We spent close to 18 days in several areas of China but it didn’t take us long to learn a few things along the way. These lessons aren’t the only things we learned on our trip but are just a few things we observed as we traveled through the country.
Lesson 1: If you like bargaining down the price of an item for sale then China is the place for you. It’s not a skill I particularly enjoy employing because, in general, I just want the process to take less time. But patience is a virtue when it comes to shopping in most places in mainland China. The initial price stated is rarely the real price and once you ask for a price the seller can be unrelenting in bargaining to get you to a price that you both can live with.
Lesson 2: Many vendors and service providers know enough English to get your attention and to respond with a “yes” or “no” but that doesn’t mean they necessarily understand you. When getting into a cab it’s important to have the address and, ideally, directions back to your hotel. This can minimize a lot of misunderstandings. Also having a map and pointing to where you want to go also helps when words are too difficult to pronounce. We had one extremely helpful taxi driver in Shanghai that helped us pronounce Yuyuan Gardens correctly (it doesn’t sound anything like it looks).
Lesson 3: In quite a few cases, vendors and other freelance service providers (such as private taxis, private tour guides, etc.) say “hello” to get the opportunity to sell you something and will continue to try to sell you, walking along side you sometimes, even if you say “no”. This “in your face” approach is just the way things are done, but it can be annoying. I found that by responding in Spanish, the person became so disarmed they looked surprised and then walked away.
Lesson 4: China’s single child policy has created a shortage of marriageable women. This in turn has given single women the upper hand in selecting a husband and is producing angst among single men. This is a significant change for the Chinese male’s perspective where, they feel they are under more pressure to bring more to the table with respect to the relationship, such as a successful career, social status, looks, etc. The policy, obviously, has also produced a lot of “only” children in households where the activities revolve around them. Yet, many single children we talked to coveted the fact that we had siblings.
Lesson 5: Watch where you walk, i.e., look down. This is something I’ve always known (you can fall into an open manhole in some countries) but forgot as I got caught up checking out the sights in Beijing. If you want to look around (and you should) stop and look around.
Of course, we’ve only written about our first two days in China. We still had a lot to learn.