Lessons of Survival While Traveling to China

Beijing, China.

Have not you been to China yet? That is unfortunate. This country is worth a visit, if only for one thing: the Great Wall. We visited China two times with a break of ten years, but we were still shocked by some things.

The country is unique. Think paper, gunpowder, compass, porcelainβ€”all these things were invented here. Ten years ago, I would not have imagined it, but now, I write this blog post on a tablet PC made in China, and drink coffee brewed in a coffee machine also made there. The citizens of Beijing joke that new electronic devices appear in their home more often than in Bill Gates’ home and become obsolete in two weeks. That may be, but many things in China are immutable. The country of liars is waiting for you.

If you are like me, you expect a scam most of all in the eastern countries. It seems that to deceive a foreigner is their national hobby. Well, Beijingers outdo them all. Any Arabic liar looks like a paragon of virtue against the background of guides or taxi drivers of Beijing, and Scheherazade with her fairy tales of 1001 nights seems a lady devoid of imagination. However, this fact did not deter me from visiting China twice, and I think I will return once more.

The real China starts from the moment of leaving the airport. Of course, since the time of our first visit to China, the generation of young, successful Chinese has grown. They speak English and know what a rich life is. We even felt it in the plane. But usually, tourists meet a completely different type of Chinese, the type which tries to deceive you at every opportunity. In this sense, China has not changed, but Beijing has changed significantly.

Beijing, China.

Just married in Beijing, China.


While we were surprised by modern buildings that appeared in the Chinese capital, locals, just like ten years ago, were surprised at me. Tall stature and blue eyes still plunged the local population into a stupor. Unknown people can just ask you to pose in a photo with their children. But do not be proud of it. For most locals, you are a regular laowai. The Chinese call all the foreigners by this word, and it has very derogatory overtones. However, there is another word. One man from our group did understand Chinese a little, and he said that our guide, speaking with the Chinese, called us “these pigs.”

But we flew such an enormous distance not for flirting with the Chinese, but for sightseeing, so our plan did not include a prolonged stay in Beijing and was very simple: the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Old Summer Palace, the Beijing Zoo and certainly the Great Wall of China.

Beijing, China.

Beijing, China.

The main “danger” of Beijing is taxi drivers. Their colleagues, tuk tuk drivers, are more humane, but also tricky. All taxis have meters, but it does not mean they will be turn on. It is normal for the driver to announce the five-fold price for the ride, and sometimes, you are forced to agree because it is better to go than stay and wait for an honest taxi driver.

From the Forbidden City, we returned by tuk tuk. This transport “miracle” had no suspension (none of them do). This circumstance delivers to passengers such discomfort that it seems as if every pothole threatens you with a spinal fracture. The price of the trip was agreed in advance with the help of a calculator, but we relaxed too soon. Our driver “got lost.” While he asked bystanders where our hotel was, I found it myself with the help of GPS. The hotel was not so far, around the corner.

When our driver also understood it, we heard the interesting news: due to the unexpected increase of the trip duration, the price has risen tenfold. I did not expect such impudence. The negotiations, in the awful mix of English and Chinese, ended unresolved, and we left our transport, after paying the driver the precise amount agreed in advance, to go the rest way to the hotel by foot.

Beijing, China.

Beijing, China.

Such strange things happen here even in decent hotels. Our group was about to leave a hotel in Beijing to fly to Hainan Island. We were waiting for our bus and witnessed the following scene. One couple received a twofold bill from the reception and did not agree. They asked our Chinese guide for help. He tried, but after five minutes of active negotiations, he returned to them and very calmly said, “More money or less, what’s the difference? After a few hours, you will find yourself on the paradise island [the Hainan island is a paradise indeed] and forget all the problems. Pay!” Now, I understood that he was not intended to help. All his negotiations with a girl at the reception deck was just for show. In China, you can rely only on yourself. Even a policeman is ready to deceive you.

To be honest, Beijing never was a city of my dreams. If not for the Great Wall of China, I would leave this capital to more tolerant travelers, but only here, you have several sites of this architectural miracle open to the public: Badaling, Jiankou, Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Simatai, and others.

There are few breathtaking places in Beijing. Maybe the only funny thing is the Chinese love of hugeness. The huge palace complex in the Forbidden City, the huge Tiananmen Square, the huge Temple of Heaven, and the huge Olympic stadium. As in any big city, a completely different life flows in suburbs, poor quarters, and night markets. Although I would not be surprised, if after another ten years, Beijing Hutong (medieval districts of the city) are only a memory.

Forbidden City. Beijing, China.

The Temple of Heaven Park. Beijing, China.


Beijing, China.

