Want to visit China? Read this first.
China is often thought of as a beautiful, exotic and mysterious place.
I’ve been an expat here for quite a long time. I can honestly say that my life can only be described as an adventure, full of ups and downs, euphoria and frustrations.
Why then would I write a blog discouraging people from coming to China? Well, the cold hard truth is that this country isn’t for everyone.
So here are 10 reasons why visiting China may not be a good idea.
1. Many Chinese people can’t speak English
Although English is a compulsory subject in schools, the skills taught here are generally reading and writing, not speaking or listening.
Therefore, a good reason not to visit China is that hardly anyone you meet will be able to speak English apart from the staff of international hotels and airports.
If you come as part of a package tour, you might think that this isn’t something you need to worry about. But if you plan to travel solo in China, the language barrier will be a significant problem for you.
Without being able to speak Mandarin, even basic things like ordering food, getting directions and seeing a doctor will be a challenge.
Make sure you’ve got a translation app on your phone ready to go.
2. Smoking is very popular
If you’re a smoker, please come to China! The people will welcome you with open arms and even share their cigarettes with you.
If you’re not a smoker however, life here can be unpleasant at times and you may find yourself forced to inhale secondhand smoke on a regular basis.
In China, smoking is permitted literally everywhere! You’ll find people smoking in restaurants, bars, on slow trains and in the streets.
There are only a few places where smoking isn’t allowed, e.g. on fast trains and aboard planes.
3. The crowds are terrible
If you hate queues and busy places, or if you’re the sort of person who goes on vacation in April to avoid crowds, you definitely won’t want to come to China!
With a population of about 1.5 billion people, crowds are very common here.
Chinese train stations are the size of airports and you need to ‘check in’ an hour before your train arrives to stand any chance of catching it.
Queue-cutting is also very prevalent and the concept of personal space just doesn’t apply in this country.
4. The pollution is pretty bad too
For as long as I can remember and even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the wearing of face masks has been common in China – and for good reason.
In 2016, only 84 out of 338 prefecture-level cities attained the national standard for air quality.
Air pollution in China is largely due to coal-fired power plants, factories and vehicles.
For some people, the pollution alone may be a reason not to visit China.
5. The internet is censored
I’m sure you’ve heard of The Great Wall of China but have you ever heard of the “Great Firewall” of China?
A number of foreign websites are blocked here. These include social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and search engines like Google.
Even media websites like the BBC and YouTube are blocked.
You can subscribe to a virtual private network (VPN) but even VPNs sometimes get blocked. I’ve been through at least five different VPNs in less than nine years.
Keeping in touch with family and friends via Facebook, watching English movies, and even sending emails can sometimes be a challenge in China.
6. Life is lonely for foreigners
Imagine that you’re a traveler or a backpacker who has just arrived from another country. You don’t know a soul here and you can’t speak Mandarin.
Chinese people tend to be quite reserved and shy and it can be difficult to make Chinese friends.
I have lived and worked in China for several years now and my biggest problem is boredom and loneliness. Most of my time is spent at home surfing the internet.
If you’re coming here on a package tour, make sure you bring some friends or be prepared to make friends with others on the tour.
7. Culture shock
Compared to the West, China can seem like an uncivilized country. A number of behaviors which are normal and widely accepted in China can shock and even offend foreigners.
Even the most seasoned travelers can suffer from culture shock in China.
For example, vehicles won’t stop for pedestrians to cross the road, even in places where there is a zebra crossing. This problem mainly arises because it’s legal to turn right on a red light.
Chinese people also engage in a number of behaviors that may seem gross or unhygienic, such as spitting and parents allowing their young children to urinate and defecate just about anywhere!
8. You may be pestered and stared at
China has largely been closed off to the rest of the world for a long time. The locals here have only ever seen Caucasians and black people on TV.
Outside of the major tourist areas, foreigners are somewhat of a novelty in China. You may be stared at, and someone may take your photo without your consent.
Some of the braver Chinese folk may even try to take selfies with you!
Some people like this kind of attention whilst for others, it’s a good reason not to visit China.
A more serious problem than being stared at is being scammed. Foreigners are a prime target for scammers in China.
One very well-known scam is the foreign menu. Some restaurants in tourist spots may have two menus. The one they give to foreigners have rip-off prices.
Then you have the ‘Tea House Scam’ where a beautiful, young Chinese girl entices you to enter a tea house. The problem is that the tea in such places can cost you up to $100 a cup!
Finally, counterfeit money is in wide circulation. If you don’t know how to tell the difference between a genuine banknote and a fake one, you could lose a lot of money.
10. Toilets are disgusting
If the nine reasons above haven’t deterred you from coming to China, this last one definitely will!
For the most part, public toilets in China are disgusting. While some public loos have an attendant who looks after them, this doesn’t stop them from getting gross quickly.
Also, public Chinese toilets are the squat variety, which can be difficult to master unless you have good balance and strong leg muscles.
If you’re touring around China, it’s best you save your business for your hotel bathroom, or ask your tour guide to take you to clean facilities.
My advice: only use a public toilet in China if you absolutely have to.
Are there any good reasons for visiting China then?
Although the reasons given above may sound off-putting, there is another way of looking at it.
They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This is definitely true for China.
For starters, traveling here will make you tougher and more mature, especially if you decide to backpack or you forget your China VPN (a word of advice – don’t forget it).
You’ll learn to be independent and do things for yourself. You’ll be forced to learn a little Chinese just to survive. And you’ll become more open-minded.
You’ll also experience a fabulous culture, see many wondrous sights and eat a variety of exotic food.
And, imagine what a story you’ll have to tell your friends and family when you get home.
I hope I haven’t put you off!
Main image credit: Brian Matangelo on Unsplash.