Sunday

Traveling in China on national holidays is a journey I’d rather avoid at all costs

Shanghai’s Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street has always been one of the most popular destinations during national holidays. — IC

Shanghai’s Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street has always been one of the most popular destinations during national holidays. — IC

THE National Day holiday is upon us, and you can bet your bottom dollar that right now there are millions pulling their hair out across China.

Lining up, getting tables, securing tickets, sitting in traffic jams and everything else is usually difficult enough at the best of times, but couple that with hundreds of millions of your fellow countrymen trying to travel at the same time as you and, well, you know where I’m going.

Basically, for me at least, it’s the stuff of nightmares.

But it really is a double-edged sword. When people ask me, “What’s your favorite thing about China?” my reply is always China’s renao (it’s hard to translate this word into English, but basically it means busy, bustling, noisy human activity). Imagine your family’s Christmas party, with uncle Margie and her kids, uncle Tom and his kids, as well as all your siblings and their partners and kids — plus their cats and dogs — and that would be renao.

But my problem is, whenever anyone asks me what I hate about the ongoing weeklong holiday, my answer is still, you guessed it, renao.

Another term, jisile (crowded to death), comes to mind, and a famous Chinese idiom, renshanrenhai (people mountain, people sea), which literally means a crap load of people.

And that’s exactly what you’re going to get when you try to go traveling in China during a national holiday.

You may be lucky with buying train or plane tickets and booking hotel rooms at a reasonable price if you get in quick enough, but the fact of the matter is that you’re going to be seriously stymied as soon as you try to get to and from the airport or train station, whenever you try to eat or drink anything and, perhaps worst of all, when you head along to the tourist spots at your destination.

It’s to be expected in the world’s most populous nation, but I would truly rather avoid getting in that predicament at all costs.

The problem is — if I can use another idiom — man is not an island, or something like that, which simply means that I’m not the only factor in this decision. Unfortunately.

Firstly, there’s this little thing called bosses, and they’re usually not so keen to let you just take time off, outside of scheduled holiday times, just because you want to go away when things are relatively quiet. (They’re sometimes not even willing to let you off during those holidays, but that’s another story!)

Then there’s the matter of friends, those pesky people you might want to go traveling with for a few days and who, perhaps not surprisingly, are also stuck in this never-ending cycle of holiday times which, again not surprisingly, are perfectly in sync with hundreds of millions of others.

So basically, to put it bluntly, the cards are not stacked in our favor.

This is just one of the factors I’ve had to get used to when living in China: the unimaginable and insurmountable amount of people that are all trying to do the same things as you, at exactly the same time.

It can be annoying when that means your time off is filled with waiting in lines and battling against that mountain and sea of people.

But you’ve got to take the bad with the good, and there’s a lot of good that comes from being around people all the time.

It’s great for your spirits when there is always something happening, on every single corner. That’s the renao that I love, and it’s really not something I was used to before.

So, I’m trying — really I am — to relax and accept that traveling will be a bit slower in China during national holidays. It’s still my worst nightmare but I’m working on changing that because, after all, life is what you make of it, and I’ve chosen China as my new home. Like I said, the good and the bad.

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