A day away far away — China

Shanghai shines at night.

Shanghai shines at night.

Five (fun) things to know when you go to China

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Lanterns hang above the walkway between Prince Gong’s palace and his gardens.

Brigid had heard reports about  bad air quality, crowds of people, even that Chinese would want to take pictures of her because she was an American. She worried about bad bathrooms and about causing people to lose face and how to ask questions without offending people.

After two 12-hour flights, and 10 days of travel to Beijing and Shanghai, she has returned to the United States with plenty of advice — and, yes, most of the things she anticipated were, in fact, true or even worse than she expected. Except one. The people she met were not easily offended and, especially in bars and in tourist areas such as the Great Wall and in Shanghai, they were as curious as Brigid and her group of fellow students were.

So, here are five things everyone should know when they visit China.

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Huh?

1. Start learning the language now.

Everybody in Beijing doesn’t speak English. They don’t. They really don’t. Anywhere. There are plenty of signs to help you get around translated into English but they don’t always make sense.

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No crowds today on the Great Wall of China outside of Beijing.

2. The Great Wall is well worth the visit.

You won’t be disappointed. It was an awesome experience: “To me it was an even bigger deal than the Eiffel Tower (which she has seen). I never thought it was something I’d ever see,” Brigid said. “It’s incredible. It’s gigantic.” The view looking out over the countryside is gorgeous. Everything was so green. She went on a Saturday in May and crowds were surprisingly light. Along some parts of the wall, it was empty.

3. Some of the food has a face.

Peking duck is delicious, despite the face.

Peking duck is delicious, despite the face.

Personally, Brigid said, she doesn’t like to eat food with a face still attached. But adventurous eaters among her group found some of those dishes to be the most delicious.

4. The Forbidden City is open to everybody.

ChinaForbiddenCity

Smile. A group of Americans meets a group of Chinese tourists and they posed for each other’s photos.

Go, but be ready for a crowd. Beijing is always crowded. Sidewalks are filled with people at all times of day. And so are the tourist attractions. But don’t miss The Forbidden City or Prince Gong’s Mansion.  The architecture is gorgeous and the surrounding gardens are breathtaking. (People are everywhere there, too, kind of like a Beltway rush hour on Chinese sidewalks.)

5. Nightlife shouldn’t be missed.

Everybody serves beer.

Everybody serves beer.

Wudaokou is Beijing’s Fells Point or Greenwich Village — filled with all kinds of bars. There are Western style bars filled with beer and people who speak English. Westerners from all over America and Europe are very welcoming in these bars. Chinese bars range from holes in the wall to modern nightclubs with Chinese remakes of American songs. It’s amusing, she said. The language barrier limits communication in Chinese bars — but there are some friendly gestures. Parties of people will stop to have their picture taken, say hello, even buy a drink for the Americans.

Final piece of advice from Brigid: Go with people with a sense of humor. So much is out of your control, a sense of humor will pull you through difficult situations.

Silly tourists, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Silly tourists, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Photos courtesy of Brigid Truitt

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Let me know if you've been here or shared a similar experience. Thanks for reading!

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