“Wow, you’re so bold! I would be too scared to run with the bulls.”
That’s the sentence I heard when I told my new-found Sydney friends that I was going to run with the bulls in July 2012. It got me thinking about my choice; “I’m not brave. Jeannie just asked me and I thought ‘Hey, what a cool idea. I’m going to say yes.’” I didn’t actually really consider the consequences of running with the bulls until I saw a guy get pinned to a wall by a bulls horns – thankfully escaping harm – whilst standing on a balcony in Pamplona. Even then I was still in denial and the nerves and realisation that I was going to really run with some big scary bulls didn’t kick in until I had no choice but to run.
Yes, I am an idiot.
But reflecting on all of this I realised that I’m actually a scardy cat – no, really I am, even if I do have ‘Outran a bull’ on my resume – so I’ve decided 2013 will be the year that scares me… starting with being scared in China.
Why am I being scared in China?
I’ve come to realise after my repeated trips to Hong Kong that I’ve begun to develop a similar stigma towards Mainland China that the Hong Kongese have*, despite never having ventured further than ShenZehn – a major economic city in the Southern province of Guangdong. It was time to break down that barrier and head North… but after years of being told stories from hotel porters of how unsafe Mainland China was for both foreigners and Hong Kong residents the mere thought of heading over the border left me, pardon the language, scared shitless.
So, I booked a flight to Shanghai.
I didn’t really think about it further than: “I want to go to South Korea” and with Shanghai being somewhere in between Hong Kong and Seoul it provided the perfect place for a pit-stop. Further winning me over was seeing photos of Pudong and the mere thoughts of five-days of ‘all you can eat’ Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings) – it was decided and I was booking a stopover to China’s most cosmopolitan city.
But on the date I wanted to leave Seoul to return to Australia it turns out there are no flights available with frequent flier miles for another four-days. That means I had a choice between four-days in Hong Kong, four-days in -6 degrees Seoul or an adventure somewhere new… so I’m going to Beijing - China’s cultural capital.
What are you scared of in China?
I have a long list of reasons why I’m scared of China, most completely irrational, so here’s a few;
- I don’t speak the language. I studied Chinese (Mandarin) for four-years and I remember how to say “Ni Hao” (hello)/”Wo jiao…” (My name is…)/”Ham bao bao” (hamburger) and the words for “McDonald’s” and “Coca-cola” – at least I won’t starve but I don’t know what my waist line will think of me…
- I don’t eat seafood – a big part of the Chinese diet; nor do I know how to say “I don’t eat seafood” in Mandarin
- I don’t know where the food comes from. In Australia we often hear about product recalls on food in China, particularly milk, so this leads me to believe I’m going to die if I drink the milk… and potentially any other food, especially dairy based.
- That being said, I might die from drinking the water as well.
- They smoke indoors… I’m a non-smoker. No more explanation needed.
- China is one of the most, if not the most, polluted countries in the world. I’m worried what the horrible air will do to me and how much heavy metal poisoning my blood stream can deal with.
- The stories that the Hong Kongese and mainstream Media have told me about people having their organs harvested, kidnapped, or killed.
- The scams that are present, especially in big cities, like what happened to Lauren from Never Ending Footsteps.
- The fact that I’m a solo-female traveller in China.
- I might die of hypothermia. Being an Aussie I don’t deal with the cold well… and to me cold is anything below 15degrees C. Shanghai is around 0 degrees and Beijing is around -4 degrees, and I only packed two pairs of jeans – this is going to be a fun trip…
- Two words: Squat Toilet
See? Pretty irrational considering so many people travel to China daily and seem to get out unscathed.
Despite my reservations I’m going to China (actually, when you read this I will be in China). I’m going to eat the food, walk in the polluted air, and master the squat toilet. I’m going to learn some of the language, I’m going to freeze to death (can’t really help that one) and I’m going to explore these two amazing cities. I’m going to scare myself and get well outside my comfort zone and it’s going to be pretty awesome… right?
How would you conquer your fears when visiting a country?
* Not all Hong Kongese have this particular stigma, however the ones that I have encountered – particularly hotel workers I have spoken with – do recommend against visiting the Mainland with stories of kidnapping, thieves and organ theft. That being said, many Hong Kongese head across the border every day because massages, beauty and shopping is often considerably cheaper than in Hong Kong.