Average spent per day: $43.83
Total days in China: 20
When we first arrived in China, both Kyle and I had great first impressions. The food was cheap, the people seemed friendly and we were loving the sights of Beijing. Unfortunately, as time went on, these impressions slowly began to transform as we found ourselves on an emotional roller coaster for this section of our six-month adventure through Asia. Our Lonely Planet guide describes China as a “land of contradictions,” and this could not be closer to the truth. There were times when we found ourselves on the brink of tears trying to deal with the people here, and other times when complete strangers saved us from being homeless. One minute we were surrounded by towering skyscrapers of Shanghai, and the next we were in a rural wilderness, rafting down the rivers of Yangshuo. There were great times, and times when I felt like hopping on the next flight home. In all my travels I have never quite experienced a country like China, so here are my final thoughts.
My first impression of the people in China still stands: most individuals are very friendly and willing to help. If it wasn’t for David in Huangshan, we would have been completely stranded. Instead, he led us to our hostel, spoke with the manager to try and get our room back that was given away, and in the end allowed us to stay with him at his parents place. His mom made us breakfast, lunch and dinner, and David even sat down with us before climbing Huangshan mountain to lay out a detailed route. I doubt a stranger you would meet on a bus in North America would be so kind.
That being said, the minute we left David at the foot of the mountain and were thrust into the throngs of Chinese, I once again was torn about how I felt towards these people. While waiting in a three-hour line for the cable car, I have never seen individuals be so pushy or try so hard to get two steps ahead. However, no one gets angry: this is just the way it is. If the next person got there before you by stepping in front in a way most would deem impolite, it’s your fault for not beating them to it. Hence continues the vicious cycle of Chinese pushiness. I thought once Kyle was going to lose his shit on a Shanghai subway when he basically was a foot away from sitting down until a Chinese man ran on and literally pushed him out of the way to secure a spot.
The Chinese people highly value family, and have many stories children are told while growing up to reinforce loyalty and caring for others. This I respect. What I cannot respect is the lack of hygiene and overall wastefulness of the Chinese. Instead of diapers, Chinese people dress their toddlers in pants with a slit down the middle, basically for easy access. Moms hold their children in the middle of trains allowing them to pee, and we even saw a dad hold his three-year-old son while the child pooped on the side of the road. Keep in mind for both these situations that the toilets are mere meters away.
Hygiene aside, we were also shocked by the lack of concern for the environment. It felt like the apocalypse while driving from Shanghai to Huangshan, and that’s not an exaggeration. Garbage littered the streets, and although it was a sunny day, you could only see the outline of the sun through a brown fog. Talking about environmental concerns in school didn’t affect me, but coming to China certainly did. Passing by factories, one sees pollution constantly pumped into the air. If a country populated by 1.3 billion people thinks it’s perfectly fine to throw garbage on the streets, the world is going to shit one piece of trash at a time, and that’s a scary thought.
The food that David’s mom made us was some of the best Chinese food I’ve ever had, but for the most part we found meals very salty and quite greasy. Dumplings were tasty and cheap, and in Yangshuo we managed to find a rice pot place that we went back to multiple times. The beer fish there was also delicious. Overall, we found a few decent dishes in China, but had lost our appetite for most of it by the time we arrived in Hong Kong.
Certain admission to various attractions were a bit expensive (around $50 for climbing Huangshan mountain), but overall everything is much, MUCH cheaper than what you would pay at home. Meals can be had for $3 and beers for $1.50. In the end, our average spending per day was $43.83.
The Final Verdict
Would I recommend that people travel in China? Probably not. It was extremely difficult to get around at times, and the country is not geared towards backpackers. Am I happy I went? Definitely. The Great Wall, Longsheng and Yangshuo were all stunning places that I will remember fondly. That being said, Kyle and I are thrilled to be in Vietnam, and will not be returning to China anytime soon.