Probably, no metropolis is created for recreation, but Beijing has some places were you feel a real harmony. We had great pleasure walking through the big imperial garden, Beihai Park. It seems like all the citizens work out here every morning: youth jog, the mature practice Tai Chi. The same scene is in the Temple of Heaven Park which surrounds the Altar of Heaven or Tiantan. At noon, you can watch dancing for adults here, and that will not be the national dances. Elderly couples will dance waltzes and foxtrots.

Beijing, China.

Beijing, China.

A very important part of visiting every country is the enjoyment of local cuisine, but not in China. Their food looks very suspicious. Therefore, in the first days, we chose cafes where we saw other Europeans. Usually, we took shiitake mushrooms baked in a banana leaf, some warm salad, and noodles with meat. But we unanimously decided to postpone fried grasshoppers and larvae of silkworm for another ten years. Incidentally, we haven’t seen any Chinese eating those insects, although markets offer numerous kinds of beetles and spiders strung on wands.


The next scammer tried to deceive us in the night market, Wangfujing. Having lost our way in the center of the city, we came out to the market and decided to have dinner in a typical Chinese cafe with dozens of kinds of noodles. All of them looked and smelled very appetizing. We placed the order, paid the bill advance, and a boy brought the green tea and two portions of hot noodles. At this moment, an old man at the cash desk shouted, “This is a fake! They gave false money!” (When necessary, the Chinese immediately start to understand and speak English.)

We were warned about this trick, so I said calmly, “This is real money. Call the police!” and began to eat my noodles. The old man grumbled a little under his breath and has lost interest in us.

Our next goal was Beijing Zoo, but it was so dirty and miserable that you can safely forget about this “attraction” of the Chinese capital. Seems like we should go to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding to see funny pandas. It is just 1,828 km from Beijing.


With this, our uncomplicated plan of acquaintance with Beijing was nearly completed. It remained only to see The Great Wall of China, but that is another story.

More about China:
If You are Going to Die, Visit Hainan Island in China
Why Jinshanling Great Wall of China will be Your Best Choice

61 thoughts on “Lessons of Survival While Traveling to China

  1. I’m so sorry to hear you didn’t like China and had a bad experience. Maybe it was bad timing? πŸ˜‰
    I’ve been in China for almost 5 years and have a complete opposite experience. Yes, there are chances of you being ripped of, but isn’t that anywhere you will travel?

    As for the food, come again and I will take you around to some great restaurants. Chinese food is just amazing! Especially if you avoid places like Wangfujing πŸ˜‰

    Hoopefully you’ll have the chance to come back some day for a better experience.
    Although, China is not for everyone.


  2. I’m focused on reading about Portugal now, which I’ll be visiting shortly so had no time to read through all the comments. But did read the article, and have to say you’re absolutely correct! I spent 2 weeks in China & Hong Kong and (except for the HK bit) I felt TRAPPED like in a spider web. Everyone, regardless of age, was “out to get us”. Or better said, our money. Seems like the sole purpose of learning English is so they can rip off tourists. And since my Chinese was limited at best, it was tough! But we managed to survive, having our GPS in hand, doing some serious walking, and by staying away from taxis (only took one in Beijing, and one in the middle of the night from Changsha airport to Changsha train station).

    However, I would TOTALLY recommend visiting China (after taking the necessary “training”, of course πŸ™‚ ). It is a wonderful country – my fav places in Beijing were the Temple of Clouds, the Lama Temple, Beihai Park and the magnificent Summer palace, but also loved Zhangjiajie (said to have inspired the Avatar scenery) and Guilin. Just googling images of these places would get you searching for plane tickets :).
    And I also would say that the Chinese people can be ok too – seemingly those do NOT know English :D. It felt like those people who were in no way involved in the tourism industry were nice after all – for instance, we got lost once looking for a temple in Beijing, and people helped us with directions. Or an old man who was selling some sort of sandwiches far from the tourist areas, and who wanted to charge us less than the regular price (which a local had paid before us).

    Wow, many words I’ve written πŸ˜€ . Better stop now. But I’ll only say this again – China is definitely worth visiting, as it’s a very beautiful country πŸ™‚

    P.S. Which was that Asian contry you mention above would be great to visit (as opposed to China)? You got me curious on that πŸ™‚
    P.P.S. No, I am not chinese πŸ™‚


    1. Wow, what a great addition to my post. Thank you very much, Luliana.

      Probably, you should start your own travel blog to train people before they visit some “problematic” countries.

      As for Asia, I am not very fond this region, but our travel to Cambodia with its ancient temples was breathtaking. You can check out in our department “Cambodia.”

      Again, thanks a lot for your very good comment.


      1. Don’t have nearly half the time for a full-grown blog. But happy to help anyone’s readers :).
        As for the comment, just stating facts (but inevitably paying a compliment), there’s something about the way you write that made me reply. I almost never did. Got so charmed by your Quinta da Regaleira story (in Portugal) and loved your China posts as well! Well – the pics are great, especially the foggy Sintra ones, but that goes without saying.
        Think I may become a visitor of your blog πŸ™‚

        Safe and happy travels, and I look forward to reading more of your posts!


