China is a massive, beautiful country. You have all types of cultures around the country with plenty of food, locals, and historic places to experience. This is a country that would take years to fully unravel, but with any country there are some dangers.
Due to China’s economics and strict government rule the people on the bottom of the economic ladder suffer, and when people suffer their actions tend to become irrational, and radical.
If your planning a trip to China then I hope you will continue reading. There isn’t any reason to be afraid of China once you know what to look out for.
Normal people travel with some baggage. That might be a purse, suitcase, or a couple of bags. Whatever type of luggage you have make sure you don’t lug it around at night. China is crawling with pickpockets and muggers; they thrive at night. So I recommend that when you do go out at night you aren’t carrying something that could create a confrontation.
Instead of taking a purse or bag try to use a wallet and wear it on the front side of your body. The front side of your body is the easiest place to detect a potential pickpocket. You’ll be able to feel them much, much closer. It also could potentially change the mind of the would-be thief. Giving you the freedom to not worry and enjoy your trip.
Another thing many first time China travelers don’t know is the poor sanitation. They don’t have western toilets much of China. American style toilets are usually labeled with a “handicapped” sign. Toilet paper is also another issue. They either don’t have it, or they don’t use it. So you might want to bring some of your own. Remember to throw it away in the trash. The toilets aren’t made for our toilet paper and one flush could get messy very quickly.
Speaking of public places keep in mind a certain scam. We’ll call it the student scam. To sum it up people — usually teens or young adults — will attempt to lure you into a restaurant of some sort and have you pay ridiculous amounts of money for a meal or snack. They’ll usually ask you if you can help them to work on their English speaking or writing. This is a scam, but thousands upon thousands of tourist every year fall prey to it. Don’t be one of them.
The “student” only wants to get you into the doors of a restaurant that hikes up its prices in order to profit from your ignorance. China is a wonderful place to travel and you will have loads of fun. You’ll learn, laugh, and play in the country but you have to be vigilant.
Around the World Through a Photographer’s Lens is a weekly feature from Award Wiinning travel photographer and writer, Dave Stamboulis. Every Monday afternoon you can find Dave’s work here at Vagobond. See the world through a photographer’s lens.
1) The Long Haired Yao are an ethnic minority in China’s Guilin region. The Yao women never cut their hair and welcome visitors to their village with a hair braiding ceremony
2) Not only do the Yao women not cut their hair, they pick up any stray hair that falls out and weave them into their manes
3) The village elder, enjoying telling the history of his life in a sleepy Yao village
4) The Yao women spend much of their free time weaving their colorful clothing and blankets for the cold winters
5) The lush rice terraces of Ping An village, home to the Yao of Guilin
6) The Yao grow elaborate rice fields and terraces for their survival
7) Yao village elder doing a welcome ceremony to honor guests
8) Old traditions die hard in China, granny and her buffalo
If you want to start looking for another way to travel and work for the man, there are options available for you. And many of them involve working for a man (or woman) that might just be very cool and good to you.
With so many people out of work, looking for work, or between jobs there are plenty of folks right now that have the greatest opportunity they will ever have to really live their lives and do something.
Maybe now is the right time to spend a few months or even years living and working overseas. In fact, living and working in another country is the best way to really learn about different cultures. You end up working with and living among people instead of just seeing them from a tour bus.
Most of these jobs won’t make you wealthy, they won’t pay enough to pay back your student loans, but they just might make your life feel fulfilling, make your soul sing, and give you a bigger and better world view.
It’s not easy to find work overseas, but you can do it and now might be the best time you will ever have to see what it’s really like to live in a foreign culture. World travel is calling…will you answer the phone?
Do you have any idea how many people half a billion are? That’s 500 million and that is the number of Chinese who are studying English right now. Most of them don’t have native speaking teachers but they want them. The same goes for Indonesia, Spain, Morocco, Germany, and just about every other non-English speaking country in the world.
What do you need? Usually you need at least a bachelors degree. For many companies that is enough and they will pay for your housing, visa, and even your flight to and from their countries. To get an idea of the jobs available have a look at ESLcafe.com. I’ve been doing this in Morocco for nearly a year and you can do it too. In fact, I just might do it again somewhere else in the near future. Teaching is a total joy.Find out more by clicking on the i to i icon below.
