It’s my last day in China and though I have a three month visa, I’m moving on after only a month.
For a first trip to China, I think a month has been long enough for me. I’ve barely touched the surface but I have seen just about everything I set out to see and then some.
I also have a list of recommendations for future trips from other people (both other travellers and local people) that I have met (or have commented on Instagram) along the way.
I expected China to be a challenging experience. I’d read about the crowds and, not speaking or reading the language, I fully expected everything to feel unfamiliar and not be quite as easy as travelling in Europe.
Yes, it is crowded but it’s not as crowded as I thought it would be and people don’t jostle, except when they’re in a queue and even then there’s no real physical contact – it’s just people cutting in front.
There was no problem when I finally set aside my English queuing abilities and did likewise. When in Beijing, etc.
The only city where I found that to be a no-no was Hong Kong – a result of being an English colony for so long? I actually heard tutting!
The language definitely makes me feel like I am somewhere completely new. I like that, it feels like I’m really somewhere different to home.
The endless Starbucks, KFC, McDonalds et al, rather undermine that.
Buying food is often surprising – even with pictures AND looking at the item, it may not be what you thought it was going to be. Except in the street markets where you can clearly see the tentacles.
What has surprised me is just how friendly and helpful people are – not only the people who are paid to be.
I’ve met some lovely people and helped by others who could see me reading maps or looking at transport signs. Some of it, I think may be the novelty experience of talking to someone who clearly isn’t from around here but there is a genuine kindness.
Other travellers I’ve spoken to have experienced similar. Jonathan who is often China on business observed that people here don’t only assist the foreigners – they help each other. There’s a real community spirit, even in the big cities.
Yes, I’ve often been stared at. I’ve found it to be curiosity rather than aggression. I’ve also found that people just want to smile and say hello.
If it doesn’t feel friendly, as on the rare occasion it hasn’t, a curt nod is sufficient to deflect attention.
On my last day here, I needed to stock up on a couple of items – toothpaste and sunscreen – so I popped in to Walmart.
I thought it would be easier than trying to explore the multiple smaller shops in Nanning. What I have thought would be chemists/pharmacists, as I recognise them, have been Chinese herbal medicine shops so casual attempts to buy sunscreen weren’t very successful.
Walmart was a geekily interesting experience – a Chinese spin on a Western supermarket.
There were the pizza counters and the bakery counters, but there were also dumpling counters and street food style counters – like you’d see on the night markets. The spices, rice, dried mushrooms, dried fish, cured sausages and flours were piled high and sold loose – choose your own weights of ingredients.
Everything else was as a Walmart/Asda in the UK would look like.
The aisles were signposted in English which was a huge help to me. Toothpaste was easy to find and a 200ml tube of Colgate (my preferred choice) at £0.50 was a bargain.
Finding the sunscreen was more difficult.
There were three aisles of skincare products. The vast majority of them appeared to be skin whitening products.
I had strolled in with the simple idea of looking for sunscreen brands that I recognised. They’re international, after all.
Not actually that straightforward.
Nivea and Olay were there… but not as sunscreen and several of them were skin whitening products.
Two assistants could see me wandering around looking a little lost and came to help.
I mimed sunscreen – raising my hand in the air to demonstrate the sun and then rubbed my arm to indicate cream. (You’ve got to overcome your inhibitions to communicate sometimes).
This was understood and they offered me moisturing face cream that included 30SPF BUT was also skin whitening.
I said no, pointed to the phrase for skin whitening (English beneath the Chinese) and shook my head. I typed 50SPF onto my phone, showed them that and mimed a big bottle.
Problem solved. They took me to the range available…none of them being brands I recognised so I probably wouldn’t have found them without help.
At 89Y (approximately £11) for an 80g bottle, it’s not the cheapest but I want to be certain my skin is protected.
From there, I headed down to the riverside to eat my lunch.
I’ve barely seen Nanning – there’s more here than my guidebook suggested. For a start, there are a lot of parks and a couple of Instagram messages suggested streets and markets I could go and see. I’m not sure if the writer spent more than half a day here as none of these were mentioned.
Maybe another time.
Sitting by the river was a pleasant way to spend the time until I went to the railway station.
I watched people use the shade of the bridge to swim across the river, while audio announcements warned them when tankers would be passing by.
I saw one guy stagger down the steps to the water carrying a plastic sack filled with three large fish which he released into the water.
Twenty minutes later another man appeared, said hello to me, showed me the large terrapin that he was going to release and invited me to watch.
It’s these more random interactions that have made China so enjoyable.
Every shady spot was filled with card games and dance classes. I love that about China – people go outdoors to practice (when the weather is good, obviously).
There were also a number of statues – probably linked to folktales and legends.
So, as I leave China and head into Vietnam, I find myself wondering how the transport costs compare with the UK.
By the time I reach Hanoi from Beijing I will have travelled approximately 3,026 miles by train and paid a total price of £498. I’ve paid around £0.16 per mile. Three of the journeys included a very comfortable bed for the duration of the trip.
I’ve been utterly impressed by the comfort of the train carriages – lots of space for luggage, plenty of legroom and seats that are in good condition. These comments refer to second class, not only first class, travel.
Besides eight trains, what other modes of transport have I used in the last month?
China is fantastically easy to travel around using public transport. There are station or stop announcements in English on both the Metro systems and on the buses.
There’s only ever an issue if everyone is talking and you can’t here the announcements clearly. In all cases where I have been a little confused, another passenger has helped me.
English signage for buying tickets was patchy in Xi’an but the majority of the Metro stations and all of the city bus services I’ve used have posters listing the stops in English.
I’ve been on twenty-one metros in six cities, five minibuses, four buses, four coaches and taken only one (shared) taxi ride and one car trip (for a tour of Beijing).
Bus and metro travel is phenomenally cheap with the majority of tickets costing the distance covered, though buses seem to have a flat fee of £0.25 – £0.50, even for journeys lasting an hour.
Imagine that, UK!
Every other journey I have taken this month has either been on foot or on modes of public transport which also includes three cable cars, two ferries, two small boats, two funiculars and one bamboo raft.
I thought last month’s kayaking and horse riding couldn’t be topped for unusual modes of transport but… this month I rode up to the top of the Great Wall of China via a chair lift and TOBOGGANED all the way down again.
THAT experience will never be topped. (And if it is, brilliant).
*Featured Photo: The Great Wall of China