Hiking in China: 7 Habits of the Modern Day Chinese Traveler

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J and I were descending one of China’s greatest treasures: the National Park of Zhangjiajie.

Every corner we rounded presented us with a new jaw-dropping landscape of carved sandstone valleys poking through a sea of lush green trees. J and I took a deep breath, inhaled the clean air of the countryside and lost ourselves in the sea of clouds swirling in between the mountains.

That is, until Avicii arrived. You know, the Swedish DJ. The Chinese tourist who came bouncing down the trail behind us was blasting him full volume from his iPhone speaker.

Now, I have nothing against Avicii, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of music I imagine when hiking down one of China’s most treasured valleys. This Chinese tourist didn’t stop his playlist at Avicii–oh no–we heard Calvin Harris, Rihanna, some Selena Gomez and even Justin Bieber.

After 20 minutes, J lost it.

“Excuse me,” she walked up to him and spoke to him in near perfect Chinese.

“Your music is not appropriate for the scenery and it’s causing a disturbance to myself and the other travelers. I think you should shut off that crap and appreciate the beauty of your country around you.”

His jaw dropped.

He shut off his music.

J pierced into his dumbfounded eyes.

He stepped back and cried,

“wow, your Chinese is AMAZING!”

While he totally missed the point, we were able to hike the rest of the mountain without club music. At least, for a little while.

This was only one of many delightful “habits” we faced when hiking with fellow Chinese travelers.

When hiking with Chinese tourists in China, one is bound to put up with enjoy one of these five lovely habits:

1. Shouting and Screaming.  Without end.
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Imagine the echos this view makes

Chinese people scream and shout on mountains. That’s just how it is. One scream prompts another scream and pretty soon the whole mountain sounds like a banshee.

I’ve lived in China for five years total and I still can’t figure out why they have to shout their lungs out on a mountaintop.

Maybe they get a kick out of the echo it makes. Maybe they feel like they’re on top of the world and want everyone to know it. Maybe they’re tired and want to vent their frustrations.

Either way, it drives me crazy. J and I were greeted to these lovely echoes and screams on almost every trail in Zhangjiajie, and we wondered what would happen if someone ACTUALLY screamed for help on the mountain.

Oh well.

2. Boombox on the Mountain
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Imagine this view to Avici’s “Titanium” song. Fitting, no?

Chinese people love to blast music on their iphone speakers. J and I did not hike Zhangjiajie in the silent serenity of nature—oh no. We had the Frozen song “let it go” as the OST to one of our treks, Avicii on another (as mentioned above), and of course Taylor Swift and other American pop hits following us on almost every trail.

Whenever I’ve gone hiking in China someone is always bound to be blasting music. If you’re climbing a mountain in China, get ready for some noise.

3. Smoking.  Everywhere.

Is it just me, or is China the only place in the world where national parks have multiple designated smoking spots on almost every trail?

I was alarmed at the number of people smoking AND hiking (actually, I was kind of impressed). J and I were constantly waving away the stench of smoke and stepping over cigarette butts that people casually tossed onto the national park grounds.

One man was even smoking ON THE BUS. J stormed up to him and commanded that he immediately stop smoking, or she was going to give him the smack down.

He put out his cigarette.

4. Littering
Jonathan Kos-Read Trash via photopin (license)

Jonathan Kos-Read Trash via photopin (license)

China has more garbage cans readily available than any other country I’ve been in—yet the littering problem is enormous.

J and I saw a middle-aged Chinese woman throw an empty yogurt bottle into this lake.

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When the lake resembles a mirror, that means don’t throw garbage in it

Seriously? I know that the previous generation wasn’t trained in social graces, but this is a bit much. I feel like it’s common sense not to poison or litter an area as beautiful as this.

J and I saw so much garbage scattered throughout all of the national parks, our hearts were broken by the end of the journey. I really hope the younger Chinese are more respectful of the environment and learns to preserve these natural treasures for future generations to come.

