Chinese New year is this weekend, with celebrations happening all over the world, sometimes known as Lunar New Year or Spring Festival it's a wonderful time of the year for great food, family time and amazing firework displays.
I've been lucky enough to have visited China twice on my travels, it's a huge country with crazy over populated cities, stunning rural scenery and all the other great parts in between. China should be on the travellers wish list and for good reason. However, China can take a visitor out of their comfort zone and with that I've compiled my list of things you should know before visiting this eastern delight.
One Child Policy
China introduced the one child policy back in the 1970's to slow the population growth. In 2015 the government decided to end it's policy and allow couples to have a second child. Although this is a relatively new update the old policy did allow families in rural areas to have a second child if the first child was a girl.
Due to the amount of time that China has had the one child rule, it is almost a social norm that people are an only child.
China has an intense internet censorship policy. Websites such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Whats App and Instagram are banned. However, many Chinese people had circumnavigated their way around this by using a VPN's. (Virtual Private Network)
So it's best to sign up to a VPN service before visiting if you want access to these sites. On occasion the Great Fire Wall will block these servers, but it's worth trying.
If you are staying in China for a little longer, you may want to download WeChat. A social media app which has 900 million users. It's essentially an all rounder app where you can make video calls, instant message, order food online, play games and have a place to share photos.
It's really useful and handy to have when you are in China and it's free too.
*Another app I've come across is Tencent QQ, it's a popular instant messaging app.
Don't expect to be eating sweet and sour Chicken with a fortune cookie at the end of your meal. Chinese food in China is completely different to what us westerners are used to. Authentic Chinese food is incredible, there is so much more flavour, spice and well more... exotic choices. You may be chowing down on some insects, sea animals or chicken feet. It's good to be open minded when it comes to food, of course you might come across something you don't like. I've ordered "something" (still unsure what it was) but it looked like a grey tongue and I tried it and it was not the dish for me. But I'll know for next time... Rice is hugely popular in China too, so you may get rice fatigue at some point. But it's cheap and familiar to you.
Prior to visiting China it's important to look into the visa requirements needed. Usually if you are British you will need a visa for visiting the mainland. You won't need a visa for visiting Hong-Kong. I was around £80 for my visitors visa, so it's important to get the most out of you visit there.
The Bathroom situation..
If you are new to travelling in this area the squat toilets may come as a surprise to you. They are even more challenging if you are drunk, yep that happened. One thing to remember is that there is often a lack of toilet paper. It's a great idea to carry around some pocket tissues and hand sanitizer.
Maybe it's because I'm British but there is a lack of organised lines in China, it's a free for all. If you have to get somewhere you should just push your way through. People will do it to you often and you'll get used to the jab in the side to get out of the way.
1.3 Billion people live in China, with a third of them having never left their country. Therefore, if you are a westerner you will be stared at. Don't be offended by it, it's purely out of curiosity. They will ask to take pictures of you, and that's something I've had to deal with being an auburn girl with pale skin. It's quite funny sometimes, I was once in Yangshou at a night market and I had a collection of people around me asking for my photograph. It was such a bizarre experience!
Coming from Europe we find spitting, passing wind and all other bodily functions should be done privately and discreetly. Well not in China, you'll see someone spitting *loudly in the street and no one will bat an eyelid. It was when I was in Beijing I had seen a small child of four or five being held over a bin in the street so they could use the bathroom. It was such a shock moment for me, but you just have to deal with it. Chinese people probably find our custom of sneezing and blowing our nose into a tissue and keeping it weird.
In my experience I cannot say a bad word about the people, they will go out of their way to help you and it's something that I really appreciate. I was travelling alone in China in a taxi car, the man could not really speak English, so he took the liberty to call his friend who could speak English just to check he was going to the right place.
Even in the classroom, the students are so respectful and genuinely interested in where you've come from.
There is more to China than Beijing...
China is the fourth largest country in the world, so there is plenty to explore. I've been in the South West regions of Yunnan and Guangxi and they are so beautiful. The rural areas are my favourite. The Limestone mountains of Guilin are like something out of a fairytale. The north eastern regions of Inner Mongolia are empty vasts of deserted landscape, I came across this on the Trans-Siberian and loved the remoteness.
There is the Terracotta Warriors in Xian and the Panda bears of Chengdu, the insane gorges of the Yangtze river and the lush rice terraces of Yunnan.
Of course Beijing needs to be seen, but there is so much more to see.
(There will be a Beijing city guide soon)
Travelling in China has been a great experience for me, and I would love to explore more of this enormous country. I haven't been to Shanghai yet and have heard wonderful comments about it. Who knows when I'll be back...
Best VPN's to use in China.
For more information on this year's Chinese Newyear: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/02/chinese-year-welcoming-year-dog-180212113347405.html