5 Challenges I Encountered on My Virgin Trip to China

5 Challenges I Encountered on My Virgin Trip to China

First time travelling to China? Be prepared for some challenges to overcome for a smoother trip!

When your holidays take you to a new country, there is bound to be uncertainty on what to expect. This is even more so if you come unprepared, perhaps with only hastily done research a day or two before the flight. More than excited, you feel panicky.

I know because I have been in that exact position before. When I visited Chongqing, China for the first time, I did not know what to anticipate or prepare myself for. Sure, my friends who have been to China before gave useful tips and stories to ease the anxiety, but actually being there myself was a whole new experience.

Also read: 10 Unusual Things You Will Encounter in China

Thus, without further ado, here are five things that you can prepare yourself for physically and mentally, before venturing into unfamiliar territories.

1. Language barrier

When I boarded my flight to Chongqing at Changi Airport, I was placed in the row of seats that was beside the emergency exit. One of the air stewardesses approached me and briefed me on the safety procedures.

The problem was she only spoke Chinese, and I could not. What was worse was that she assumed I could, because I was half-Chinese and looked the part. I had no idea how to tell her that I could not understand a single word she spoke, but thankfully someone from my tour group noticed my plight and translated her words to me.

Landing at Chonqing Jiangbei International Airport five hours later, I had to struggle through a conversation with the customs officer. Thankfully, he spoke and understood a little English, and we managed to clear my entry after a long period of time.

There are just too many incidents that I can list out throughout my stay in Chongqing that are similar to the ones above. What I would like to highlight, however, is if you are intending to visit rural areas, be prepared for communication issues. Either learn a few simple phrases to get by during your visit, or bring a travel companion who can translate for you!

Else, be ready to wave a lot with hand gestures and signs as a last ditch effort to convey your message across to the locals!

2. Changing weather

Before heading on the trip, I was told to bring plenty of thick clothing due to the low temperatures in Chongqing. I did not take this advice seriously, as the local temperature difference was about 7 to 8 degrees from Singapore. I thought that it could not be as cold as they claimed it to be. However, feeling that it was better to be safe than sorry, I brought a few winter jackets.

Turns out, their warning was spot-on. The minute I stepped out of the plane and into the airport’s shuttle bus, I felt the chill. Taking out one of my winter jackets from my backpack, I instantly gave thanks that I had the foresight to stuff one in my carry-on baggage!

It was much colder in the mountains, where your hands would eventually get stiff and uncomfortable under the cold air. It was fortunate that I brought a pair of insulated gloves as well, under the advice of my dad. There were those in my tour group, however, who were unfortunate to not bring a pair, and had to resort to stuffing their hands into their pockets or constantly rubbing them together to generate heat.

Just when I thought it could not get any colder, it started to rain. The temperatures dropped to single-digits, and although there was no snow, it felt like I was caught in a blizzard. It was quite the encounter, for someone who has never travelled to a cold region before! Luckily I came well-prepared, and the experience was a pleasant one.

Thus, if you are headed to a country that has radically different weather conditions from your home, make sure to be adequately prepared – even if it means trying to shut your overflowing suitcase with thick insulated coats. It is always better to stay ready for the unknown!

3. Unfamiliar cuisine

As a Muslim, eating at the local restaurants was a challenge. I could not differentiate which dishes had pork or lard in it, and had to often resort to asking which ones I could consume and which ones to avoid.

Thankfully, special requests were made in advance for my sake, and the restaurants often had chicken, fish and beef ready for my choosing. As I was eating, I shuddered to think what would have happened if I came to Chongqing alone. It was bad enough that I could not communicate with the locals – conveying special orders to a local waiter or waitress would have been a nightmare!

Their dishes took a while getting used to, with the different spices and cooking styles used. Even the spiciness of the food was different to those in Singapore – spicy Chinese dishes had a lingering aftertaste, as compared to the straight burning sensation I was used to.

Do not get me wrong! The food was definitely delicious in its unique way, but it was still different, and I needed time to get over the dissimilarities to truly appreciate the cuisine.