5. Loud, loud, loud voices
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This was a loud photo. Trust me.

J was paces ahead of me. I couldn’t catch up. I was weaving through the tourists, wondering why J was in such a rush to reach the end of the trail. The nature around us was lush and gorgeous, yet she was on a mad dash to reach the finish line. When I finally sprinted ahead to catch up with her, I asked.

“Are you worried about time?”

“No, sorry Mary,” J sighed.

“I just can’t stand the ayis (old ladies) behind us shouting and blabbering.”

It was then I realized that we were surrounded by screaming (yes, screaming) and shouting middle aged ladies talking about god-knows-what. It was difficult to hear myself think. If I wasn’t surrounded by screaming old ladies, then I was being blasted by the megaphone of a tour guide addressing a herd of tourists. Totally took the tranquility out of nature.

Luckily Zhangjiajie wasn’t too crowded, so our fast pace helped us outrun the tour group where we were able to find (some) peace and quiet.

6. Spitting

Yeah, yeah, I’m sure most of us who have been in China know about the spitting–but I still can’t get used to it.

J had a front row view of an older man swirl a loogie in his mouth, accumulate foam, then hurl the yellow blob onto the floor with a deep throated snort. She almost threw up her lunch in response.

7. Shoving
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J and I were about to board the public bus, and like good foreigners we tried to queue.

Bad idea.

Three older women literally pushed a mother and two children to the ground to grab the last three seats on the bus. Screaming and shouting ensued, but in the end, the three older women got on the bus and the mother and her two children were left in the dust of the bus that sped away.

Basically, to get anywhere in China, you have to shove. I hate being shoved and I hate shoving, but it’s survival of the fittest here. Very tiring.

As I observed the habits of the local tourists, I had an epiphany:

Chinese people really dislike silence.

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This is the kind of ‘re nao’ I like

China is a society that values 热闹 (re nao), which literally means hot noise. The definition of ‘re nao’ is loud, energetic, vibrant, vivacious… it’s the noise of peopled gathered together, talking enthusiastically, eating, being alive to the fullest. It’s a trait of the Chinese I love, but it’s also a double-edged sword. During the holidays and at parties, being re nao is awesome, good fun–but it can also grate your nerves when you’re looking to relax. Anywhere.

Chinese people scream on mountains, shout at each other, talk in loud voices and constantly eat and snack (and thus litter) because that’s their idea of a good time. Keeping the spirit of “re nao,” even outside of the home, is a natural trait of the Chinese.

It’s been a few years since I’ve lived or traveled in China, and to be honest the seven traits above wore me out on my most recent journey… especially the pushing, shoving, and loud voices. It was hard to find a moment of peace almost anywhere (even in one of China’s most beautiful national parks during low season), and to be honest it was quite exhausting.

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Find inner peace, like this butterfly

So next time you’re traveling in China, mentally prepare yourself for the above. It will happen, but how you handle it is up to you. I suggest learning a few phrases in Chinese (like stop smoking or please be quiet) and do what J did. Many Chinese don’t know what they’re doing is a nuisance to others, and when told to stop they usually do.

Despite the above, traveling Zhangjiajie was totally worth it and, though I was worn to the bone, I have no regrets.

No pain (spitting, shoving, smoking, littering), no gain (gazing upon this).

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Have you had any experience with Chinese tourists? Do you have any habits to add to the above?

15 thoughts on “Hiking in China: 7 Habits of the Modern Day Chinese Traveler

  1. autumnashbough says:

    Good God, that’s my idea of hell. Seriously. I hate the crowds at Disneyland, but one sort of expects the horror. But a National Park?! Hats off to J for letting Mr. Avicii have it.

    This is a fantastic post, though, for travelers heading to China. They’d better be prepared with earplugs and elbows.

    I appreciate the explanation of re nao, though. It’s helpful to understand that what one culture finds irritating, another find exhilarating.

    But the littering? Ugh.

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Now imagine Disneyland… in China. That’s exactly why I never want to go to Shanghai Disneyland, haha. It would be Dante’s 7th level of hell for me.

