A Mandarin-Ignorant Travels Alone to China

Our in-flight lunch was served by the cabin crews of Dragon Air from Hongkong toHangzhouairport. Steamed fish, veggies and bread were looking sumptuous on my plate. I had a option to get orange juice, coffee, tea and or soda. The Chinese girl seated next to me started to gobble her food. She made such a disturbing sound while she was chewing it. I looked out the plane window and asked myself, “What’s waiting for me in China?”

After getting my passport stamped at the immigration, I immediately headed towards the baggage area and stood beside the conveyor belt to wait for my backpack. I realized I’m the only Filipino in the plane. I was in the middle of a group of people with squinted eyes, mostly wearing eyeglasses talking loudly about the trip maybe or me possibly. When I saw my 60Liter backpack I hastily get it and stormed through the exit gate. However, I was stopped by some security guards, asked me to put my backpack again for checking and asked questions about where I’m going and what am I going to do in China. This was probably because of the recent execution of 3 Filipinos for bringing drugs inChina. I understood their procedure and I thought that is just fair.

I lined for a cab outside the airport and have the hotel’s Chinese address ready on my hand carry bag. I showed the paper to the taxi driver and I think he understood it. He drove really fast. I wasn’t scared by the speed but the fact that he has this extremely squinty eyes and he’s not wearing an eyeglasses really made me want to shout and say “Hey! You can still drive tomorrow man. You’re driving like its doomsday already. Chill.” But of course I can’t say that, he wouldn’t understand me anyway. So I just kept calm, held onto my seat and just diverted my attention to different views outside.

By 3pm I was already in my room at Holiday Inn Xiaoshan. It was a big room with king sized bed, big comfort room with a big bath tub and fiber glass doors. There’s a big office desk near the window and a relaxing chair at the corner.

I laid on the bed and checked the Hangzhou map I got from the hotel reception, rested a bit and prepared for a walk at the West Lake. I had an option to commute to and from the West Lake but with my ignorance in Mandarin, I preferred to take a cab with a driver that the receptionist can give instructions to.

The car came to pick me up. The driver had a big smile on his face making his eyes look squintier. On our way to the West Lake, I was trying to build rapport with him but all he does was smile back, nod or shake his head.

West Lake's Sunset

The West Lake took 30 minutes – 1 hour drive from the hotel. It’s near dusk when we arrived there. There were lots of Chinese walking around, taking pictures, laughing together, chatting in groups. I asked the driver to wait for me at the parking lot. I think he understood me with my sign languages. Darn it’s really hard to communicate in sign language.

I walked around and saw the beauty and picturesque landscapes of the West Lake most especially during sunset. The lake is surrounded by mountains and based from my research it is divided into five causeways: Outer West Lake ,West Inner Lake, North Inner Lake, Little South Lake and Yue Lake.

alone in the middle of squinted-eyed people

I had my tripod with me and took some pictures. These Chinese were all looking at me like “What a loser, traveling alone.” I shrugged them off and just gave them a big smile. Who cares anyway?

I took the stairs to the Leifeng Pagoda. It is an octagon-shaped 5-storey tower. They said it collapsed in 1924 but was rebuilt in 2002, since then, it became a popular tourist attraction.

It’s passed 6pm when I checked my watch. I then realized my driver’s waiting for me at the parking lot. He might be worried I got lost. I went back and saw him patiently waiting for me with a big smile on his face. I tiredly sat at the backseat and rested when he gave me a bottle of mineral water. How nice of him, I thought. There was some bottleneck on our way back to the hotel, my eyes were getting blurry and I felt really sleepy.

I was awakened when someone opened the car door. It was the driver and we were already at the hotel. After paying the driver, I went straight to my room and enjoyed a warm relaxing bath as I prepare myself for 10 more days inChina.

I almost fell asleep in the tub with bubbles all over me.


TIPS to Backpackers Traveling to the Mainland China

  1. Bring a map with Chinese names on it
  2. Have the name of your hotel and other destinations written in Chinese, print it and bring it with you anywhere you go
  3. I advice to learn a bit of Mandarin. Almost all the Chinese living in the Mainland don’t understand and speak English
  4. If you’re a coffee drinker and a bit particular about the taste, bring coffee sachets with you, I found the Chinese coffee sachets a bit bitter. Also, most Chinese drinks tea rather than coffee
  5. If you’re going to the provincial area and you’re not really good at using chopsticks, it might be useful to bring your fork with you.
  6. Have your currency changed to Renminbi before going toChina. Money changers are rarely found in the streets.
some bridge in the West Lake
view from my hotel room window

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