What is China Like?

The Great Wall in China.

The Great Wall outside of Beijing, China. Note how it follows along the mountain ridge. If you walk along the wall, you are literally climbing a mountain.

What is China Like?

Before I left America, I had only a notion of what China would be like. I really didn’t know what to expect, would it be modern? (I wasn’t sure) Would it be growing but still behind the US? (this was more likely to me) I have always had a fascination with Asia and China in particular. I love kung-fu movies and loved watching Kung-fu theater every Sunday. (For those of us old enough to remember) As I grew older, I fell into anime and manga quickly like many adolescent boys. China was always this mysterious place with thousands of years of history and a Great (BIG) Wall.

I’ve watched many Chinese movies and read a fair number of articles about China. What surprised me most about it was that it’s really not that different from the United States. The buildings are big and modern, the roads are the same. They drive on the right side of the street, just like we do. It’s a huge country, just like ours. Other than a completely different language, there were a lot of similarities.

Now, let me set something straight before I go further, I’ve been to a lot of places around the world. I’ve been to countries where their native language is foreign to me. If you haven’t, China is probably not the best country to visit first. I say this because travel overseas can be stressful – How do I get to my hotel? How do I rent a car? Should I drive at all? If I don’t drive, are taxi’s safe, affordable? Will I be able to use the metro, since I can’t read or speak the language? What about restaurants? What about directions? You get my point. After you travel to a country with a foreign language the first time, you find out that most tourist countries have figured out how to cater to those of us who speak English. China is not the country I would try out first though. At least in a country like Spain or France, you can read the words a little, in China, Japan and Korea, there is no inherent logic to their writing characters for those of us raised on a roman alphabet.

The nice thing about China, at least Beijing and Shanghai (as I didn’t visit other cities), was that the street signs on main thoroughfares have English on them. The metro has their ticketing system setup with an option for English, including all stop names. Their metro trains all do announcements in English after Chinese. It’s a pretty easy place to get around and inner-city travel is cheap. Dirt cheap. Especially the metro.

I learned a lot of things about China while there and writing them will fill up several blog entries. I’ll be releasing them over time to help share my experience and to give insight to anyone going for the first time. I will talk about things that I wish I had known before I left, if only to be better prepared (like having a napkin with me as not all restaurants give them out).

The thing I wish to close with and will stress throughout my blog posts is that China is amazing. The scale of their cities, the massive buildings and construction they have done and continue with is so impressive it’s hard to understand without seeing it yourself. I would love to spend 6-12 months there, learning the language and really exploring the cities. I highly encourage anyone, especially those of you who are already world travelers, to add China to your “must see” list. You’ll be glad you did.


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