10 Most Surprising Things in China

Cormorant Fisherman by the Li River

As I mentioned, China surprised me in many ways. Today I’d like to mention 10 things that I found most surprising:

  1. It’s like travelling through time. Some parts of China are like taken from the past but some are taken directly from the future. Take farmer or flea markets in the countryside – they are something you won’t see anymore in Europe. They’re long gone. Not only people buy food there, but also it’s a social event, with people meeting, talking, having their hair cut etc. But places like Shanghai or Chengdu can be as futuristic as possible. Take Maglev train for instance – which reaches impressive 430 kph speed.
  2. Many sites are more beautiful than in the photos. Many tourist sites surprised me by being more impressive than in the photos or videos. Most of the images don’t co the vey scale of those things too well. Places like Forbidden City or Great Wall of China are so huge, so monumental that it’s difficult to describe. When you stand on the Great Wall you can see wall stretching over the mountains many kilometres from you.
  3. Fantastic cuisine. The chances are you already tried Chinese food, and you probably know it’s really delicious. What I didn’t know is that most of the Chinese bars and restaurants in the west are run by immigrants from the southern provinces which cuisine is completely different from the northern or central provinces. Also, many dishes are adapted for the western people tastes. I tried many delicious dishes in China: from various dumplings, famous Peking duck roasted over fruit-tree wood fire to sea fans noodles, lamb kebab served by the Muslim minority or extremely spicy dishes in Sichuan province. Really, the cuisine of China is very rich and varies from region to region… and is delicious across the country.
  4. China is very easy to travel through. There are direct flights between all major cities and there are high-speed trains connecting a lot of cities as well (and the list of bullet trains is rapidly growing). There are also numerous buses to get to some other places. Of course, it still happened to me that I had to spend 17 hours on a train to get from Xi’An to Chengdu but that was an exception and I used that time to flag my photos and watch a few episodes of various TV series.
  5. It’s very clean in most of the places. I expected Beijing to be as dirty as any other city of comparable size. But Beijing and most other cities I visited were very very clean. But I only mean no rubbish on the street – smog is virtually everywhere. And the exception is Shanghai – it’s as dirty as any other big city I’ve been to 🙂
  6. Never before had I seen so many great and expensive cars. It was especially visible in Beijing, Xi’An and Chengdu but generally, anywhere I went I came across many luxurious vehicles. I haven’t seen so many of them in any other country I visited so far.
  7. English is virtually useless. I knew that almost no one speaks English in China apart from some hotel/restaurant staff in major cities. And that was true. But what I didn’t expect was that there are almost no signs or information written in English. And no one understands even the simplest words/phrases like “yes” or “no”. And that taxi or bus drivers don’t even understand addresses written in English so you need to have them prepared in Chinese. In fact, it’s even worse sometimes. A waiter in a restaurant, reception staff or a stranger in the street you wanted to ask for directions can literally escape seeing you approach him! It’s because they’re afraid they won’t be able to help.
  8. Westerners are a tourist attraction for Chinese tourists – we were photographed all the time. Not only in the countryside where we were indeed rare but even in Beijing where there are plenty of foreigners. Sometimes people approached us and kindly asked to have a photo with us but much more often they took a photo of us without asking, sometimes in quite a rude way from less than half a meter. That was quite weird and creepy.
  9. Smog is almost everywhere. From big cities to countryside to natural parks – we experienced it on every single day. Fortunately, it wasn’t very bad, the visibility was still pretty good most of the time but there was often greyish thin layer covering the sky. What I hadn’t realized (or hadn’t given it much thought) is that smog is working as an enormously sized light diffuser. So light during sunrises and sunsets wasn’t very good most of the time, it lacked dramatic features I’m used to. On the other hand, it created a bit mysterious mood on some of my photos as it looks almost the same as fog. And also made the mid-day light less harsh thus allowing to take nice pictures at that time of the day.
  10. Neons are everywhere! Even historical old towns which look gorgeous during the day with their stone or wooden houses change into some kind of disco with every building flashing with vibrant reds, blues, greens or pinks. Different aesthetics, I guess.

2017-11-15T14:23:30+00:00 November 15th, 2017|Posted in: China, travel guide|