IS IT SAFE TO TRAVEL TO CHINA?
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The immediate answer to the question is a forceful YES! While there have been some overblown media instances of allegedly dangerous confrontations between foreigners and Chinese authorities, they should deter no one from journeying to the world’s most populous nation. Celebrated court cases, the so-called ‘trade war’ between the United States and China, warnings from the Canadian Department of External Affairs and the general negative contemporary climate may well have raised worries and concerns. However, they should in no way prevent you from going to China. Following a few commonsense rules that appear below should make China just as safe as virtually any other destination.

The following is a personal example of how perception trumps reality. The reality is travelling to China is safe; the perception is that it is not. It is easy, all too easy, to get sucked into that instance of “false news.” Last July, my wife and I were book to travel to Japan on a glorious twelve-day vacation. The only rub – and it was a big one for my wife – was that we had to fly via Shanghai, China. My wife very nearly nixed the whole vacation as she had visions of landing in a Chinese jail (something she vocalized many times.) I tried to preach logic and reality to her, but she only very reluctantly – and nervously – agreed to go on the trip. Her attitude – and acceptance of the prevailing negative climate – mirrors thousands of others who have gone even further by cancelling planned trips to China.

COMMOM SENSE

So why exactly is it indeed safe to travel to China? The first is that if you exercise even a modicum of common sense, China is flawlessly safe – and indeed, very exciting. Follow the rules, abide by the customs, and arguably most importantly, obey the laws, and your trip will not only be safe, but highly enjoyable. Your Chinese adventure will only turn unsafe if you do something silly and/or illegal. Toe the line and it’s perfectly safe. Fully 9.3 million people visited The Great Wall of China last year. All without incident.  

REALITY VERSUS PERCEPTION

A second reason why it is completely safe to travel was alluded to above. The perceived negative climate is grossly exaggerated. “What people believe to be true is more important than the truth itself.” That is precisely what has occurred with this issue. Largely because of a media whirlwind, (some) people have come to believe that China should be avoided. Nothing could be further from the truth. Travelling to China is perfectly safe. Forget the hyperbole, forget the media frenzy, forget the (mis)perception. Go with the reality – it is perfectly safe to travel to China.

GOVERNMENT VESTED INTEREST

Another reason China is completely safe is that the Chinese government is committed to making China safe for tourists. The men and women within the Chinese government are acutely aware of the revenue available from the tourist trade. In 2016, for example, the most recent year for which statistics were available, travel and tourism generated almost four TRILLION dollars, up 15.2% from the previous year. That represented 2.1% of the huge Chinese GDP (Gross Domestic Product). More than 22 million jobs are dependent on the travel industry. The Chinese government is not about to jeopardize that. 

GUIDED TOURS

A fourth way in which to guarantee that China is entirely safe is to always go with an accredited (TICO) travel agency who will organize that your tour is one hundred percent guided. Go with reputable a reputable company which is sponsored and/endorsed by local Chinese partners. There is strength, security, and safety in travelling in groups. Remember that your tour guide not only speaks the language but also knows the customs and the laws. He/she also knows exactly what to do if something does go wrong. it is only sensible to travel to China with a guided tour. Your will see far more, enjoy far more, and be completely safe. And for goodness sake, stay with the group! 

FINAL TIPS

A fifth strategy to ensure complete safety in China is to do the requisite research prior to departure. Know where you are going, what you are likely to encounter, and any potential areas/problems to be avoided. Knowing what you are likely to encounter will increase both your comfort level as well as your ability to exercise that vital tool, common sense. “Forewarned is forearmed.” Always go with guided tour sponsored by a reputable company. Finally, follow the rules, customs, and most importantly, the laws of the land, and if you don't know something, ask.

FINAL THOUGHTS

What country has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites? China! Fully 55 such sites are locates in China, with nine of them alone being in Beijing. China offers a treasure-trove of fabulous sites from The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square of Beijing, to The Great Wall, to the Terra Cotta Warriors of X’ian, to The Bund in Shanghai. to many, many more. It arguably provides one of the most attractive ‘bang for bucks’ travel destinations available as you can take advantage of really reasonable tour packages to China. So, at the end of the day, use logic, reality, and common sense and understand that China is perfectly safe. And enjoy!


NICK’S TOP FIVE TRAVEL TIPS FOR CHINA
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So you’re off to China! Kudos to you! You are indeed one of the fortunate ones who are in for a real treat. You will get to see the unusual mix of the very old and the very new. You will be exposed to a culture and lifestyle very different than our own. And arguably most importantly, you will see some of the true wonders of the world, including The Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors of X’an, The Forbidden City of Beijing, The Bund in Shanghai, and many others. At the same time, you will be part of the incredible bustle of city markets, the diversity of eating establishments, the serenity of the magnificent temples, and much more besides.  So be prepared to be thoroughly impressed, but not overwhelmed. 


I have been fortunate enough to travel to China three times, and each was different but exciting and educational. The first time I traveled with a Toronto-based organization, ALPHA (The Association for the Learning and Preserving of the History of Asia in the Second World War). We learned about Chinese ‘comfort women,’ the horrendous ‘rape of Nanking,’ and other atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Chinese during World War Two. The second time was probably the most popular river cruise available in China, on the Yangtze River. The last, and most recent, was a visit to Shanghai with its huge population, bustling nightlife, abundance of stores, and incredibly fast trains.


Because China is so very different, it is useful, if not essential, to come prepared and armed with some valuable tips. These now follow, in no particular order.


First, always do your research prior to going to China. What is it what you want to see, how much do you want to pay, how long do you want to be in China, etc. All these questions, and others, can be answered by spending a few hours in front of your computer and/or going to a travel agency. Related to this suggestion, I would also strongly recommend that you take advantage of add-on’s that are offered. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so maximize it by selecting what are the best additional tours that are offered. And I again strongly recommend that you ‘add those ‘add’on’s prior to departure – much easier and convenient that way rather than trying to add them in China and having to deplete your cash supply.


Second, I would suggest that you always bargain with merchants in China. That is particularly the case in markets. There, be prepared to walk away from any proposed ‘deal.’ Guaranteed that the merchant will come down and come after you. Never accept the opening price. Make your first offer VERY low and then bargain from there. In major department stores, this strategy probably will not work.  


While in China, because it is so very different coupled with the fact that the language is a barrier, I would suggest as a third tip to always stay with the group. Not only will you not get lost – something easily done in China – but you will not only increase your safety and comfort, but also your enjoyment. 

Speaking of language, that brings me to my fourth tip. Try to master a few basic terms. The Chinese will love the fact that you are at least making an effort. Here are some of the most basic words and phrases that will come in handy. (in simplified Mandarin):  please (qing), thank you (xie xie), how much is it? (ta duo shaoqian), where is? (zai na li), and hello/good day (ni hao). Trust me, you will get a great deal of mileage out of these few simple phrases, even if your pronunciation leave something to be desired.


My final tip would be to set yourself up for success. How can you do that? One way is by going to China with the proper attitude. Do not expect things to be like ‘back home.’ They’re going to be VERY different. Accept that and be flexible and learn and enjoy in the process. Be adventuresome – eat native and do not go into Starbucks or McDonalds. You can also accomplish that by doing the research prior to departure mentioned above. Further, be curious – ask lots of questions, especially, obviously, of people who have been to China.


You’re going to have a wonderful time in China. After all, you picked it – and it’s got a lot going for it! Follow these five tips above and that wonderful time will be transformed into a phenomenal time, truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


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