Forbidden City in Beijing

China is incredible. Truly huge both in size and in how much it overwhelms the humble tourist. Beauty is often side by side with ugliness; Very rich side by side with very poor. The contrasts can be very hard to take but ultimately it is an unforgettable experience to visit here…

Just Outside Shanghai

The People

There are many, many people and as in any large country there are the good and the bad. I found most to be very pleasant if not always the most patient (though this is perhaps to be understood given my dreadful lack of any language skills whatsoever).


In most parts of China they speak Mandarin and little else. Do not expect English-speaking people anywhere outside of tourist areas (and hotels) – even then don't expect too much there either. Knowing a bit of the language is very helpful and highly recommended, such as greetings and thank-yous. In the south they do speak Cantonese but this is really in Hong Kong and that area only. Incidentally, in Shanghai there is a local dialect that no one outside of Shanghai really understands (I met a lady who lived in Shanghai but did not understand it – though spoke very good Mandarin).

Tourist Stuff

China is still not really a country for tourists. Some people say it is no longer a (so-called) “third-world” country but I would beg to differ. I saw many areas in China that reminded me of my time in Africa where I was a volunteer in The Gambia – Extreme poverty and dreadful living conditions in amongst the skyscrapers and factories that are popping up like weeds everywhere.



You will likely need to get a Visa to visit China though they are quite easy to obtain (excepting that you actually need to show up in person or have a “designated official third party”, ie, travel agent, at the embassy to get it). You can get a tourist Visa up to 90 days before travel (but no longer) and once you enter the country it is good for 30 days. Do NOT just travel to China without a Visa – They will NOT let you in…


I had been warned by many people (and books) about security in China: That it was not all that safe. I had no problems during my visit though I must admit I was quite careful at all times (particularly on the trains).

Pick-pockets, I am sure, abound so watch any valuables and bags you may be carrying. There are so many people it can be very dangerous.

Tourist Shops

The state runs factories throughout the country providing various goods to both tourist and locals alike. A few things you are likely to see taking a tour:

Silk Extraction (Shanghai)

  • Silk - Where silk is extracted from silk worms and spun into fabrics or, surprisingly, into duvets…

Jade Carving (Beijing)

  • Jade - Where jade is carved into anything you can dream of. Prices are no limit here…
  • Pearl Cultivation - You will be shown how pearls are cultivated. A very large shop here.

Cloisonné (Near Beijing)

  • Cloisonné - Where metal strips attached to pottery have the gaps filled with enamel. Lots of talent to do this…

There are variations on this, of course, we were also shown a shop in Xi'an where they specialise in Fung Shui artifacts.

These shops are surprisingly inexpensive (perhaps not as inexpensive as other shops but certainly no where near the most expensive).

Further Information

For further information, please see: