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Myths and Misconceptions about Traveling in China

Notions about travel in China - and why some of them are true

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We had our Heading to China party (aka Going Away) in San Francisco in 2003 at a restaurant called Shanghai 1931. At least five people said "good luck in Singapore!" China wasn't quite on the radar then and even though it's gained some clout, there are a lot of people who just don't quite know how things will be when they get here. Nothing wrong with that - that's why we travel, right? To find out just how life works on the other side of the world? But travel to China can be daunting and there are a lot of preconceived notions about it. I discuss some of the big ones below.

1. It's polluted everywhere you go

© 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.

Lots of places are polluted in China, it's true. But lots of places aren't. Hopefully you'll be able to get out of the big cities and see some of the less and non-polluted parts of the country. And hopefully, as China grows and invests more in green energy, the polluted places will become less so.

I spent four days in Yunnan province and as soon as we left Kunming - where the exhaust coming out of the big blue trucks was visible - and got into the countryside, we enjoyed incredibly blue skies, greenery and amazing light. But I've also cut a trip short to Pingyao in Shanxi Province because the air was so heavy with coal dust.

Read more about Pollution in China. Now read more about the stunning blue skies and scenery in Yunnan Province.

2. There is nothing of old China left to see

Photo by Christoph Pamberg. All Rights Reserved.

This notion always strikes me as funny. And I often use the Great Wall as a perfect example of old China. Within a few hours drive of each other, you can visit two sections of the Great Wall that are completely different. Hike from Jinshanling to Simitai on the crumbling remnants of the Ming-era Wall. Drive a few hours away and you can visit the twentieth-century restoration of the Wall at Badaling. Keep in mind, either place you are stepping on a remnant of something that was conceived under Qin Shi-Huang, the first emperor of China and then built upon and renewed through the Ming Dynasty. Is that not old enough?

I think what people are looking for here is actually the conception of what China used to look like, men wearing queues, women in flowing robes and bound feet. They want to see cobbled streets and barefoot men pulling rickshaws. Yes, that part of Old China is gone. But that doesn't mean ancient cities aren't still around and you can certainly step back in time by visiting places like Xizhou, Lijiang or even Suzhou.

All this said, the Cultural Revolution did serious damage to the country's psyche and its perception of its past. Many historic and cultural relics were lost during this time and that is quite a shame. But considering the movement and how broad it was, it is also amazing at what did survive. And you can still appreciate much that is cultural and historic.

Old China can be found at the following places:

3. The toilets will be disgusting

© 2008 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com, Inc

Twenty years ago this was probably true. When I first came to China, almost a decade ago, I could find plenty of toilets that fit this description. But China is developing on an unprecedented pace and I'm happy to report that this development trickles down to the toilets.

This notion might be mixing up squat toilets with disgusting toilets. I've seen some pretty nasty sit-down commodes in Western countries and I've experienced pristine squat-style in China.

Read more about Squat Toilets in China.

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