Those wanting to find service jobs can. If you want to go about things the legal way with a work permit and visa you should look into companies such as BUNAC (British Universities North America Club) and CIEE (just google them) which will assist for you for around $300 to work in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, Canada or Ireland. You can work in restaurants, pick fruit, or do just about anything your heart desires.
Of course if you want to do it the good old fashioned way, just get a one way ticket and take a kick ass resume with you. It’s not hard to find employers that will hire you illegally. Of course you probably can’t expect a great salary this way either.
And then there are the guiding jobs, cruise ship jobs, sales jobs, and airline jobs which don’t usually pay as well as sedentary jobs in your home country, but pay off with the chance to spend significant amounts of time in foreign climes.
So, if you want a job or you want to leave your country, don’t wait. Start looking now.
4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.
Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.
Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?
Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?
Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.
Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.
5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to
If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.
Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.
Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.
If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.
6) Don’t learn any of the local language
Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.
Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.
Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.
The world has changed a lot since I originally wrote this article back in 2011. Almost a decade later – populations have shifted significantly along with everything else. I’ve got this idea in my head these days that I want to visit all of the largest cities in the world. I’ve been to some of them – but not all – so this might be a good focus for my travel plans in the near future. The hard part is finding a list that is accurate – this is the best I could come up with but I found at least five very different lists all based on the same criteria! New York City, Jakarta, Manila, Chengdu, and a few other cities made it to different lists fo the Top 10 largest, but the cities below were the ones that seemed to be the most consistent in terms of reported population.
The world is growing at an alarming rate. There are a huge number of estimates on the number of cities in the world, but it certainly would be safe to say that there are more than 300,000 cities in the world currently. Of course, this depends on what one defines a city. In most cases, a city is considered to be a place that is large and well-populated, and assumes more importance than a village or town. Now assuming more importance leads to several things, like better living conditions, more choice in all respects of life, and so on. These are what lure people to cities, and make cities experience population growth. Because of the large population, cities are generally managed by an authority, which in most cases is the municipal corporation of the particular city, and this body looks into all the things that make up the city. A typical city consists of further sub-areas, called districts or precincts in most places. This division of a city into smaller parts helps in better administration and ultimately leads to providing better living conditions.
For the traveler, the largest cities in the world can be an intense experience as the sights, smells, sounds, and sometimes the feel of the population can be exhilarating.
World’s Largest City by Population – Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is still the largest city in the world with a population of approximately 37.5 million people. Formerly named Edo, the Tokyo Metropolis formed from the merger of Tokyo Prefecture and the city of Tokyo. Tokyo is referred to as a metropolitan prefecture or a MegaCity.
On 1 July 1943, the twenty-three special wards of Tokyo merged with Tokyo Prefecture to become the Tokyo Metropolis. The residential area of Tokyo proper has 13,617,445 residents. The rest of the population lives in the Tokyo ‘burbs’.
World’s Second Largest City Delhi, India
Back in 2011, this rapidly growing city was fourth but today it has jumped the que to second. Delhi is one of the oldest cities of India, and is home to the Parliament and Supreme Court of India.Delhi rose from the fourth largest city in the world, to the second! The population of this city went up by more than five million people. With a population of about 29.3 million. Delhi’s NCT boundaries include Faridabad, Noida, Sonipat, Gurgaon, Ghaziabad known as Central National Capital Region which is the third-largest urban area according to the United Nations. Delhi is also the wealthiest city in India after Mumbai. It is home to several billionaires.
World’s Third Largest City – Shanghai, China
Back in 2011, Shanghai was the second largest city, but today it has dropped to third with an estimated population of 26.5 million people.
Shanghai has been the largest city in China for quite some time. Once just a fishing and textiles town, Shanghai grew quickly because of its port, and it is the world’s largest cargo port since 2005. Shanghai attracts millions of tourists every year, who flock to the city, which has got many attractions, with the City God Temple, the Oriental Pearl Tower, and many more. It is a major transport hub, with the busiest container port in the world. Shanghai gained recognition worldwide due to its trade and strong economic potential. During the First Opium War, a victory of the British over China forced China to open its foreign trade. The subsequent treaty of Nanking and the treaty of Whampoa allowed Shanghai to spread its trade all over the world. Shanghai is home to the Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the largest stock exchanges in the world by Market Capitalization. Additionally, Shanghai has numerous Industrial, Economic, and Technological zones.
