China was a learning experience for me in many ways but above all it taught me that I am not yet invincible when it comes to consistently planning the perfect trip. The first mistake I made in China began before I had even arrived. One of the reasons I’m never disappointed when I travel to new places is because I consciously avoid having expectations. When I was planning my trip to China I had created an idea of what I had always imagined China to be like: Rolling green mountains adorned by the Great Wall. Oriental music guiding me down picturesque market streets. Consuming as much of my favorite Chinese dishes as possible. Becoming immersed in a rich, ancient culture.
This was not my entirely my experience. My second mistake was visiting China during the winter months. I came to Chengdu and Beijing in February, not completely understanding that it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and less than 15 degrees at night. Since I was coming from South East Asia I was brutally unprepared for the temperature change. I had to spend money I really didn’t have on clothes that I would eventually have to throw away because I didn’t have enough room in my backpack. I chose to go to Chengdu because I wanted to see a less touristy city in China. In Chengdu practically no one spoke a word of English which I’ve found is rare, believe it or not. This made navigating and getting recommendations on where to go very difficult. Also, the food wrecked my stomach for almost two weeks after I left.
If I can give one or two recommendations for your first trip to China it would be to go to the touristy cities before you opt for the road less traveled: Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing- you’ll have the best experience there because there’s an infrastructure in place to accommodate English speaking tourists. Also, remember these places become gray and dull in winter so plan your trip during the spring or summer months. Lessons learned √
China vs. the United States
Learning about Chinese politics and social standards was a culture shock. I had a hard time accepting the lack of free will given to the Chinese people. In my (very American) opinion, a government that does not have freedom of information and expression is not sustainable and shouldn’t be supported. For example, the Chinese government recently banned all rap music from the country because it does not agree with socialist core values. I have never been somewhere that regulates what people consume so heavily. There is no public access Google, Gmail, Instagram, Facebook etc.. The government employs over a million people to constantly scrub the internet which means the 1.4 billion people living in China are completely isolated from the world beyond what their government chooses to tell them. However much I disagree with the way the country is controlled, who am I to judge? I’m in no place to pass judgement on other people’s way of life.
On the bright side, socialism keeps Chinese people safer than most countries in the world. In 2017 there were only 50 or so cases of gun violence, contributing to China having one of the lowest murder rates per capita in the world. This is astonishing considering there was nearly 300 mass shootings in the US in 2017 and China has more than 4 times the population.
Fun fact: There are security cameras everywhere in China, literally. Someone told me that the government can locate anyone in the country through facial recognition within 20 minutes.
I told my guide in Chengdu about why I’m traveling in China (to break the world record). His response was unexpected and beyond humbling. He began to tell me about his 11 year old daughter. She’s in the 5th grade and stays up until 10:30 pm every night studying for her exams. In China, not all students get to go to high school. Only students that went to a very good middle school even have a chance of going to high school, let alone college. The competition couldn’t be more intense and it starts for Chinese children when they are only 10 years old. Access to education is something students in the US, including myself, take for granted. He finished his story solemnly, “What you are doing my daughter and other children here could never even dream of doing this. You’re very lucky…”
Kung Fu: Philosophical Art of Self Defense
Chinese Martial Arts
One aspect that surpassed any exceptions was the classical Kung Fu show at the Red Theatre in Beijing. This was by far the highlight of my trip in China. I had never watched Kung Fu before and knew practically nothing of its philosophy and technique. When the lights dimmed I was instantly captivated by the actors and the deep meaning portrayed in the story. Click here to learn about the Taoism Philosophy in Chinese Kung Fu and how it had a profound influence on Chinese culture and martial arts.
Regardless of the difficulties I faced during this trip, I am constantly encountering people with a beautiful outlook on life. My guide in Beijing told me I’m in the “flower age”: a time to pursue the things that you love before you are tied to your husband, your children and your home. She believed every girl should have time to do what you love before you have these commitments and that she will support her daughter in whatever she chooses to do during this time of her life.
I feel immensely privileged to have seen this much of the world and it has become my goal to always show the beauty of nations otherwise negatively perceived. Our minds are capable of comprehending the complexity of all the issues in the world. Nothing is one sided, especially when it comes to our human experience. We must push away from our prejudices and come to accept the things we don’t understand. Through these stories and realizations I hope we can move towards a more open minded, interconnected world. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Thank you Country #111 for showing me how much more I have to learn.