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 because of their size. One was USSR, and the other was China. I remember thinking that I will never get to either, only because I did not know the language, and at that stage travelling behind the Iron Curtain was not a thing I thought that I would do even as an adult. The prospect was so distant, for many years it went to the back of my mind. Besides, the only Kiwi that I had heard of living in China was Rewi Alley.
Growing up, Chinese people were residing in New Zealand, but to me, they were more Kiwi, than Chinese. Then 1990’s and early 2000’s came an influx of immigration from China to New Zealand, and as a result, there were more interactions with Chinese, that were more Chinese than Kiwi. I was working in the insurance industry at that time and in East Auckland where the Chinese population was growing at a rapid rate we had to be able to deal with the Chinese customers, so the solution was to employ Chinese staff that could speak Mandarin or Cantonese, as well as English. While a lot of the Chinese customers wanted to and were speaking English, sometimes there was a struggle with understanding and insurance is a purchase that any client needs to understand at the time of purchase, not at the time of loss.
All these interactions with Chinese customers took me back to my days with the Atlas as a young boy, what is the country really like? I had a desire to find out, and the only way to know is to visit. So, in early 2014, the decision was made that a trip to China was going to happen and it was going to happen quickly in a few short weeks.
For any travel overseas, I always try and prepare and prepare well. And for any trip to a country that speaks a language that you do not, can be stressful. However, there are a few things that can be done to ease the stress:
- Research before you go – read travel websites, magazine, articles, or books on the areas that you plan to visit.
- Know what you want to see – to save time, I wrote a list of what I wanted to see 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 very populated country. The tourist sites and highways can become very busy and congested on the public holidays, worse than normal. On these days, it is best to pick attractions close to your accommodation and avoid car or bus travel.
- Learn the basic language – Greeting and Thank you (Nihao and XieXie, in this case.) Many staff within the hotels will try to speak in English. I had a lot of 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 lot cannot speak your tongue.
- Money, not credit cards – Credit cards are not readily accepted in China. Best to deal in cash much of the time, particularly with small traders.
- English speaking tour guides – Many tours that I booked, I booked through Trip Advisor or similar website 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 great value.