World’s Fourth Largest City – Sao Paolo, Brazil
Sao Paolo grew from the seventh largest population in 2011 to the 4th largest today. Sao Paulo is also known as Alpha City. It is the largest city in Brazil. The city has a strong influence in arts, finance, commerce and entertainment. Current population is about 21.9 million residents. It is the largest city in Brazil, and is named to honor Saint Paul. It has one of the largest helicopter fleets in the world. Sao Paulo is famous for its majestic skyscrapers.
World’s Fifth Largest City – Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is home to around 21.7 million people and they live over 2,137Km square area. The rate of population growth is lower compared to New Delhi at 0.6% annually. Mexico City is the fifth largest city in the world.
World’s Sixth Largest City – Cairo, Egypt
Cairo has a population of about 20.5 million residents.
World’s Seventh Largest City – Dhaka, Bangladesh
Dhaka is the seventh largest city in the world. It has been a commercial center since the 17th century. With a population of 20.2 million (from 13.5 a decade ago!). Dhaka is considered one of the most important cities of South Asia.
World’s Eighth Largest City – Mumbai, India
Mumbai has 20.1 million residents. It is the wealthiest city in India with more billionaires and millionaires than all the other cities of India combined. Mumbai is home to several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Elephanta Caves, Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus, the city’s distinctive ensemble of Victory and Art Deco Buildings. Mumbai is the commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India and has several financial institutions such as RBI, the Bombay Stock Exchange, National Stock Exchange, And SEBI. Mumbai used to be known as Bombay.It is the entertainment capital of India, home to Bollywood and many architectural wonders.
World’s Ninth Largest City – Beijing, China
Back in 2011, Beijing was the 3rd largest city. Today in 2019 with a population of approximately 20 million it has dropped to the 9th largest cities in the world. Beijing is an important city in terms of business, politics, education, finance, economy, culture. Beijing is a megacity. It is home to the headquarters of China’s state-owned companies. It is also a major hub for the national highway, expressway, and high-speed rail networks. Beijing International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world. Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage sites – Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, Great Canal, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian.
World’s Tenth Largest City – Osaka, Japan
Osaka is home to around 19.2 million people in 2019. That number is growing by about 0.04 percent yearly, The total area of Osaka is mere 2,720 Km square and that means the city is pretty crowded. Osaka is 10th in the list of largest cities in the world.
After I had climbed the heavenly mountain in Shangxi, I left from Tai Shan a changed man. Looking back, I can see that there was something different about me – before I had been lost, but now I was simply wandering. My next destination was to be Xi’an – I wanted to see the famous Terra Cotta Army. It was a long trip and midway through – I saw a white guy getting on the train. He was quite obviously another backpacker and so we smiled and nodded at one another, sat near each other and struck up a conversation. Where I had just come from climbing Tai Shan, he had just come from climbing Tian Shan (I think). In any event we’d just both climbed up separate holy mountains and had come from different directions to the same crossroads heading to Xi’an to see the Terra Cotta Warriors. We were instant best mates.
Johnny was English and I was American – he came from a wealthy life of privilege and I was a homeless guy – it didn’t matter. We were fellow backpackers on a steam train in China drinking cheap Chinese whiskey. In Xi’an we checked into a hostel and met two lovely English girls who also wanted to go see the Terra Cotta Army. We all went to get a meal in the cafe next door ‘Genghis Kane’s Cafe’ and met up with another English backpacker, Keith (who had just sold his house and was traveling around the world) and a burned out German English teacher named Sasha. We all set off as a group and seeing the organized tour groups all wearing similar hats or armbands, we decided to make fun of them by all buying identical yellow Chinese hats – moving forward we were the yellow hat gang.
I was glad to have the company as Xi’an was a tourist zoo even back in 2001. After the clean air and natural beauty of Shandong, it was a totally different environment. At the time, I remember thinking ‘This place feels evil and grey’. Even so, the company was very good and the terracotta warriors were astounding to behold.