      China has a lot of gorgeous nature/scenery, but man, do you really have to fight for it…!!

      When I complain about this stuff my Chinese friends tell me that Chinese people were not educated to protect the environment or care for your fellow man, but good lord… when are they going to learn…? And I fail to see the newer generation improving, especially with my current housing situation where I have lived with over 5 Chinese people in 2 months in my shared dorm (my graduate housing might as well be a Chinese hostel). Sheesh man, no respect! I hate to be racist (especially when my fiancee is Chinese, oh the irony…) but it’s so, so hard. Oh god China, please improve!

      Littering really, really broke my heart. Sniff. China is already being polluted to death, at least try to keep the national parks pristine…!!!

  2. Monica says:

    Honestly I read a book by a guy who visited China and experienced a lot of things like this and now I have no desire to visit. It’s terrible that nature can’t just be enjoyed and preserved. I can’t believe they allow smoking in a park like that. (By the way, Avicii is Swedish.)

    • rubymary says:
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      Oh is he Swedish!? Ok, I’ll fix that, thank you 😉

      I think Tibet would probably be a good place to visit. I imagine Tibetans have better manners because their culture wasn’t destroyed by the cultural revolution, they were only conquered by communist China and didn’t have to suffer through cultural eradication. Now, the Chinese government preserves their culture for the purpose of tourism (at least, that’s my theory)… so, I imagine Tibet is a more “genuine” place to go.

      Surprisingly, the locals that lived in Zhangjiajie (not the tourists) were SO NICE. Their town was very clean and they were extremely helpful to us. It was the out-of-towners that were really awful and showed no respect for the land of the locals or other travelers.

  3. Todd Van Horne says:

    When I was in China, the spitting and pushing drove me NUTS! I also got really tired of people posing next to me without a word so their friend could take a picture.

    A lot of the pointing at the foreigner could be a part of reng nao, I suppose–it’s good to hear about that facet of their culture.

    So interesting that ‘virtuous’ behavior in China and Japan seem to be polar opposites!

    When I was visiting Yellowstone, a Chinese tourist asked me to move from where I was viewing some of the terraces so he could have a picture of himself with no one else in it. I figured that everyone in his group would expect the same treatment, one by one, so I said no.

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Hahahaha I’m studying in the library and your comment almost made me burst out laughing. I would have LOVED to be in your shoes and tell that guy “no” right to his face. You made the right decision!

      Traveling in Japan is GREAT. The only downside of Japan is you start to become too considerate of others and you start inconveniencing yourself more than necessary. Even in the USA other hikers are generally quiet and friendly and respect of the land. I need to write a post about the fundamental difference between Chinese and Japanese people, which is basically their stance toward the ‘other person.’ Japan always has ‘the other’ in mind, while in China it’s all about ‘self.’ I think in the USA we value ‘self’ the most, but we at least pretend to care about ‘the other’ as it is socially unacceptable not to.

      Anyhoo, glad I’m not alone when it comes to the shoving and spitting. I DID hear Japan had quite a few spitters post WWII, but the habit died when the country further developed.

  4. Zhou says:

    Perfect. Just perfect. 100% this post. It’s amazing how easy it is to get so used to living in China that I barely even notice these things in my daily life. Smoking, littering, spitting up massive lung biscuits, non-stop noise, people puking far too much in public, insane driving – all of that is totally normal and fine (I kinda like it – well minus the puking). But somehow, when I stop being a local and start being a tourist in China, all of those things piss me off to no end. It’s Golden Week and I haven’t done one touristy thing because I don’t want to deal with this nonsense.

    Oh, and giant tourist groups with the flags, terrible hats (never green!) and guides screaming into the world’s worst speaker system – I just run away as fast as I can.

    My wife is Chinese but lived in the states for a bit. She is like a foreigner now. Just just wants nature, clean water and air, quiet, and vistas. There is hope!

