When I was a young boy in the 1970’s and looking at the atlas, I always took a keen interest in two countries, simply due to their size. One was the USSR, and the other one was China. I remember thinking that I will probably never travel to those countries, simply for the reason, I did not know the language, and at that stage travelling behind the Iron Curtain was not an endeavour I visualised that I would undertake even as an adult. The prospect was so distant, consequently, for twenty years, it went to the back of my mind. Besides, the only Kiwi that I had heard of living in China in the 1970’s was Rewi Alley.
Growing up, Chinese people were residing in New Zealand, but to me, they were more Kiwi, than Chinese. Then in the 1990’s and early 2000’s came an influx of immigration from China to New Zealand, and as a result, there were increasing interactions with Chinese people, that were more Chinese than Kiwi. At that time, I was working in the insurance industry in East Auckland where the Chinese population was growing at a rapid rate, which is now about 23 percent of the local population. Consequently, serving Chinese customers became the norm, so the solution was to employ Chinese staff that could speak Mandarin or Cantonese, as well as English.
All these interactions with Chinese customers and staff took me back to my days with the Atlas as a young boy, which caused me to ask questions like ‘what is the country truly like?’ Building within me a desire to find out, and the only way to know is to visit. So, subsequently, in early 2014, planning for a trip to China began and a few short weeks later it happened.
For any travel overseas, I always try and prepare and prepare well. Stress increases when visiting a country that speaks a different language. However, preparation is key to ease the stress. Some of the preparation that I did involve:
- Research into the country – read travel websites, magazine, articles, or books on the places that you plan to visit.
- Pre-plan the sights to visit – this saved time on the travel itinerary. I wrote a list of what I wanted to visit and prioritised it. If I had extra time, then I would find something else on the list. As a result, my days were full and exciting.
- Know the public holidays – China is a populated country. The tourist sites and highways can become extremely busy and congested on the public holidays, worse than normal. On these days, it is best to pick attractions close to the accommodation and avoid car or bus travel.
- Learn the basic language – Especially the greeting and thank you (Nihao and XieXie, in this case.) On my trip, numerous staff within the hotels tried to speak in English. I had immense fun attempting to speak Mandarin and getting the reply in English, both sides trying to learn each other’s language, but also be aware that a great deal of hotel staff cannot speak your tongue.
- Money, not credit cards – Credit cards are not readily accepted in China. Best deal in cash the majority of the time, I found the greater number of businesses preferred cash over credit card.
- English speaking tour guides – Many tours that I booked, I booked through Trip Advisor or similar websites and I made sure that there was an English-speaking guide. Surprisingly with some the trips, it consisted of me, the tour guide, and a driver. These were inexpensive and of excellent value.
First published: April 2017 and revised: June 2017