Over my winter break I had the opportunity to visit Marissa in China and travel throughout the country. The two of us went to nine cities in 3 weeks, which was a fast pace but only allowed for a small glimpse of what China has to offer. Throughout this time I was able to see both major cities and smaller villages, getting a sense of the mixture and often clashing of Chinese traditions with western viewpoints. This mixture and clashing was a constant observation and seems to be a problem for the country. There is a wide generational gap because there are older people still following chinese traditions while the younger generation seems fairly western. Of course there are exceptions but there is a definite break by the younger generation from chinese traditional values and a great desire to be western or gain knowledge of the west.
This hunger for western culture sometimes made me feel a little like an item in a display case. It is a common occurrence to be stared at in the street, even to a certain extent in the larger more modern cities. On one of our train rides there were Chinese who took photographs of us and in another train station several chinese videotaped me simply sitting in a chair. The idea that they find westerners so attractive and fascinating, almost a little exotic is amusing because for Westerners the Orient was always thought to be exotic. Though it is nice to be thought of as very beautiful the stares and people shouting out hello in the street can be quite annoying and gets old very fast. It was also very interesting because though most of the time I felt welcomed by the Chinese there is still an acute feeling of being an outsider and even after living in China for many years I don’t believe that status as an outsider will truly change.
I found the whole experience of traveling through China to be very interesting and somewhat of an eye opener to the style of living in other parts of the world. While fully aware of the fact that China is a developing country, lacking much of the material comforts Americans are used to, it is very different to see and live it (to a certain extent). We stayed at hostels throughout our China travels and most of these were fairly western though bathrooms were often Chinese which means a squatter toilet sans toilet paper. However when in smaller towns or villages I noticed the types of houses which most Americans would consider somewhat primitive. Though China is developing the majority of its people still live simple agricultural lives without many modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing.
Despite many of the things mentioned above I found traveling in China to be very enjoyable and a fun adventure. I saw many cultural sites and we went to a variety of places but there is so much to see and experience in China. Some of my favorite things we did was the bamboo boat ride down the Li River in Yangshuo which had beautiful scenery. Another amazing experience was climbing the Great Wall which is truly a structural marvel and I was quite proud of myself for how high and how quickly I was able to climb. The food in China was something else I enjoyed very much. It is so different from Chinese food here that the two should not be called the same thing. In Shanghai we had many different types of dumplings which were delicious and perhaps my favorite food on the trip. In one day we had dumplings for both breakfast and a late lunch. The Peking duck in Beijing, Tanghulu, and Chinese dates were a few more foods that I thoroughly enjoyed.
China was definitely an adventure and a place I would travel again though I could never picture myself living there. I give my sister a lot of credit for going there in the first place and learning to adapt to life in a country that is so unlike our own. Despite many Western influences China is still quite unique and not always an easy place to travel or live in. This trip only added to my love of traveling and has piqued my interest in Asian history andcurrent events.
Terra-cotta Warriors Pit 1 in Xian: While impressive that each statue is distinct it was still underwhelming thanks in part to the internet.
This is some local delicacies in Lijiang that neither Marissa or myself were brave enough to try. Though there is plenty of great food in China there are still many dishes I could not bring myself to try.
Marissa and I by the Bund in Shanghai. Across the street were buildings that were once foreign embassies and trading offices and every single building had at least one Communist flag on top (the governments way of trying to stake its claim and make sure everyone knows it’s China)
These are the most delicious foods I had in China. They are Xiaolongbao (Shanghai dumplings). We had them fried for breakfast and then a lot more of them for lunch the same day!
Entrance to the Forbidden City which is larger than you expect though most buildings aren’t big by Western standards there are gardens and pathways which seem endless.
This is the Great Wall specifically the portion called Jinshanling which was an amazing experience to climb (and I do mean climb because several parts really require arms and legs and are not steps).