everyday public spaces such as the subways, grocery stores, malls and sidewalks.  A person shopping for produce in the grocery store would be forgiven for thinking that war had broken out and people were stocking up, potentially for the last time.  We saw a grocery store employee in Luoyang, pushing a cart of oranges to restock the shelf surrounded and overwhelmed by ravenous shoppers.  Was there a scurvy scare?  No, this is everyday life in the land of a billion-plus people.  Even scarier are the KFC’s and train stations.  If you aren’t willing to stand your ground, stomach pressed to a strangers back, others will push you out of line.  We spoke with local in Beijing who was standing inside a train, when the doors opened and the rush of people entered she ended up outside the train.

A typical overnight train in the cheap seats.

We have been told by many people that this is a summer and holiday phenomenon, visit during the winter and you can actually have your own space.  If I came back I would do it, almost everything we have been told about China in the winter sounds splendid, albeit this is coming from a Minnesotan who doesn’t mind trudging through snow.  China is an amazing place, I am thoroughly enjoying my time here, but the crowds are maddening.  If you decide to travel through it make sure you plan your trip right to avoid chaos.


I love crowds, I thrive on the energy of a mass of people and I can’t get enough of the growing excitement that a huge gathering of people brings.  One of the best parts of the Minnesota State Fair is the throngs of fair goers clogging the streets and the superb people watching.  However, China brings the State Fair to a whole new level, the people watching is second to none and the people amass in numbers that I never could have imagined prior to arriving.

The crowd excitement isn’t quite like a rock concert since most of the time a huge group of people in China are simply gathered for the local bus instead of to cheer on Bono.  However, I still find myself anxious to see what everyone is waiting for. I strangely enjoy working my way to the front of a line to snap a picture of whatever it is that is causing such a huge commotion.  The best is pulling out the elbows and making my way onto the train.  It is somehow satisfying to swim against the tide of people and get to my train seat before everyone else.

The line to get tickets to visit a free museum in Xi’an.  When you make it to the front they request you write your name on a piece of paper and hand you a ticket.  Usefulness of queue?  Unknown.

You do have to  beware though, Chinese crowds are not for the faint of heart.  More often than not a throng of people amassing in one place should serve as a warning to stay away.  Crowds can be down right dangerous, which is part of the challenge of travel in one of the world’s most populace countries.  Large swaths of people in China are never considerate, they are always pushing, poking and prodding there way through the sea of people.  At any time you find yourself swept up in a sea of humanity you risk being trampled, shoved off the train or losing an eye to someone’s umbrella, which they carry everywhere.  Crowds in China really bring a whole new meaning to the phrase “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.”

While I haven’t lost an eye yet I still agree with thinkCHUA that the crowds can be maddening.  I find it particularly trying to deal with crowds at tourist attractions that I have paid good money to see and the only view I can get is a sea of black haired people.  However, if I’m not in a hurry and can relax and just go with the flow the crowds still offer the best view of life in China.  There is no better place to people watch in the world than in amongst a dense pack of Chinese people.

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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