- You have to watch out in China, hon. There’s gonna be an undercover agent watching each one of you all the time. If they see you taking pictures of some public buildings they’re going to grab you, put in a tiny cell and demand a ransom.
My mother, she only has one child, me. Therefore me going to Beijing for two week summer camp made her quite worried. She would not be able to make my breakfast, lunch and dinner every day and make sure I don’t catch any bacteria.
Before me and other students from the Olomouc Confucius institute left Prague, my mother had given me a series of notes with strict guidelines I had to promise I’d follow.
- Always wash everything, use hand-sanitizer after touching anything. Don’t drink the water and don’t take showers there, you’ll get a rash. If your body starts to smell, just use ample of deodorant.
She had thought we’d be living in a leaking wooden shack with cockroaches and meatbugs and the only toilet would be the outside bamboo forest. At the same time, she had me insured for fire, flood, earthquake, typhoon, tsunami, car crash, any sort of injury, homesickness and monkey bites.
As a matter of fact we lived in a Beijing hotel with security, TV, WiFi, soft beds, shower, western toilet, flawless escape plan, camera system and three traditional Chinese meals a day. Originally I was a bit cautious about the water but after taking daily showers I realized I had been paranoid.
- Don’t go anywhere in the evening, you’ll get jumped. In that case, start barking and pretend you have rabies.
The first day, after the arrival we were blown away by Czech-speaking Chinese students. They volunteered to guide us around, fluently in our mother tongue. However, my friend and I got a crazy idea at the diner. We wanted to go see the Forbidden City although it was already closed.
We took the biggest subway in our lives, where a ticket was 1 yuan, subway going every three minutes and had about 9 lines all over the city.
We still couldn’t read all the Chinese characters but we always managed to find the way. We talked with some kind Chinese people who came up to us, seeing two lost western guys looking into a map.
When we arrived to the Forbidden City, we saw a humongous lit-up complex, stretching for miles in the distance. Thus we decided to experience its size first hand and went all the way around it in the Beijing night. Circling around the complex took us about an hour through the half-empty streets. Although we were the only foreigners around, we had never felt safer.
- Watch for your things, there are crowds of people, all pressing on each other. Somebody’s gonna rob you, so hide the money in your shoes and wear your worst clothes to look cheap.
It never felt really crowded as we always somehow eluded the rush hours. Yet when there were more people around I enjoyed listening and trying to understand what the Chinese were saying. When I heard some words that I knew I just started screaming in Chinese, with excitement. They would always be surprised and start talking and taking selfies with us.
One girl we met went with us all the way to the campus of Peking University. Called her friend and gave us a tour around the massive campus with the lake, park and a tower.
The two of them introduced us to WeChat, which is a Chinese Facebook, except without the obnoxiousness. It helps you find other people when you‘re abroad. We’re in contact till this very day. When she came to visit Prague six months ago I returned the favor and showed her Prague Castle, Charles’ Bridge and the Dancing Building.
- Watch for what you eat, or they will serve you a dog. Also don’t eat any street food, you’ll get stomach problems. Only eat in McDonald’s.
You cannot go to China without trying some street food. Chinese people eat a lot of chili and ginger which cleanses any bacteria or infections in the bodies. Altogether with traditional Chinese medicine and Taiji it makes the Chinese very agile and healthy. We did the same and enjoyed healthy digestion.
Each day we ate at a round table with a moving center from the food bowls so that everyone could taste anything they wanted. Additionally, the menu was changed for us every day so that we could sample a large portion of Beijing and Shandong cuisine.
We got served things like Chinese Baozi dumplings, completely different from central-european dumplings. They were made out of thin dough with meat filling, which altogether with some soy sauce made it a delicacy.
We were taken for a few feasts such as the Beijing roast duck and traditional Chinese hotpot. Essentially something like a fondue with soup base instead of melted cheese.
- They’re going to try to make you a communist. Don’t listen to them. They all get brainwashed and think everything from the west is bad. However, don’t argue with them either or they will put you in jail for spying.
Our Chinese guides enjoyed Coldplay and Broadway Musicals. They showed us some Chinese relationship dramas and comedies. Introduced us to Chinese pop music, Chinese opera and mainly to the Chinese national sport… bargaining. That involved a lot of role-play with arguing, joking, laughing and pretended leaving, to gain trading respect.
We even got to attend the Farewell my Concubine show in a theatre. That was followed by Beijing acrobatics show which absolutely blew us away. It felt like the best of Got Talent on steroids.
Regardless to say that after the initial freak-outs, my mother eventually got interested in China. I really wish I didn’t tell her, because now she either keeps learning Chinese or plans a trip to Shanghai, and I have to cook for myself.