What NOT to do in China

What NOT to do in China

Due to cultural differences between Australia and China, I embarrassed myself quite a few times in China.  I also stupidly fell for some common tourist scams.  Here is a list of things NOT to do in China.

My dear husband about to throw a snowball at me in Harbin – China

Mistake Number 1 – I didn’t ease into eating foreign food

Our first hotel had a buffet dinner and breakfast bar.  It did not cater in the slightest bit to Western tastes.  I was hungry.  REALLY hungry… I just ate whatever was on offer.  Instead of my nice safe usual bowl of porridge or weetbix for breakfast, I ate noodles, some kind of fried thingies, watermelon in fish sauce (yuck by the way) and an assortment of dumplings.

I won’t go into graphic details, but lets just say that my bowels did not enjoy the change and that China rarely supplies toilet paper or even a toilet door in public toilets.

I don’t know what this is….but I drank it anyway…. because it was warm and tasted vaguely like strawberries.  

Mistake 2 – I got into the first cab I saw instead of a trusted brand

Stepping off the plane at Harbin, it becomes clear very quickly that virtually no one speaks English.  It’s freezing cold and I stupidly show the first cab driver I see a print out of our hotel reservation. It has Chinese symbols on it and because he also nodded, I assumed he understands where we are going.  We agree on a price using a calculator.

After about ten minutes of crazy driving on icy roads, he makes a few phone calls, stops to pick up a mate and then pulls over on the side of the road behind another taxi. He says in broken English that we are now to get out and go with his friend. I’m starting to feel panicky because it’s literally the kind of temperature that you can freeze to death in (I’m talking -20 degree Celsius at this point and fairly windy).  His friend speaks no English whatsoever, so I just keep repeating the name of the hotel and pointing to the address.

The traffic, like most Asian cities, is incredibly crazy with other cars cutting you off left right and centre.  But this was somehow worse because there are six lanes and the road is covered in ice. At one point, our new driver slams on the brakes, gets out the car and starts waving his fists and banging on the bonnet of another taxi that cut us off. I thought we were going to be involved in some kind of fisty cuffs on our first night in Harbin.

Whilst I’m ensuring my seat belt is tight enough, he starts making more calls on his phone and suddenly hands back the phone to me….it is a wonderful lady from an interpretive service whom is able to communicate between us and the driver so we eventually make it to our hotel in one piece.  The whole cab ride cost us four times as much as it should have and was fairly stressful. I had our hotel organise cabs for us after that.

I think this got lost in translation somehow – Sun Island Park, Harbin

Mistake 3 – I didn’t research the hotel I booked

Turns out the hotel I booked is mostly for Chinese businessman, so nobody speaks English except for one lady at reception who speaks limited English.  This is quite ok and expected in a foreign country of course, I usually get by with pointing and smiling.  Anyway, around midnight, the hotel door opens and two ladies yell out “yooohooooooo” followed by some loud giggling.  Jason quickly yells out, “I think you have the wrong room!”. More giggling is followed by “sorry sorry,” and by the sounds of it, they find the correct room next door where some businessmen are staying. A locked door is clearly not an issue for lady visitors at this hotel!

what not to do in china
The Songhua River frozen over – Harbin

Mistake 4 – I booked a tour that seemed too cheap

I know all about dodgy tours however I really just ignored my common sense in this instance. If it’s cheap its probably too good to be true!

The bus tour was supposed to go the Great Wall of China (Juyongguan Section), have a traditional Chinese lunch, and then visit a wax museum.  The bus was supposed to deposit us at Tiananmen Square at the end of the tour.

The sales guy spoke excellent English so I made a very wrong assumption that the tour would be in English.  No big deal, my attention span doesn’t normally stick around long enough to listen to tour guides anyway.  Seeing the Great Wall was wonderful and everything I thought it would be plus more.  The traditional lunch was spectacular however, I was too scared to eat anything due to mistake number one.

On the way back, the bus pulls into a parking lot and the driver is a little vague as to whether it needs to be cleaned or repaired.  We are all ushered into a huge jade jewelry store. It becomes apparent that we aren’t going anywhere unless we look around the store.  The whole group walks around the store for about an hour and a half. We are then finally let back on the bus to which I am very relieved, because my migraine is making me fairly nauseous.

Ten minutes later the bus stops AGAIN for some more ”cleaning and repairing”.  It happens to stop right in front of a shop that sells lots of crap to tourists.  We are not allowed back on the bus for another hour and by now, I’m finding it hard to laugh it off and are really disappointed in myself for booking a cheap tour.

We are finally allowed back on the bus.  I have my travel sickness bag out and I’m just kind of leaning over breathing into the bag trying desperately not to throw up on the bus where everyone will see me.  I realise I am not going to make it, so at the next stop I grab Jason’s hand and drag him off the bus.  At the exact moment a chinese couple walk past taking a romantic stroll, I ruin it for them by throwing up rather noisily into my travel sickness bag.

Ten minutes later, my nausea has gone and my migraine has settled down to a dull roar.  Even though we are completely and utterly lost, we have a nice stroll in no particular direction until we eventually chance upon Tiananmen Square. This huge public square is really quite lovely at this time of the evening !

what not to do in china
The Great Wall of China

Mistake 5 – I didn’t thoroughly research the cultural differences between our countries

I am well aware of cultural differences between countries, however I arrogantly only thought about what I find confronting.  I didn’t really consider that some of the things that I do, might be confronting to the Chinese.

In China, people think nothing of blowing what we Australians like to call a ‘bushy’ out of one’s nose onto the sidewalk.  They also ‘hock a loogie’ fairly often on sidewalks.  In Australia, we get a hankie or a tissue, blow our nose on it and take a peek.  If the tissue or hankie is not too ruined, we will then fold it up and put that big old gross booger back in our pockets.

The Chinese people find this custom pretty disgusting.  It was cold so I spent most of the trip doing this and I’m pretty sure that everyone I met now probably thinks that all Australian are dirty grubs who put boogers in their pockets!

what not to do in china

Moral of the story:

  • Ease into foreign food.  Even if the food is perfectly safe, your stomach and bowels are not used to digesting it
  • Don’t attempt to sneak a fart out in a very crowded McDonalds restaurants unless you are 110% sure it is safe
  • When in China, carry tissues and no wash soap in your bag.
  • Research your hotel before booking
  • If a tour to the great wall seems abnormally cheap, there is probably a good reason for it
  • Don’t put boogers in your pocket whilst a Chinese person is watching
what not to do in china
The Terracotta Army – Xi’an

Despite these few minor problems, I absolutely loved travelling in China.  Culturally, China is a world apart from Australia, however this is what makes it so fantastic to visit.

Looking for some inspiration for your next getaway?

For more blog posts, articles and photographs of my travels through China, check out this page: China

To see all of my destination, head on over to this page: My travel destinations

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