I Hate Crowds: Travelling in China During National Holidays

I miss that red bag.


I really do hate crowds. Crowds make me want to hit people or queue jump just to escape from the queue (because in China, some queues are so vast and switchbacky that to get out you have to go forward). I don’t like noise. I really like quiet, empty places. People en masse exhaust me.

Case in point, one of my favourite places in the world is the Wahiba Sands in Oman. I went camping there about four years ago during Ramadan, back in the days when I commuted between Dubai and Istanbul (as one does), sleeping on a raised metal platform under the stars, high enough so the scorpions couldn’t bite, with a bare mattress slammed down on the slats. There were shooting stars all night. I was giddy with nearly perfect happiness and oh, let me tell you, I am not someone who is ever giddy and I can rarely be described as perfectly happy. I hover on the edge between frantic and spaced out and veer heavily towards the melancholy.  I have a definite cut-off point for social interaction, and until I started learning the finer points of social graces it used to manifest itself as me freaking out mid-dollhouse-role-play, adamantly insisting that my fellow 5 year old friend(s) must get out of here now. I’m better now. Social graces and all.


Yeah, you saw the sign!


But I still like my quiet, empty places.

And yet. And yet since 1994, I’ve spent 3 years living in London (in a shared house yet! in a shared room! shared with drunken, shagging, e-tripping Antipodeans without a 6am work wakeup call), 6 years in Istanbul, and now nearly two years in Shanghai. Three of the hugest, most crowded cities in the whole world. I’ve learned to deflect the accumulated energies that emanate from the hordes and I’ve learned how to create private spaces out of nothing.  I’ve learned how to travel in China during Golden Week holidays without banging my head against sharply angled concrete surfaces. It’s been quite a while since I’ve kicked a taxi. When we went to the Shanghai Expo, I only smacked one queue jumper with a rolled up magazine. Just one.


40 degree heat, a bazillion percent humidity, over two hours in an unmoving line


But I still don’t like crowds.

And yet, we still went to Chengdu for the National Holiday at the beginning of October, along with approximately 1.6 billion other people. Other Chinese Holiday Excursions have included Hangzhou and Beijing. They were so overpacked that I actually put together thematic photo albums of Other People’s Holiday pictures (see here and here). I simply couldn’t take a picture without another person in the frame.

The first morning in Chengdu, we ventured forth to find the giant statue of Chairman Mao and to maybe find a non-awful coffee somewhere (not a problem, it seems, as even western China now has a bazillion Starbucks everywhere, including right next to the Tibetan Quarter and the Monk Robe Supply  Street).

This is the view from the upstairs seating area in one of the city centre Starbucks.


Oh god, make it stop


And this was in the pretty neighbourhood where we stayed.


Please make this vibrancy stop


And this was the queue to see the Really Giant Buddha at Leshan, a few hours by over crowded bus from Chengdu (we gave up after about 90 minutes after rounding a bend and realizing that what we thought was going to be the end point was really just a pause before the next part of the queue, and then another, and then another. I don’t think it even had a final destination)


This is only the first 25% of queue length


You get the picture.

This is why I have been known to come home on a friday evening and not actually emerge from the flat until monday morning.  Maybe next time we should just pack our bags and head to Kashgar.

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About MaryAnne

I live in Hanoi. I used to live in Shanghai (hence this blog's title) but I left in 2013. I tend to travel. I cook stuff. I read a lot. I try to scare myself silly with regularity. I write about it all. A lot.