  3. I’ve heard many bad stories about visiting China, particularly from my Caucasian friends. It’s sad that a country that’s so innovative can be backwards in the social aspect. However, I imagine it would be much more pleasant to visit the countryside. People should be more honest, especially since the community will be smaller, right?


    1. Not just Caucasians. Not an easy place for anyone coloured – if we’re ‘pigs’ then I’d hate to hear the translation of what they think of anyone with colour….
      Had previously travelled to Hong Kong and had loved it by myself. Went back with my Latina wife and saw a whole new side…unfortunately we’ll never be back.

      Great photos Victor!


      1. As do my fellow Indians. I would think so, yes. I also think that, in my case, it helped that I learned Chinese. Having said that, if you visit a bar, you will see one scene repeated over and over again – young Chinese woman on the lap of a middle aged Westerner. Many of these men leave their wives for the Chinese girls.


  4. There are a lot of hustlers in Beijing and even more in Shanghai but Xi,an was really nice the people were friendly and the food was pretty good.There are still city walls all around the center of town that you can walk on or ride bikes on.Shanghai was interesting and modern but more expensive and very little haggling.


  5. Hello Victor, read your interesting post….as a Chinese, I have to admit what you are saying are correct. I guess there is difference in western thinking and Chinese. Basically Chinese tends to classify or judge people by cultural similarity, or relationship to him, rather than race or blood. for example, northern people judge and determine how he treats people by how close this person to him in terms of family relations or friendship, or familiarity. southern people judge and determine how close this person to him in terms of cultural similarity/adoption. they will treat close people extremely very well and give all his hospitality, sometime sacrifice personal benefits even if he is a foreigner or other race people, however for not close people, strangers, they tend to ignore or even cheat them. It is sad as people there have not been educated the modern way since they were children, they just act naturally by themselves.

    I admit it is better in Hongkong or Taiwan as they are more educated. I hope China will adopt the more modernized education and catch up the world.


  6. My firs visit to China was in 1989… definitely many years ago! I used to fly tNow everything is quite changed,
    I have been there on several occasions, perhaps about fifteen times, until 1997. I think if I would go back to Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong, all I would seem strange… I don’t know if I would like it as I did 30 yeas ago.


  7. What an amazing post with great photography! You have described China very well, I say this not because I have been there, but because I have friends living in this country and they report me things like you did! I am very curious to visit it one day and see it with my own eyes, must be a very interesting experience! πŸ™‚


  8. Nice post. I’ve been a few times to China, and really enjoy it, but I do agree you have to be on your guard. The hutong districts are also my favorite, but each time I go, they’ve razed more to place up more ugly modern buildings. Haven’t been to Hainan yet. Look forward to your post.


  9. Thank you for this post Victor. You certaintly had a challenging but nevertheless interesting time, so I’ll take note of some your observations. I’ve only been to Hong Kong which is soooo different, but I’m really interested in taking the train from Moscow to Shanghai next year. Have you taken the train in China? I took the train in Vietnam and that was a lovely trip, but I also took the train in India. And let me just say, “Never Again!”
    Your pictures are great by the way. Love them!


  10. We had the same exact experience in China when we went there in 1996 for 2 weeks. Only thing missing was all the modernity. Everything else you mentioned was spot on – almost as if we had written it ourselves. Sad to see that there has been no improvement in adopting some of the more gentile British/western behavior or human rights. Did you see any outright beating of women by husbands or father-in-laws in public with no one coming to the rescue? We did but hope this doesn’t happen anymore.

    Lastly, unfortunately, much of this ‘dishonesty’ is brought with them when they immigrate to the USA. My son had a tennis match yesterday (USTA competition) against an Asian. His opponent called every serve out since he couldn’t return them. It was atrocious. Most of the parent observers just moaned since we know that you can not dispute your opponents call is it is a sport based on honesty. Hence, our current household dilemma (play to win or play honestly and what’s honest) and your timely post. Thank you so much.


    1. Thank you for support. I was afraid I will be alone who say the truth about “hospitality” of Chinese.

      No, we didn’t see violent scenes. As I wrote, young Chinese are very decent and educated. They capable to behave decently. This is absolutely another generation.


  11. It seems to be a country of contradictions. Such beautiful art and exotic sights to see, and yet there seems to be an undercurrent of hostility – still that rejection of foreigners that has always been prevalent in China. The scorpions and spiders and insects must be meant for them (the foreigners).


    1. Hi Andrew,
      Europe is beautiful. Southeast Asia is for people who tired from Europe and want some exotica. When you will want to visit a country in Asia, I tell you which one is worth of visiting. And it will not be China.


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