This blog post is going to be different from most that I write. As the final post in my China series I want to wrap up with an honest conversation about traveling in China.
I was amazed by the reactions that I got from people when I mentioned I was going to visit China. Truthfully, it had never been up high on my bucket list, and this is because there are so many stereotypes and propaganda about this country.
When I mentioned I was traveling to China people warned me not to wear sandals because it’s so dirty, they told me to be careful eating the food, they told me not to travel alone, they asked me why I wanted to go, and most often they asked me if it was safe.
It is amazing how wrong so many people are about this country. You do not have to agree with its government and politics to adore the people who live here, admire the ancient traditions and wonder at the rich history of this vast nation.
In the two weeks I was here, I never once felt unsafe, like I was being taken advantage of, or that anyone was going to harm me.
My friend and I shared a hard sleeper bunk with 6 beds, the other four occupied by men, and I never felt unsafe.
My friend and I explored cities of 22-26 million people and never worried about anyone trying to pick-pocket us. (I was afraid of this in EVERY European city I’ve visited, and I’ve heard numerous stories of this happening to people in Europe.)
I explored the Bund, walked around Nanjing Road in Shanghai, and walked back to my hostel alone at night with no cell service and didn’t sweat it.
I stayed in a hostel that offered privacy curtains in the bunks and had the bathrooms cleaned every 30 minutes from 9a-9p so it was extremely clean.
There were days I took public transit around Beijing and explored the city on my own without cell service and I never felt unsafe.
In fact, in a city where almost no one speaks English, I felt more able to ask for help than anywhere else. There is tight security, people using Google Translate to help me, and kind strangers smiling back at me.
People in China are also extremely photogenic and they prioritize aesthetic photo spots! You can find people young and old posing everywhere, and there is always someone to take a picture for you.
One morning I was walking through the subway station and there was a security guard hanging around, and without thinking about it I said “morning” and nodded at him. He didn’t understand me and came up to make sure I was okay. We laughed, I said “Good morning” and then “Ni hao” and bowed my head so he understood, and he responded back to me. It was the nicest interaction! Strangers even helped me purchase my subway tickets when I couldn’t find the station on the screen.
Beijing and Shanghai are clean cities, there is an extremely low rate of homelessness and I was reminded time and time again how kind people are.
Crime against foreigners is incredibly low in China, and it saddens me to think so many people avoid learning about this country because of misconceptions spread through decades-old propaganda.
This is a city where school children want to practice their English, mesmerized by westerners and tour guides want to show you the hidden gems of the cities, proud of their heritage. Despite being so different from the US in so many ways, I was struck by how similar people are on a human level, and that’s why traveling is so important. It breaks down stereotypes and opens your eyes to how billions of people live around the world.
I hope through my photos and blog posts you can see what a beautiful place this is, not just on the outside but on the inside. The people who live here are wonderful people and I will always remember the kindness I was shown here. It is safe for women to travel alone – I’m proof of that! No matter where you go, practice common sense and you will be fine.
Keep your heart and mind open and keep exploring, my friends.