As you may know by now we explored mainland China on tour with The Dragon Trip. We found TDT to be extremely good on our budget as backpackers and well worth it. While China is obviously a huge place we feel the cities we visited while on tour were enough to give us a good overview. We chose the Hong Kong to Hong Kong trip and visited the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, Chengdu and the country towns of Shaolin (DengFeng), Yangshou, Moganshan and Fujian while also seeing Macau and of course our starting point: Hong Kong (classified as a countries of their own and separate to the mainland).
While Hong Kong was a good introduction to what China was going to be like it wasn’t enough to prepare us for the culture shock we experienced on tour! From the food to the usual occurrence of the people spitting anywhere and everywhere we found that there a quite a few differences that contrast with how we live back home in Australia.
One of the strangest things that I’m still not quite over yet was how frequently we were photographed by the Chinese people!I actually lost count of how many times we were approached by the people and asked or gestured for a selfie. Of course it happened mostly to the girls in our group with the palest skin and blonde hair and also to Craig with his ginger hair! Sam on a few occasions was told how handsome he was and asked for a selfie or 5 by Chinese girls! It’s a good laugh for sure. But then there are creepy occasions when you know you are being photographed sneakily without your permission! Pretty silly when they don’t turn off their camera sound! Or the annoying occasion where you are photographed while trying to eat your dinner! As we were in a big tour group I suppose it was easy to attract attention but you will never get used to the feeling! I am so glad I’m not famous!
Eating in China
Not your usual Chinese take away from down the road right next door to the fish and chip shop! The authentic Chinese style of food we found in the mainland is something you’re not expecting at all. While yes rice and noodles are a major staple food (that we do know for sure! Rice/noodles for breakfast, lunch and tea!) your choices of usual dishes in our experience were as follows… Also better brush up on your chopstick skills! There’s no other options really!
Dumplings! Or Jiaozi 饺子
There was a time that I never liked dumplings! Can you believe this nonsense? While at first on tour in China I opted to go for vegetarian options (I’ll explain more below) the vegetarian style of dumplings were delicious and usually were filled with cabbage or another leafy vegetable. After a while I began eating meat options again and once I tried the pork dumplings I was officially hooked! Absolutely divine when dipped in soy sauce or a mixture of soy sauce, black vinegar and ginger. Yummo.
Usually cooked in an amazing garlic sauce this was a main dish served to us at every group meal! I grew to love the way our Chinese hosts cooked eggplant (aubergine as our Brit mates called it!). This also became a dish I basically lived off of due to my vegetarian choices. Now I will explain. When in China you realize something. They literally eat every part of, I feel, almost every animal! Pig, chicken…gulp…dog! One lady on an overnight train had her chicken feet to snack on poking out of her shopping bag! Thus my choice to go vegetarian for a while in China. I wanted to be in control of what I ate, and not accidentally eat dog. However I lasted 2 weeks until we came to a very special group meal in Beijing…
Beijing Roast Duck! Peking duck 北京烤鸭
HALLELUJAH. My good gravy. This my friends is one dish NOT to be missed in the wondrous capital of China! Peking. Duck. Pancakes. You take a pancake with your chopsticks, add some roast duck from the cute little duck plate (the duck is looking at it’s own meat, that took me a while to get over…okay 5 seconds to get over), add cucumber, green onion, sugar and hoisin sauce and eat! I never thought I could bring myself to eat a duck but I did and I don’t regret it one little bit.
Sichuan Hot Pot 麻辣火鍋
This was one that Sam tried while in Chengdu while I ate safe at a lovely noodle place! This was a strange one indeed! The pot is situated at the middle of the table and diners add what they wish to the bubbling stew to cook and eat. You had your usual chicken, beef and pork options and then there was also…cow intestines and duck feet! Sam tried the duck foot and had to spit out the nail. Yup, that was something new!
Taking public transport in China
If you’re in a country town like Yangshou or Moganshan you may be limited with your public transport options. What better way to get around than by walking? We were lucky enough to be on tour and already have our transport arranged for us here. While in Beijing, Xi’an and Shangai when taking the bus or subway it was complete chaos! These cities do have gigantic populations of a lazy 24 million for example of Shanghai.
Whilst in Beijing we had to catch a bus from near Tian’anmen square back to our hostel. The bus rolls up to the stop and was completely packed like sardines. Strangers touching other strangers but the faces of the people told us that they are completely used to this. This is their way of life in the most populous cities of the world. Our guide told us that her mother used to shove her through the window of the bus when she was a child! We watched as more people pilled onto the bus from the middle doors so much so the doors could barely close! Perhaps the next bus would be less crowded?
The next bus comes to our stop and, yep, completely packed again. If not, more so! 2 of the girls from my tour decided to go for it using elbows, fists any means possible to shove their way onto the bus. I also went for it despite only having room to fit my arm on. The doors began to close on me and it was all or nothing so I shoved the doors back open, balanced on the edge on my toes and shoved the biggest part of me onto that bus, my ass. All well and good off the bus went and all myself, Stacey and Shannon could do was laugh our heads off at the random people rubbing against us and we decided that then was a good time to not speak English and become German instead!
On the subway it isn’t much different except for the mad flow of people rushing around everywhere to get to their subway line! Expect elbows, pushing, shoving and line cutting and don’t expect any apologies! This was utterly crazy when we had a huge group of 19 backpackers with their backpacks on getting onto the subway. Honestly there wasn’t enough room at times to swing a cat let alone take your backpack off and onto the ground. Sometimes we did but most of the time they stayed on our backs and hit around at other passengers. Sorry not sorry? There wasn’t much that could be done most of the time.
Our main form of transport from major city to major city was by way of night train. These weren’t so bad at all. The cheap ticket cars are set out like small dorms with 6 beds in each section, 3 on each side. You got your own bed and so your own space! If you were lucky enough to bag a bottom bunk you had more room to move where as the top and middle bunks you can’t sit up in without banging your head on the roof or above bunk.
“Drop it like a squat toilet”: Bathrooms in China
Squat toilets. I have now come to understand why they have signs in public western bathrooms like this one now.
Squat toilets are your only choice in mainland China. You also must equip yourself with toilet paper as you will be lucky to see any in the toilets here. I used squat toilets in China that not even your worst nightmares could conjure up! You soon find a way to hold your breath unless you want to pass out on the wee soaked floor from the smell. I do see the qualities of not having to place your bum on a germ ridden toilet bowl BUT long live and praise to the western style toilet. I appreciate it so much more now.
Well that’s my basic overview of some aspects of the culture shock I experienced whilst in China. To be honest China so far has been the country I have felt the most “culture shocked” in so far! But it was also one of my all time favourites to visit. From The Great Wall to the Terracotta Army to the gorgeous tea fields in Fujian, China was fantastic.
Be sure to read my journal entry posts about our time on The Dragon Trip China for more in depth information on our Chinese experience! If you’ve been to mainland China we’d love to hear your experiences too!
Sam and Kirsten x