So do be prepared to expand your food choices if you are headed to places unknown. Make sure to do your research and learn a little about the local bites, especially when you are adhering to certain diet restrictions. The last thing you need on a fun holiday trip is to be on a fruits-and-vegetables diet!

4. Differences in norms

After a tiring day exploring the mountain trails and wandering around the city, we retired to our hotel rooms for a well-deserved rest. As I bid goodnight to my tour group and closed my room door behind me, I realised that it was very warm and there was no form of air-conditioning.

The idea of a hotel room not having air-conditioning sounded very peculiar to me. Under the impression that it was not turned on, I began scouting around the walls to see if I could find the switch or buttons.

I encountered a small console near the front door and began fiddling with the device. It was already turned on, but I could not hear any form of ventilation nor feel a sudden drop in temperature. I tried lowering the temperature, but it made no difference.

I picked up the phone and called the registration counter to see if they could send anyone up. Unfortunately, the receptionist could not speak English and after a few minutes of fruitless conversing, I eventually hung up. I tried messaging my tour group for help, but they were fast asleep, obviously tired from the day’s exhaustions.

Hot and flustered, I walked around the room to figure out a solution, when I felt a cold breeze from the windows. Approaching it, I realised the windows were wide open, and it was grilled. It only served to add to my frustrations, as I wondered why they would prevent me from closing the windows at all!

However, it suddenly dawned upon me that the rooms did not need air-conditioning because the air outside was already cold. Realising this, I tossed opened the curtains and sure enough, cold air came flowing in and made the room much more comfortable to get a good night’s rest.

This was apparently a norm in many hotel rooms, as I eventually learnt tomorrow morning from my tour guide. I could not help but feel surprised (and a little embarrassed!) as I had always thought that air-conditioning was mandatory in any hotel room.

It just goes to show that you should be ready to expect the unexpected if you are travelling to an unfamiliar country. Their standards and way of life may be quite different from what we are used to, and it might even open your eyes at times!

Also read: 20 Fun Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About China

5. Usage of internet

china challenges

As I was fiddling with my phone at one of our first restaurants at Chongqing, taking advantage of their Wi-Fi, it occurred to me that I should share some photos of the food I have been happily enjoying with my family and friends. To my annoyance, my Facebook app could not load despite multiple refreshes.

Figuring it was the poor signal from the router, I tried Googling something else instead. Unfortunately, that plan did not work out as well, with the page remaining blank after clicking on search. Bringing up Twitter to see if I could load earlier messages, I had no such luck.

It left me confused because I was still receiving messages from Whatsapp and Telegram. It definitely was not an Internet issue; else I would not have heard a single word from these chat applications. Turning to one of my tour group members, I asked him if he knew what was up with my phone.

He looked at me incredulously and eventually burst out laughing. He assured me that my phone was perfectly fine. He went on to explain that China had banned the websites I tried to access and it was impossible to access them without a virtual private network.

It hit me like a truck then, when I remembered all the news reports I glanced upon about China’s Internet censorship. I was also left dismayed because that meant that I could not update myself with my social network for the next three days. It was quite the unexpected loss when something we consider so trivial gets taken away from you!

If there is anything to take away from this tale, it is to make sure that you know the regulations of your country of interest in the trip. You will never know when something that you are often used to can be absent or banned.

Also read: Stay Connected: Apps and Sites to Overcome China’s Great Firewall

china challenges

As much as it sounds fun to jump into the unknown without any thought, it is not as fun when that situation turns unfavourable. With these tips on hand, your experiences in a new country would definitely be less stressful and more enjoyable. Make sure to plan meticulously before the trip, to avoid being caught in an inconvenient spot, and do what you planned to do, have a really great time!

About Author

Youliang Teo
Youliang Teo

When he’s not caught up with the real world, Teo Youliang dreams of simply grabbing a rucksack and setting off on an adventure of a lifetime. Whether it means venturing through unknown places, meeting new faces, or frustratingly figuring out a travel map for hours, you can be sure that there isn’t any other place he’d rather be. He’s also content with a hot cup of tea, and writing stories at the comfort of his home.


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