From Xi’an, Sasha was going back to work at a school in Northern China where he claimed to be a virtual slave and the girls and Johnny were heading to Tibet. Keith and I were more interested in seeing the pandas in Chengdu and eating true Szechuen hot pot. We discussed taking a boat trip down the 7-rivers gorge to see it before it was flooded and would disappear forever – but for some reason didn’t. It’s a decision I regret (as was not goint to Tibet) but which at the time made sense because I didn’t want to run out of money and was trying to be careful with my planning.
From Chengdu, Keith and I were going to meet up with Johnny again in Kunming, get visas that would allow us to enter Laos from the land crossing, and then move onward to new adventures in a new country. Our designated meeting spot was an astoundingly cool hostel called ‘The Hump Over the Himalayas” where I made friends with a wide variety of Chinese, Israeli, European, and Australian backpackers, punk rockers, rappers, and more. I’ll save that for another flashback.
And, as you can see in this photo sequence (above) …by the time I reached Chengdu, I was no longer a homeless guy wandering around China – I’d more or less turned into a 20-something backpacker from the Pacific Northwest. Looking at the transition now – nearly twenty years later – it’s an astonishing transformation and I can’t help wondering what might have happened if I would have stayed in the USA and never gone to see the world.
One of the young artists I met in Beijing had told me that there was a legend that anyone who climbed the Great Wall of China would be a hero. I’d been planning on climbing it anyway – but that just made it better. After that I spent three days exploring Beijing but then I actually had something that I had come to China wanting to do…
I don’t remember how I heard about Tai Shan (Mt. Tai) but back when I had been freezing in my VW Van in Seattle’s winter – I had somehow got it into my head that I was going to go to China and climb the Sacred Taoist mountain, Tai Shan. And so I found a train and set out.
Shandong Province, where Mt. Tai and the city of Taishan are is Southeast of Beijing. Traditionally, the province is known for being the place where the Yellow River empties into the sea and as the birth place of Confucius. It is also famous for Tai Shan which is one of the ‘Great Five’ mountains of China – the others being Heng Shan, Song Shan, Heng Shan, and Hua Shan. Each of them represent a direction – Tai Shan is East.
Tai Shan is also the holiest. It was climbed by every emporor, Mao, Confucius and famous writers. The legend I was told was that if you climb Tai Shan, then you will live to be 101 years old. Over 6 million people per year go to the peak of Tai Shan, but the majority of them take cable cars. There were no cable cars when I visited – and I wouldn’t have taken one anyway. Tai Shan is sacred to Buddhists and Taoists both.
Over thousands of years the 4,630 foot peak (1545 meters) has been scaled so many times that today there are 6660 steps which lead to the summit. At the bottom there are temples in the village of Tianwei, where one should pay respects to the gods before beginning. I prayed with many older people at the Dai Temple.
My fellow pilgrims included many older people, and amazing group of nurses, an army officer with a lame foot on crutches, and many others. We were all there to climb Tai Shan. There was a comaraderie among us – I felt it even as I wondered how some of them would possibly make it to the top.
I had take the train to Taishan from Beijing. On board I met a young student who offered to let me stay at his house. I declined because I wanted to get an early start and had already figured out that if I were a guest, it probably involved some obligatory drinking. Instead, I had taken a hotel room for two nights so I would have a safe place to leave my rucksack. There was lodging available at the top of Taishan in the monastary, which I wish I had taken advantage of – but my plan was to make it a day trip.
The path up the mountain is not a wild path. Huge characters had been carved into the mountain at every turn. Each natural feature had been sculpted for thousands of years. I moved up the mountain quickly, but not as quickly as the vendors who carried heavy burdens even balanced on the ends of poles that rested on their shoulders. At each resting point, vendors were selling water, snacks, trinkets, souvenirs. At the midpoint, the Midway Gate to the Temple of Heaven, there was a veritable bazaar.
I was the only white person I saw that day. At that time, Americans were still a rarity in China and for many of the Chinese I encountered, I was the first white person they had ever seen. I heard the term ‘laowei’ many times and was greeted and smiled at by nearly everyone. When I reached the top, I rested before crossing under the Gate to Heaven. The Chinese who came after me all smiled, shook my hand, congratulated me, and I could tell they felt proud of me – I was their ‘laowei’ by virtue of the journey we had made together. Laowei means white ghost and was a term I heard used for me over and over again during my time in China.
