I just got back to LA yesterday and let me tell you, this jet lag struggle is too real. 🙁 I was in China from March 5, 2015 till March 19, 2015 and we explored mainly the Jiangnan area. Starting our adventure in Shanghai, we then went to Hangzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, Yixing, Suzhou, Nanjing, and back to Hangzhou for our final days. It was quite busy for sure.
I sorted through my pictures and will have a series of photo essays for you to enjoy. But first, here are my first impressions of China.
Chinese people love to eat. We feasted nonstop. We ate at hole in the wall places. We had street food. We bought fruits from the street. Food is an integral part of the culture and dinner feast is how business networking is done in the Asian culture. I think we spent 80% of our time eating. O, did I mention? They are delicious as well!!
China is Cheap
Just to give you an idea of the cost of traveling in China:
- Cab rides are around 9-30 yuan* (~$1.50 – $5.00)
- Random noodle places are around 9-15 yuan (~$1.50 – $2.50)
- The dinner feast for my birthday was around 150 yuan (~$25) per person and it was a feast!!
- I got a shirt for 10 yuan (~$ 1.67) at the fabric market
- Silk scarfs were 30-45 yuan (~$5.00 – $7.50) at the silk market
- A tour bus* around the Jiangsu province is around 2200 yuan (~$733) each day and that cost is split among 40 people! (~$18-$19 per person per day)
- Hotels are around 300-600 yuan (~$50 – $100) depending on the area. Shanghai is more expensive of course. You can probably also find motels or hostels for cheaper!
Everything is just so cheap!
Starbucks is the one exception we’ve experienced where it is actually more expensive than the US. This is to be expected though considering it is a western product. People have said this before, but if you go to western places, expect western prices.
- When I exchanged the US dollar to the Chinese yuan, the exchange rate was $1 USD to 6.27 yuan. In the end I walked away with $1 USD to 6 yuan after accounting for transaction fees. I didn’t spend too much time on finding a better rate but I’m sure there are places that charges a much lower rate.
- The bus tour was unplanned. We happened to run into some people from Malaysia in Hangzhou who were going on a tour around the Jiangsu Province. We asked if they had any extra spaces and they did!
China is Crowded
People. People everywhere. There are seriously people everywhere!
I’m wondering if this is more of a concentration of where people are? Aren’t there ghost towns in China that I’ve read so much about? I was talking to my second cousin about this issue and he told me that the Chinese government is currently developing the western part of China and giving legislative incentives to invest in western China’s infrastructure to encourage people to stay in the western parts rather than migrating to the east. I found this interesting and am going to do more research on my own.
Culture of Consumerism
US gets a bad rep for being a consumers society, but that is reflected even more in China. I went to China with a carry-on and a backpack. I left with an additional luggage full of random things I bought/gifted to me from my Aunt. I got caught into the consumerism mentality because of how cheap everything was! Everything was so cheap that there was no harm in buying things I saw there! But this can add up quickly so be careful when you’re there!!
Shopping in China
I walked away with two lessons about shopping in China.
You must haggle and you must do so shamelessly
Feel free to low ball when you haggle down to 5% or 10% of the asking price. Feel free to find mistakes on every product you see as reasons to give you a discount. Vendors are prepared for you to haggle, that is why the asking price is always higher than what they are willing to sell for. Everyone will tell you that. However, be prepared to spend a lot of time haggling. If you are short on time you are at a disadvantage.
I, for one, am not a huge fan of haggling because I don’t have the street smarts to do so. But my aunt is slick as a fox and haggled a beautiful red clay tea set with the shelf included from a 16,000 yuan asking price down to less than 1000 yuan. This is just an example to show how shameless you can be!! Vendors are still making a profit otherwise they would not accept such a huge price reduction. So feel free haggle as low as you can! Although when I tried to haggle a 130 yuan necklace down to 20, the sales woman snatched the necklace away from me and left. Again, I just don’t have the street cred.
There are certain markets to go to for certain products you want to buy
We went to a silk market, a fabrics market, there’s even a tea market, fresh pearls market, luggage and purse market. I don’t really understand the logic to this set up so if someone knows, please enlighten me!! Basically, the vendors from these markets all sell the same products with few varieties so this gives you extra leverage to haggle away!! This also means you must research ahead of time on where to go or know someone who can take you around. I was lucky enough to have my aunt with me who knew the lay of the land. Otherwise, I would have been stuck going to western places, and thus, paying western prices.
Central Planning State
I actually didn’t feel this as much in cities, but I definitely see it outside of cities. That’s when I start seeing propaganda military art, but to be quite honest, it’s no different than what I see in the US with military recruitment ads on TV. We even stayed in a centrally planned hotel where our tour group was the only ones staying there and all the hotel’s employees were serving our group only. We sure got prompt service that night.
Be Prepared to be Harassed
I am a 5 feet 0 inch girl who weighs 96 lbs. I am an easy target. My boyfriend and I were walking on Nanjing Road in Shanghai and this elderly woman approached us and offered us a rose to buy. We declined by saying “bu yao”, no thanks, and walked away. In a normal circumstance the story ends there. But this lady followed us and kept on asking us to purchase her rose like it was a command. We said no again and again so what does she do? She stuffs(!) the rose into my coat pocket!!!!! When I tried to return it to her, she just would not accept it and forcefully pushed my hand away. In the end we gave her 5 yuan and her rose back which is not that big of a deal to us, but I felt extremely uncomfortable towards her behavior and sad at the same time for her.
Traffic Rules Do Not Exist
People drive on two lanes. People jaywalk everywhere. People park however they like. Cab drivers are rude as well. But they get the job done for less than $5 so I can’t complain too much.
Overall going to China was like going to a different world. The customs, cultural values, and mannerisms are very different. Things are done differently and people act and react differently. They had squatters instead of toilets for a lot of restrooms I used. Would I go back again? I sure would! I still have the northern parts to explore and pandas to see in Sichuan. I still have to get dizzy in the highlands of Tibet and visit mosques in Xinjiang. Stay tuned for more photo essays from this trip though!
All photos taken with my new Sony DSC-HX50V/B