My passport with its shiny new Chinese visa arrived today, so now I have to put away the fantasy that I have unlimited time before my trip and actually begin to worry about things like Internet access, avoiding tap water and learning how to say something other than ‘thank you’ and ‘I am lost’ in Mandarin. While I hope that I will have abundant opportunity to use the first phrase and no opportunity to use the second, I am honest enough to realize that ‘no’ and ‘I need a doctor’ might also be useful phrases.
The two things I really wanted to do were to see the Great Wall in some form, and tour the Forbidden City. I have already booked those and now have nothing left but to worry.
So with that visa staring me in the face – though not really staring, since they didn’t even use the photo that they required, a 2×2 filter-free, poorly-lighted kick to my 52-year-old ego that is probably providing endless entertainment to the Chinese consulate as we speak – I am on the verge of feeling completely overwhelmed.
I realize that things have changed a lot since 1932, and I am not expecting a trip on the Shanghai Express with the Last Emperor. To avoid Big Trouble in Little China, I beg for three things:
Please, let there be pictures.
I could not convince any friends that this was a good idea, so I am traveling alone. I have traveled to places where I don’t speak the language, but I was younger then and the language that I didn’t speak at least used the Western alphabet. I am still unable to recognize – without prompting – the Chinese character for ‘MEN’ that may prove extremely useful when trying to decide where to take an immediately necessary, impromptu bathroom break, so I am going to believe that there will be people there of a clearly recognizable gender who I can follow… or that there will be pictures… and that no wayward culinary choice based on a picture will necessitate a snap gender determination.
Please, let Google maps work.
The one bit of extensive research I have done is to locate and save all the Starbucks within what appears to me to be a reasonable walking distance from my hotel, as well as every restaurant for which I have read an even marginally good review that included the words ‘English menu’. I doubt that I could exist for five days on skinny vanilla latte, but at least I know where to get one. And Peking duck. At least according to Google maps.
And yes, I have been that person holding their phone out in front of them, walking along and gently waving their hand to and fro to make the little arrow point in the direction that they want to go. Don’t be a hater.
Please, don’t let me embarrass myself.
Deep in my heart I know that no one is really paying that much attention. But I have indulged in too much schadenfreude to believe that no one is paying any attention. So after doing a little reading, I have a list of don’ts.
1. Do not point the bottoms of your feet at anyone while seated – this one should be pretty easy.
2. Do not touch anyone unless you absolutely have to – I hadn’t really planned on doing that, but being from the South, I am a little unconsciously touchy-feely from time to time.
3. Do not lose your temper. This leads to a loss of face and damage to your personal image and reputation and is going to be a hard one.