As someone who’s taken up residence in China long-term, I’ve had quite a few visitors over the years. One of the things I’ve learned is that you have to do a little “visitor profiling” if you want your guest to have a good time. Two of my own personal “case studies”:
1. My sister Grace visited me in Hangzhou in 2001. I hadn’t been in China long, and had spent a lot more time studying Chinese than trying to get comfortable. I fed Grace the 5 RMB local cafeteria food I was used to eating. When we went from Hangzhou to Beijing, I screwed up on the sleeper “ticket upgrade,” so it was 17 hours on the train in hard seats. In Beijing, we went everywhere on foot, by subway, or by bus. Poor Grace didn’t adapt too well to Chinese food; I think she might have had western food a few times, but she also shed quite a few pounds during her two weeks in China.
2. My parents visited China in 2007. We toured West Lake in Hangzhou, and went on a Bund cruise in Shanghai. We flew to Beijing and saw the sights there, assisted by a driver. We took the cable car up to the top of the Great Wall. We sampled the local food everywhere, while also getting some western food when it felt “necessary.” My parents had a very pleasant stay (but probably didn’t lose any weight).
Fortunately, by the time my parents had visited, I was a bit more compassionate about the needs of my less hardcore visitors (and had had a chance to practice this “kinder, gentler version of China” when my other sister Amy visited in 2004). Grace actually had a really good attitude about the whole ordeal, though. She felt that she had had a taste of “the real China,” and referred to what my sister Amy had experienced as “China Lite.”
I’m not trying to be a China snob here; this “China Lite” concept is useful. With my parents planning another visit, I’m working on perfecting the China Lite experience (without resorting to a tour group, if possible). While the whole “Real China” vs. “China Lite” thing is more of a continuum than a black or white issue, I’ve found it useful to compare the two.
|Stay in hostels, crash at friends’ places, or even do some kind of homestay
|Stay in nice hotels or service apartments
|All Chinese food, and the more street food the better
|Chinese food is fine as long as it’s not too weird; some western food (even KFC) is needed to buffer all that Chinese food
|Baijiu (that Chinese white grain alcohol) isn’t so bad…
|Tsingtao is exotic enough when it comes to alcohol
|As much Chinese language as possible; gotta put that phrasebook to use and communicate with the locals
|English if possible; translations if not
|Travel by bus, train, and bike (with the people) is great
|Airplane preferred for long trips; other forms of transportation need to provide appropriate personal space
|Pack your own TP, and study the proper squatting position in advance
|Never stray too far from a western-style toilet
|China is big, and you don’t have much time to soak it all in, so pack that itinerary tight!
|China is tiring; plan the itinerary carefully and leave sufficient down time
|Consider the whole trip to be “off the grid” or at least “off the beaten path” with just the occasional internet cafe
|Plan for internet needs, and provide a cell phone for your visitors if possible (the cost of the SIM card and phone service is negligible in China)
Got any tips to add the the list?
Some visitors are looking for “the real China,” where others are hoping to enjoy “China Lite.” They’re both here, but it’s best to be clear on what your visitors are after.
Other takes on “China Lite”: