By Henry Aspinall
The ability to haggle is hard!
5 ways China changed me… Whilst I would argue that Chinese people are some of the most friendly and approachable I have met, there is still a need to remain vigilant. This is especially true when conducting a financial transaction. From buying clothes in the local markets to taking a taxi, some people simply want to make a bit more money from a comparatively wealthier Westerner. I became a master of haggling and asserting myself whilst living in China! My financial prudishness and refusal to pay more money for services struck fear into the hearts of Chinese stall holders and market traders! However, haggling is not an offensive act, but a rite of passage into Chinese culture and, once mastered, is extremely addictive. As a general rule when perusing China’s famous markets, selling both fake items and cultural ones, always offer 20% of the price first suggested as this is usually close to what was originally paid. My addiction to haggling became so strong that I frequently attempted to negotiate the prices in high street shops in Britain upon my return, much to the cashier’s confusion!
Celebration of my inner celebrity
Being a Westerner in China is like being famous. I struggled to walk through the streets of Beijing and Chengdu without being stopped for a photo. Even my parents became models when they came to visit and were the subjects of various pictures and poses. These pictures, I have heard, are often treasured by Chinese families, taking pride of place in their homes. While some people find this intimidating and a nuisance, I won’t lie, I loved it! Being “ooed” and “ahhed” when looking far from my best was a particular compliment.
Open to different customs
The one thing that everyone talks about after they have travelled to China is the extreme ‘culture shock’ they feel. For China is radically different to the West, at times in a rather extreme way. For example, the toilet situation is very different to back home as is their love for street food cooked without the strict health and safety of back home. However, if you see past the few differences, you begin to love China and embrace its originality. The people, the customs and the culture are truly beautiful, unique and thoroughly entertaining. From 6 hour Beijing Opera sessions and the presence of army personnel in nightclubs to tai-chi lessons in local parks and an obsession with Disney’s Frozen, China is a curious, but brilliant country. Opening up to such a different culture makes you a more accepting and sensitive person and this stays with you upon your return.
An enormous draw China has for many travellers is the cost of living. With 10 RMB being equivalent to £1, your money definitely goes further. Food, rent and travel are ridiculously cheap and this allows you to take part in an array of experiences, travel throughout the country and generally enjoy yourself!
Loss of interest in the British countryside
One thing China has in abundance is beautiful scenery. Once you’ve left the smoggy mega cities and entered rural territory, the landscape takes your breath away. The Zhangjiajie Mountains, which the film Avatar based its scenery on, are a particularly popular sight, as is the exquisite countryside of Guilin. Having seen such natural wonders, British rivals such as Mount Snowdon pale in comparison!