He Said/She Said: Crossing the Great Wall

He Said/She Said: Crossing the Great Wall

All too often we write something and determine that it’s not fit for public consumption.  Per thinkCHUA’s decision, this post was held back to not annoy the Chinese censors and get us locked out of livingif.com while we were traveling there.  The subject was what we expected China to be like, now that we’ve been there, here are our pre and post visit ideas of “what China is”.


Leaving South Korea for China brings on many emotions.  The strongest is apprehension due to the stories I’ve heard.  On the backpacker trail, many people have been to China and few were overly positive.  There were the usual, could have happened anywhere, stories of theft, dishonest tour agencies and navigational challenges, but everyone we spoke with highlighted the communication difficulties.  In many places English is not spoken, that is not to say they expected the Chinese to learn it, they just had hard times trying to take care of daily travel needs such as buying food and finding accommodation. Not to mention how one missed train stop or wrong ticket can lead you to places you don’t want to be.  Having heard many of these stories I am not looking forward to experiencing such difficulties first hand.

HAVING BEEN THERE: I can honestly say, traveling China is about as easy as it comes.  I was correct, communication was the most difficult challenge, but the people could not have been more honest or helpful.  There were none of the scams or annoyances of SE Asia, we paid the local price, and when people couldn’t communicate, they really tried to help us.

The second thought on my mind is how time is flying by.  China was a mental line in my mind, the biggest part of the first year’s trip, but one that came later in the year.  It shocks me to find myself heading there now, the calendar doesn’t lie, but it just doesn’t feel like July.  Maybe it was not having a Minnesota winter to endure that made the arrival of summer a non-event.  As we head to China I know with a great degree of certainty what the remainder of the year holds, I can see 2012, and it’s coming faster than I expected.

HAVING BEEN THERE: To think time was flying by then, ha!  After China I can see the end of the trip, two years from now.  The part of the trip after China required extensive planning to island hop and mitigate costs in Australia and New Zealand.  In doing so, we took a hard look at the rest of the trip.  We have more clarity now than ever before and it’s scary to think that we start the long road home in March 2012 when we set foot in India.  Of course, it’s a 12-18 month road home, so I don’t expect sympathy from you.

Lastly on my mind is the return to developing-world travel from the relative ease of South Korea and Japan.  Language barriers were real and sometimes frustrating, but I could almost always get what I wanted.  I could drink the water from the tap.  I didn’t have an itchy bed or icky bathrooms.  Then there were the money issues, South Korea and Japan were expensive, I couldn’t get what I wanted at will as I could in Southeast Asia, for example, as much as I wanted it, a coffee for $4 was out of my price range.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time here, but I think I would rather do it when I have a $200-300/day budget to really enjoy the countries.  Now it is back to living large in the developing world and worries be damned, I’m looking forward to it!

HAVING BEEN THERE: In most ways, this fear was completely unfounded.  China is developing, but the transportation system is the best in the world.  No country as large can boast of easier, cheaper, cleaner, more reliable transport.  The budget hotels and hostels were among the newest, cleanest and nicest I have ever stayed in, anywhere, absolutely world-class budget accommodation.  As I said, communication is difficult, but it was cheap, $47 a day for both of us (excluding Tibet), but I must say, the coffee in South Korea and Japan may cost more, but it’s totally worth it.  Chinese coffee is horrible.


Thinking of going to China conjures up thoughts of communist soldiers marching in unison and red flags flying high.  I can only imagine the red tape (pun intended) that awaits me at the customs counter in the airport and the questions I will get as a blonde with a last name of Chua.  Of course many of these thoughts and expectations are fueled by backpacker lore, which there is plenty of on the road.

HAVING BEEN THERE: China is far from communist when it comes to everyday interactions, there were not soldiers marching down the street (save for a military show for National Day in Shanghai) or even many police.  However, communism has created a certain amount of blind trust in the government and entire nation of people that never ask why and don’t understand why you do.

Many of the stories I have heard from fellow backpackers highlight the dirty streets, spitting locals and the smells, oh the smells- or so I here.  I take it with a grain of salt since I have visited some pretty challenging places thus far.  I can’t imagine that the smells or really even the unkempt nature of the streets will bother me.  However, it will be tough to move from the relative comfort of Japan and South Korea into China and the myriad of difficulties it presents.

HAVING BEEN THERE: China was definitely dirty, everyone spits and garbage is just thrown into the streets.  I also experienced some pretty bad smells as expected, however the worst smells could be avoided by simply steering clear of the stinky tofu stands.  On China’s behalf I will say that they employ a large team of street cleaners and trash collectors that do a pretty good job at cleaning up after everyone.

I know that my dirty, communist thoughts are stereotypical and biased, but I am white and blonde, which I know from my travels thus far makes me stick out like a soar thumb anywhere in Asia, but particularly in China.  There is a good chance that at any given time I could be the only blonde person within miles of the city I am staying in, especially outside of major cities. I am not so much nervous about discrimination as I am about simply being avoided and thought of as too much trouble to even bother with when it comes to ordering food or finding a place to stay, because they will take one look at me and know I don’t speak their language.

HAVING BEEN THERE: While I wasn’t the only blonde person in most places, I was ignored in many places.  It was always easier for the person behind the counter to serve someone that spoke their language.  I often had to have things written down in Chinese characters for people to help me and I always needed to stand my ground for those that would just cut in front of me or shout their order in Chinese over me.

Communication and other concerns aside I am down right giddy about seeing the most populace country on the planet.  I can’t wait to take in the sights of one of the oldest known civilizations on earth.  I look forward to walking the Great Wall, seeing the Terracotta Army in Xian and beholding the bright lights of The Bund in Shanghai, among other things.  China has a lot of must-sees for me and I am excited that the time has come for me to experience China.

HAVING BEEN THERE: China met all of my expectations and beyond for beautiful sights and unparalleled cultural experiences.  If you have an opportunity to go to China, don’t hesitate to hop on the plane, you won’t regret it.

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» Bka :
Nov 17, 2011

Although we saw a different China with the 24/7 help of college educated bi- lingual local guide, it too was far different from our initial expectations…..Shanghai was NYC on steroids, air quality not as bad as we anticipated and we frequently head/saw the communist control in tourist guide propaganda, people appeared to move freely
and commerce was busy…..more than once, when we traveled on our own, ok, often, we headed out into the sites with a card of Chinese symbols which we shared with cabbies, bus drivers and locals to help us find our way, never a problem…..that is “blind travel trust”……be safe bka

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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