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Asia

Female Traveler in Beijing

It’s dark. I’m alone. I’m a foreigner, and I’m a woman. I’m walking down the alleys of Beijing with no other person in sight. I’m heading back to my dorm, with my street food in hand, and my purse bumping against the front of my body to dissuade pickpockets. Then, I hear a muffled cough behind me. I look over my shoulder to see the silhouette of a slender man walking my direction. When I turn to look in front of me, I see three more men standing, blocking my path in front of me. I look closer and see evil grins plastered on their faces. Then, I wake up. It’s not real.

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Looking out over Beijing

Photo credit: Jessie Z.

Come on. You should’ve known I was lying when I said there was no other person in sight. No people in Beijing? Bahaha. Not possible.

Moral of the story, being a female foreigner in Beijing is actually pretty easy and safe.

SAFETY:
In my experience, Beijing is a very safe city for female foreigners. First of all, the violent crime rate in Beijing is MUCH lower than large American cities. Guns are illegal here, and punishments for crimes tend to be more severe than those in the US. Also, there are people everywhere, so it’s hard to commit a crime without witnesses! So, even though Beijing has almost 5 million more people than New York, it is MUCH safer.

I whole-heartedly believe that safety while traveling is 75% common sense and 25% luck.
So just be smart, like you would in an American city, and you’ll be fine.

MODESTY:
Chinese modesty standards are quite a bit stricter than Western styles (surprise, surprise). As a foreign female, you will already draw attention because of your different skin color and body shape. While young, Chinese women do not think twice about wearing a pair of super short shorts, they rarely show off cleavage. Their necklines do not usually drop more than a few inches from their neck, and their straps are usually thicker, i.e. no camisoles in public. This means larger chested foreigners who show off their cleavage will get double the attention, and it’s not good attention. Female foreigners are already seen as symbols of easy sex, thanks to Hollywood, so COVER ‘EM UP, ladies!

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Backpacking through Chinese subways

ATTENTION FROM MEN:
In the US and in the Latin American countries I’ve visited, many men are very direct in checking women out, even calling out for them or grabbing them. Especially in foreign countries, this can make female travelers feel targeted and uncomfortable. HOWEVER, Chinese men are generally NOT like this.

Overall, Chinese men are more shy and respectful towards women. The only uncomfortable attention I’ve received from Chinese men is from a few middle-aged men who are seemingly eager to practice English or show off a young, female, foreign friend. Don’t give them your number if you are uncomfortable. In my experience, they will respect you and leave you alone (and possibly move on to the next foreign female they see).

WHEN IT’S THAT TIME OF THE MONTH:
If you’re ever bored and interested in digging even deeper into Chinese culture, ask some Chinese female friends about what they can and can’t eat/drink/do while they’re on their period. I’ve heard plenty of interesting, but well-meaning advice, including: don’t exercise, don’t go in water, don’t drink milk, don’t eat spicy food, don’t drink cold beverages (What do you mean I can’t drink boba milk tea for a week?!). Also, they ONLY use pads, which is probably why they can’t swim while they’re on their period.

Here’s the deal. You won’t find half an aisle of brightly wrapped tampons in different shapes and sizes, like you can in the US. In fact, you might be lucky to find only one brand of OB tampons, which do not have applicators. Apparently they’re common in Europe. (They do, however, have an impressive selection of sizes and uses for pads like I have never seen! Most of the packages even have creepy 8-year-old-looking cartoon girls on them, which make you wonder…) Anyways, if you like wearing tampons, you better cut some coupons and buy some at home to stock up before coming to China.

Basically, if you’re a woman and you want to go to Beijing, you have my blessing! You’ll be fine. Just GO and DO!

5 Comments

  1. You really got me there for a second. 🙂 I don’t know if you’ve been to the Philippines or plan on coming here some time, but that last one is true here too. That said, do come visit. 🙂 Best of luck to you, and happy travels!

  2. Two of my Chinese colleagues wouldn’t eat ice cream the other day because it was their time of the month… You can buy loads of different kinds of tampons in places like jenny Lous and April Gormet (they both have quite a few branches around Beijing).

  3. F

    Hi, I was wondering if you know how long skirts/shorts have to be so Chinese people will think they’re modest. I will be there in the summer and don’t want too much unwanted attention since I will already be the only girl in the group I’m travelling with.

  4. Hi, I was wondering how long shorts/skirts/dresses need to be for Chinese people to think they’re modest. I will be there in the summer and don’t want to attract too much attention ;).

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