Exploring China: How did you travel around China without speaking a word of Mandarin?
The first questions my friends ask when I tell them about how I spent my summer in China as a participant of the Shanghai Summer School and travelling around China are often not about what I saw and did, but “How did you travel around China without speaking a word of Mandarin? Is it even possible?”, followed by a comment along the lines of how extraordinary and brave I was to attempt to do so. Well yes, and thank you for thinking so highly of my folks, but here’s the truth – it’s no big deal, anyone can do it.
China, like all other countries, has its own pace, characteristics and unwritten rules.
Okay so here’s a fact – China, like all other countries, has its own pace, characteristics and unwritten rules. Regardless of how much or little you’ve travelled the world thus far, as long as you keep an open mind, don’t sweat the small things, and be a little spontaneous – you’ll be more than just fine. Because when you do all that, you’ll get to experience one of the world’s most diverse, authentic and fearlessly unique countries properly.
From the beauty of Beijing’s Forbidden City to the ancient starting point of the Silk Road in Xian, home to the remarkable Terracotta Army. Find yourself feeding pandas in Chengdu one moment and the next, stepping onto the Yangtze cruise in Chongqing, cruising past the West Lake in Hangzhou and ending the day partying on one of Shanghai’s rooftop bars. Take a high-speed train back to Beijing, scale the Great Wall of China, one of the world’s seven wonders, and then take a short flight to see the classic Chinese countryside of Guilin with your own eyes – no problem. China has it all: mountains, rivers, deserts, beaches, anything your heart desires.
Important things first. And by that, I’m referring to food of course. Ordering food in China is no biggie. Show the waiter a picture of the food you want, point at the steaming hotpot on your neighbour’s table, act like a chicken to indicate you’d like some chicken (sign language is universal) or just close your eyes and point at something on the menu. Remember what I said about being a little spontaneous? Be adventurous and try new food! You might not like it but you’ve tried it! Also, there is nothing quite like the little tingle of excitement as you anticipate your food in China. A gastronomic experience in China without a word of mandarin, check!
Travelling around megacities like Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong might sound intimidating, but with their extensive and easy-to-navigate public transport system, getting from place to place is a breeze. To make your life in China much easier, do like the Chinese do – use modern technology! Get your train tickets in advance on Ctrip, book your accommodation online on Booking.com, and instantly translate phrases using applications such as Waygo. Navigating through China like a pro without a word of mandarin, check!
Every story has a hero, and the hero of Shanghai’s tale are its people.
Not a fan of technology and prefer some good old fashioned travelling? Talking to strangers and gesticulating with both hands can also be effective methods of finding your way around because you can always count on helpful Chinese passers-by for help! In fact, you might find yourself being approached by them instead, wanting to communicate with you to practice their English skills. Get lost in China and feel the openness of the locals. Thank them with a smile and you both go on your way with an extra spring in your steps. We often say that every story has a hero, and the hero of Shanghai’s tale are its people, and truer words have never been spoken! Interacting with the locals without a word of mandarin, check!
Travelling China was way easier than I had ever imagined and considering its magnitude, way safer than I had believed it to be.
To get to my point – travelling China was way easier than I had ever imagined and considering its magnitude, way safer than I had believed it to be. I have had friends who’ve been to China telling me that travelling around China is very safe, though I was never really convinced. Having roamed the streets and taken public transport in the middle of the night, and never have felt even the slightest bit in danger, I can now tell you first hand that my friends were right. After my experience in China last summer, I realized that we should not let our fear of uncertainty overpower our desire to explore new places and meet new people and that we should not allow our personal barriers to come between the fact that we are more alike than we think we are. So get rid of your fears and assumptions, pack your bags, and just travel!
Petra Kocjan, Content Writer – Petra is an experienced and passionate traveller, former Shanghai Summer School Alumni 2017, lately inspired by Chinese characters and everything looking like black noodles. Say hi to her on Instagram @petragingera.
See you in Shanghai!