China – A Survival Guide

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A culture shock amongst a billion people in China.

There’s no denying it, China is over crowded. With their population hitting 1.4 billion people, it becomes easy to see how the people of China adopted some anti social habits that help them get through the day. However, coming from little New Zealand, where there is hardly any queues, people or traffic, the culture shock is huge.

To be honest, I struggled in China. Having just spent time in Thailand where the locals are friendly, the food is amazing and English is widely spoken, China was the shock I wasn’t expecting to become a negative experience. It was too crowded, too loud, too smelly and this vegan struggled with starvation causing many a hangry moment.

To survive in China as a western tourist, one must adapt to their lifestyle and similarly, their habits. Patience becomes difficult and sometimes anger gets the better of you.
Keep calm, breathe in that smoggy air and take a step back then prepare to fight for your place in this country.


The crush to fight through for a view in Zhangjiajie National park

Expand your wingspan.
If, like me, you do not enjoy being bumped into, pushed off a path or into another person, then heed this advice. Expand your wingspan, get those elbows out and use them for their purpose. I’m not saying to go around and shove everyone. No, no, just puff your arms out a little, pretend you have huge biceps and can’t get your arms to hang by your side. This gives you a helping hand in protecting your bubble of personal space.

Never leave a gap.
Get used to people pushing in front of you. Suddenly ending up at the back of a queue, not being able to get on the metro or never finding an empty seat anywhere, become the norm. If you were to be patient and let these people cut in front of you, you will get nowhere. You may inadvertently get shoved all the way back to your hotel room if your not careful. In a country of so many, it’s not surprising they feel they need to fight for their spot. Unfortunately, this means you must fight for yours too.

The elevator in Zhangjiajie crammed more people in than was comfortable.

Get used to people staring at you.
No, you don’t have something on your face (a quick check doesn’t hurt though) and no, you are likely not the first westerner they have seen. But for some reason, the Chinese will stare at you, take (not so sneeky) pictures of you, or just outright ask you for a selfie with them. Feel free to decline. All this doesn’t just apply to the fairer blonde people. Jacob and I both have dark hair and were sporting freshly tanned skin. We still got the stares, the photos and the looks. Patience laps on this subject and it is hard to get over. Eventually though, you will not even notice it anymore.

The First Bridge in all the World

Another crowd for a foggy view.

Never walk with distractions.
Keep your head up and not on your phone. All your senses need to be on their game in this country. As much as you want to block out the noise of cars, people and all the ambient noise of the population, you need to be hyper aware of everything around you. Silent electric scooters ride on the footpath, where they sneak up on you and scare the shit out of you when they sweeve around you. A red light means nothing to car faring people, crossing the road requires all senses on high alert with no distractions. Tune out the excessive noise and focus on the task at hand.

Car horns seem to have been invented here, and they are so proud to have them!
There are no time restrictions on horn use. Nor are there any particular rules on when or why to use said horn. Driving down a road, honk. Going around a corner, honk. Annoyed that you have been in traffic for more than one second, lean on the horn. 2am and you are driving down the road, honk your heart out. Seriously! What the hell is with all the honking! I still don’t have an answer. This is more of a “be prepared” note, as I have yet to figure out how to disable car horns.


The less crowded area of The Great Wall, Jinshaling.

Squatting toilets are no where near glamorous, but who thought they were anyway. The public toilets are unclean and never have toilet roll (none do actually). Bring toilet roll with you everywhere otherwise you are in for an awkward situation. When booking your hotels, ensure they specify a western toilet, unless you want to work on your quad muscles…

English is uncommon, learn Chinese. Seriously.
Many Chinese do not speak English, rather obvious I know, but we stupidly expected to be able to speak basic English to those involved in the tourism industry. Especially outside of the international cities, there is no English spoken or written. Buses, trains and taxi’s become very difficult.
Get yourself a translating app and learn Chinese, more than Hello and Thank you are required.


There is no access to Google, Facebook etc.
Once again, not a surprise. Lack of Google maps effects everything though. Any website that uses Google maps will not work for you. Download the Chinese equivalent called BaiDu Maps (not found in App store) and try to use that for getting directions, as it has the Chinese names using Chinese characters, then use a VPN to get Google maps to match it up for a map in English. Complicated system, but effective.

Surviving China takes patience, self awareness and selective hearing.
I can’t say I would willingly go back to China any time soon, but we did experience some beautiful sights and I don’t regret the experience.

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2 thoughts on “China – A Survival Guide

  1. Pingback: Exploring Zhangjiajie National Park – EmbarKiwis

  2. Pingback: An Unexpected Dream Destination - Mongolia – EmbarKiwis

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