  5. Cat (talkingofchinese) says:

    Haha I love the reaction “wow, your Chinese is AMAZING” when your friend told him off! I am really intolerant of noise but my Chinese fiance seems to not even notice it – we were eating at a market in Singapore once there was this loudspeaker just above our table playing Chinese opera – I couldn’t hear myself think yet when I mentioned it to him he hadn’t even noticed. While he doesn’t scream and shout, he always likes to have noise in the background (like the TV going) and it drives me crazy!

  6. Lani says:

    Since the b/f lived in the-middle-of-nowhere China for 4+ years, I’ve heard his insane stories, which pretty much echo yours. Like folks throwing trash into this beautiful pristine waterfall – I guess the idea being that public property is no one’s property, the exact opposite of how we view public spaces in the US.

    Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution did more damage than we initially think of, any cultural graces, Confucinism and rich traditions have been destroyed and instead we have modern Chinese chaos and blatent disregard for anything else that is not family or money.

    On a more positive note, the b/f’s Chinese students have always been respectful and kind. He actually has a couple of Chinese students here in Cambodia. He can’t get away from them! 🙂

  7. Marta says:

    I’ve never been in the famous mountains or popular national parks in China. Well, I went to Huangshan once with the Uni but we were there for a very short time and didn’t even climb so I don’t count it. I would like to go to Jiuzhaigou but it seems it’s always crowded…

    I read the blog of a Spanish guy who has lived in Beijing for over 15 years and once he wrote something similar to what you said. I think it was in Zhangjiajie too. It was raining and he said people were wearing those disposable raincoats (more like a huge plastic bag) and then throwing them on the ground before even leaving the park… I think the attitude must be something like “I already saw the park, don’t give a crap about the people behind”. It’s like they don’t even think how their actions can affect others.

    Once I saw a kid throwing a plastic bottle to the sea in Xiamen. I felt like grabbing him and throwing him to the water too. I should have done it. And in my building there is a kid who always throws his ice cream wrapper inside the elevator. The day I catch him, he will eat the wrapper. (I know it’s a boy because the first time this happened I was coming from outside, saw a boy walking out of the building eating an ice cream, and then found the wrapper inside the elevator. Unfortunately I still don’t know which floor he lives in).

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Noooo they just threw the rain coats away? That’s os sad 🙁

      Hahah I would have loved to see you throw him into the sea. That would make a great youtube video 😉

      I think the younger Chinese are getting better about social responsibility, but man, those ayis drive me nuts, man.

  8. Sthitapragnya Deshpande says:

    Reading your page felt like I was hearing myself. I thought we Indians were the loudest people till I came here to China and discovered the pleasures of having someone scream into the phone like he / she distrusted China telecom to do the job / felt like helping enable the sound waves to propagate through the atmosphere

    Now – i just find it amusing. Curiously, I sometimes am now able to turn my hearing off.

    As for the Swedish DJ, you forgot the Youku and Souku DJs who miraculously appear to produce a melody when one travels by train. 40 seats, 40 movies each playign on speakers.

    I am always wonderstruck at
    (a) How China makes the best earphones right here (Sony. Bose, Sennhauser…) yet no one likes to use them and prefers poorer quality noise from their phones
    (b) How people are able to focus and enjoy their film on the tablet while their neighbour plays a different film at top volume simultaneously

    Ah – the wonders of living in a another culture.

    Incidentally, my experience about littering has been different. I had visited the botanical gardens in Xiamen and did not find any litter. Ditto when ambling through the tea gardens at Anxi Fujian (安溪县) – they were always clean with no litter. In fact, the cleanliness in most of the places I visited / stayed in in China was reasonably good though there are an equal number of lanes that are not that clean. But at least they have dustbins…. there are countries where we dont have that!

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      I love your comments! Thank you so much for reading my blog and sharing your experiences.

      Wow maybe Xiamen and Fujian are just cleaner provinces overall? I heard Tsingdao are also quite clean. I think because the places I went were such HUGE tourist attractions they see thousands of people a day and even if just 10% of them littered, it would add up.

      And yes, I love China’s many dustbins. America and Japan definitely need more of that!

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