On the top, I found what can only be described as a village. I ate noodles, I prayed in a Taoist temple, I drank a beer. After several hours, I was resting near the top of the stairs and watched with pride as the crippled Army soldier hobbled through the gate of the Temple of Heaven. We acknowledged our shared accomplishment with a smile and a salute.
The journey down was fast but more exhausting. I really wish I would have stayed on top – but there is no going backwards. At the bottom, I bought some trinkets as souvenirs from vendors selling old things – a belt of turtles carved of stone, a box made of bone, and three silver Chinese coins.
In the village, I ate a meal that I didn’t know the name of and drank a Tsingtao (also from the same province). I would live to be 101 and would become a hero. I was no longer feeling like a homeless guy from Seattle in China– I decided to cleam myself up a little. Something changed in me on that day and I’ve never been the same since. I am fully confident that I actually will live to be 101 years old. I have also carried a strange certainty that the crippled soldier and I will someday cross paths again.
Back in 2000, just when the dot-com crash was happening – I quit my job at a company called Tech Planet, bought a VW van for $150, moved out of my house, and decided to write a book about how to live without being a wage slave. Eventually, that book turned into Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagobond. The Portland Mercury wrote my favorite review of it in which they actually compared me to one of my literary heroes – Jack Keroac. All of that however, came later. By the end of 2000, I was growing increasingly tired of living in a van in Seattle rain and was looking at options of either driving south to Mexico or finding some other way to stay warm without being a wage slave. My brother, trying to explain why I should be grateful to live in the USA, said something like “You should see how people in China live…” which I took completely the wrong way. I decided to go to China. There was one problem – I was a homeless guy without any money…so I took my last $100 and went to one of the Native American casinos along I-5 – I knew I would win. I put my money in a slot machine and won closet to $1500. Next I bought a ticket to Beijing. Then I went back to the casino and won another $2000 on the same slot machine! That’s how my international travel started.
I parked my VW van in my mom’s backyard and then hitch hiked back to Seattle. My friends dropped me off. I went through customs and was on my way. There was a connecting flight in Vancouver, British Columbia. When we landed, I had to run through the Vancouver airport to make my flight – as I ran, I saw TV’s playing footage of the huge Nisqually earthquake that had hit Seattle Tacoma International Airport – the same airport I’d just left. These were early days in the internet – I didn’t have a smart phone (no one did) and I didn’t have a laptop or access to the web. It would be days before I found out the details of the quake because I would have to get to China, find an internet cafe or English language newspaper, and frankly, I had more pressing concerns. I hadn’t made any arrangements for where I would stay or what I would be doing in China.
I didn’t have any credit cards, hotel reservations, or anything else. I’d bought a Lonely Planet China Guidebook the day before in Seattle. Essentially, I was a scrungy 29-year-old homeless guy who arrived in the Beijing Airport without a clue. It was awesome. I had astounding culture shock. I had about $1500 in US currency – I changed $500 over to Chinese Yuan, figured out how to get on and pay for a bus and decided I would get off at the twelfth stop. No reason.
Very few Chinese seemed to speak English and I didn’t speak any Mandarin. I got off at the 12th stop and with the help of a friendly Chinese workman who spoke no English managed to figure out where I was using street signs and the Lonely Planet maps. There was a hotel nearby and I managed to find it, paid two nights rent, and locked myself in my room with the snacks I’d bought along the way. For two days I crammed Mandarin learning some basic phrases, directions, etc – I used the Lonely Planet to figure out what I wanted to do in China, and I slept off my jetlag.
When I emerged two days later, I was ready to climb the Great Wall of China, visit Tiannamen Square, and visit the Forbidden City. I had also located a fun sounding backpacker’s hostel and some internet cafes. I was ready for China. I had one month before my return flight to Seattle and my visa expiration date – but I already knew that I was going to burn that flight and stay in Asia for a while.
Tomorrow for Slideshow Saturday – I’ll share some of the pictures I took of those first days in China – climbing the wall at Badaling, the Forbidden City, and Tiannaman Square. These were film days – so I don’t have hundreds of shots – still, it’s fun to finally share them.