How to Get Lost in China

China's hills: picturesque but identical

Part 1: Fascination. Although fascination is also the first stage of culture shock, it can get you seriously lost if you’re not careful. In many tourist cities and downtown areas all over China, bright neon signs and market stalls are a staple. However, as neat as that bright neon alley is, full of stalls selling multitudes of Chinese goods, it will only lead to another neon filled alley way, which will inevitably lead to yet another, and another; I think you get the picture. While this may not seem problematic to the adventurous explorer, the persistence of the Chinese stall keepers to try to sell you items you could never possibly need, and in broken English nonetheless, gets quite wearisome. This will eventually lead one to try and find their way back to the refuge of their hostel. Unfortunately English will get you nowhere, especially as a stall keeper’s vocabulary is limited to “Wallet? Belt? T-shirt? Good price for you!” As a side note when they say those infamous words don’t believe it; a good rule of thumb is to haggle until they say "but then I make no money.” 

Back to the point. My friend and I got lost several times during our first week in Yangshuo [ed. in Guangxi Province, in southern China]. We were both in China for the first time undergoing an orientation week before starting to teach English as a Second Language to young learners. The first time we went downtown we got carried away ogling over the luxurious silk scarves and neat trinkets instead of paying attention to where we were going. Eventually we found ourselves down some dirty and sketchy alley way at 9:00pm, which is really dark in most of China, all that neon notwithstanding! We wandered around for an hour trying to find West Street. That didn’t happen, but we did find a river and a very succulent looking gelato stall.

Part 2: Frustration. I should probably mention that Yangshuo is surrounded by identical hilly masses that, while picturesque, don't really help when you're trying to find your bearings. So it’s not that we’re horrible with directions, just that the hill we picked out to mark our course home turned out to look like all the other ones. Frustration set in and as much as I liked to think that the lumpy green hill in front of us wasn’t the same lumpy green hill we'd passed 15 minutes earlier, it probably was, even though we really had no way of knowing.

We continued walking along down the winding streets, wandering helplessly and trying to avoid being run over by rampant motorbikes. Eventually we reached a street that had no lights, no cars and no people. It wasn’t the type of place you wanted to be when it was pitch black out and you don’t speak the local language! 

see url Part 3: Salvation. Further down the abandoned road a blinding light shone from the top of one of the hills. At night time huge spotlights are shone onto the hillsides which host pagodas at their peaks. It creates an eerie mist that makes you feel as if you’re a part of something celestial and surreal. The foreign nature of the culture and the fatigue from being disoriented helped heighten this feeling immensely. Suddenly I recognized a pagoda atop one of the karst hills. Wasn’t this the pagoda we’d climbed up to on a previous morning to see a stunning panoramic view of the city? It was indeed!

Following the lit up pagodas we realized we were merely a five minute walk away from the main park where, in the mornings, you will see elder men and women practising Tai Chi as the sun rises. At night, however, it is barren. From the park we found our way home - just another ten minute walk!. We even returned in time to share a beer, some watermelon and stories with the other teachers in our group and some locals.

About the Author

Jessica Petz had spent two years living and travelling abroad in Asia and Latin America. She has collected many interesting stories, fond memories and wonderful friends. She is currently 23 years old and is living in Leogane, Haiti doing disaster response aid work.

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 Full name: People's Republic of China

 Population: 1.34 billion (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Beijing

 Largest city: Urban Shanghai (by population)

 Area: 9.6 million (3.7 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Mandarin, Cantonese,  Other

 Major religions: Taoist, Buddhist, Christian  Muslim

 Monetary unit: Renminbi Yuan

 GDP per capita: US $8,400

 Internet domain: .cn

 International dialling code: +86

 Source: CIA World Factbook