xuminji/ September 20, 2018/ China Experience/ 0 comments

Among the many countries to travel to, why should you visit China, and why should you visit China now?

How is this guide different?

There are other guides from CNN, Lonely Planet, and Tripadvisor’s top China destinations. Huffington Post wrote about reasons to visit China from a European biker’s perspective. So why should you spend time reading mine? Because there are a few things I see and cover in this China travel guide.

[1] It’s a country both old and new. The new was born out of the old but with an incredible speed. The contrast, the interplay, and the overlapping of these two are fascinating to watch.

[2] The country has its own interpretation of concepts such as freedom, entrepreneurship, and creativity. The process of observing and acknowledging more than one way of thinking and living makes us more tolerant and understanding.

[3] China (Chinese people) is like a coconut. After your open its apparently coarse skin, you find the inside surprisingly sweet and soft.

Reasons to visit China: Number 1 – Food

A Chinese dish

A Chinese dish

Chinese greeting starts as ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of ‘How are you?’. This shows how important food is in Chinese culture.

[1] Eating out is extremely cheap and accessible in China. A restaurant, a convenience store or a street hawker, they all sell warm food speedy at very affordable prices.

[2] Because people share dishes during a Chinese meal, it is common to have soup, vegetables, meat, and seafood in one single meal. Every Chinese meal can be a feast, with a variety of choices to spoil.

A Chinese home-made dinner

A Chinese home-made dinner

[3] Takeaway is taken to a different level as a result of the fast-changing landscape in mobile commerce. With one click on a takeaway mobile app. one can have HOT food and COLD beer delivered instantly, from a wide arrange of choices.

[4] Chinese Breakfast is a completely different ball game. It does not involve much dairy product but rather wheat products such as noodles and buns. If you like something savvy, hot and hearty, try them out.

Chinese breakfast options

Chinese breakfast options

[5] Strolling on a street food market at night can be a great pastime entertainment, alone, with friends or family. The sound, the smell, and the buzzing food stalls provide many delights.

[6] I think of a Chinese wet market as a marketplace for all fresh seafood, meat, vegetables, and fruits. My mom sees beyond its functional value. For her, it is a club for social chitchat, a source of gossips, and a place she gets anything broken fixed.

Reasons to visit China: Number 2 – Diversity

Diversity in China

Diversity in China

Yes, compared to Europe, China is relatively homogeneous. The country speaks one language, uses one currency, adopts the same education system, is under one jurisdiction and the majority of its population is of Han ethnics.

[1] But peeling off the seemingly homogeneous layer, one finds China very diverse. And it shows in dumplings:

=>In Beijing at the north, Jiaozi (饺子) is what is known as dumplings in English.

=> Wonton (馄饨), one type of dumpling, gains popularity as you go south in China.

=> In Shanghai and its surrounding China east coast, it is the Little Wonton (小馄饨) that wins people’s heart.

=> No food in Sichuan (West China) escapes chili pepper, hence the Wonton in chili oil (红油抄手)

=> Further south, one finds little dumplings resting in Cantonese Dim Sum bamboo steamers.

Different types of Chinese dumplings

Different types of Chinese dumplings

[2] Subcultures: it is hard to describe the nuances of subcultures across China, but it is there. One can hear the accents, feel people’s temperament, observe how men and women interact with each other, see how the traditional buildings were designed regionally.

Different types of Chinese houses

Different types of Chinese houses

[3] There are also huge divisions between life in the city and in the countryside. Economic reform in 1980’s gradually but surely began a division into social classes. The older generation still keeps their memories of the 1970’s when everyone belonged to the ‘working class’, Soviet Union style.

Reasons to visit China: Number 3 – Transformation

Street in Wuhan, China, 2018

Street in Wuhan, China, 2018

The country has changed rapidly over the last 40 years. When I left Shanghai in the year 2000, there were 2 metro lines newly built. When I went back in 2017, there were 16. Wuhan, a city in central China, was building 10 metro lines simultaneously when we visited early 2018.

[1] Entrepreneurship is everywhere. I discover new business models and see new products take off during each of my visits. My mom asks me constantly to install new mobile apps for her while I am there. She is keen to try all the novelties and she is not alone. People want to explore business opportunities and try new ideas. Expressing your dream to become rich is something to be proud of in China – it shows one’s ambition.

[2] Social media is another phenomenon! WeChat, a social media platform built for mobile, is a must-have for anyone in China or going to the country. Of course, content shared on this platform is ‘managed’. But it doesn’t stop WeChat being an amazing tool to communicate privately or share thoughts/news/moments.

[3] New Art: emerging artists are seeking ways to combine modern life with traditional art. The “Echo” tea sets do not only offer core functions of modern tea hardware but also blends with the culture of ancient Chinese architecture.  A very interesting space to watch.

Modern Chinese tea set

Modern Chinese tea set

Reasons to visit China: Number 4 – People

Chinese kids playing cat's cradle

Chinese kids playing cat’s cradle

Chinese mannerisms are very different compared to those in the West. This can be a bit intimidating for first-time travelers to China. ‘Why do Chinese people spit in public?’ is a frequent question I’m asked. I wish I had an answer to this one.

[1] But they are extremely curious about the world outside China. In smaller cities (other than cosmopolitan Beijing, Shanghai etc), Chinese people might still stare at outsiders – Non-Chinese people (外国人), asking if they can take photos with you, help you out and even invite you for a meal at home. They do it kind-heartedly.

[2] The younger generation is way cooler. Unlike their parents/grandparents who still bear the psychological marks of the ‘old’ days of austerity and war, the younger generation has grown up with little emotional baggage. They can afford to be idealists, to be crazy, to be impractical, pursuing their own passions and dreams. Talk to them.

Reasons to visit China: Number 5 – Landscape

There are some pretty (and) unique landscapes you can’t find elsewhere.

[1] Limestone Forest(石林) in Central China: The tall rocks seem to arise from the ground in a manner somewhat reminiscent of stalagmites, or with many looking like petrified trees. That’s why Zhang Jia Jie became the inspiration for the movie Avatar.

Zhang Jia Jie, China

Zhang Jia Jie, China

[2] Rice Terrace (梯田) in West China: Layers of water in spring, layers of green rice shoots in summer, layers of rice in fall, and layers of frost in winter. The terraced fields were mostly built about 650 years ago.

Rice terrace, China (source - http://www.mafengwo.cn/photo/poi/7918079_17398633.html)

Rice terrace, China (source – http://www.mafengwo.cn/photo/poi/7918079_17398633.html)

[3] Bamboo Sea (竹海) in East China: It is called the “Sea of Bamboo” because of the large area of the bamboo groves. It is said to be the biggest bamboo forest in China, and for many tourists who go, it is their favorite natural spot in China. If you take a bird’s-eye view, green waves dance with the wind, rising and falling. When the wind blows, you can hear the unusual creaking sound of the wind through the bamboo leaves.

Bamboo forest, China (source: http://www.mafengwo.cn/photo/poi/6645505_261863904.html)

Bamboo forest, China (source: http://www.mafengwo.cn/photo/poi/6645505_261863904.html)

[4] Water Town (水镇) in East China: ‘Venice of the East’ is a nickname for water towns in the East of China. These towns are noted for their profound cultural backgrounds, the well-preserved ancient residential houses, and the elegant watery views.

Suzhou, China, 2018

Suzhou, China, 2018

[5] Tea Village (茶园) in East China:

Tea village, China (source:http://www.mafengwo.cn/gonglve/ziyouxing/153319.html)

Tea village, China (source:http://www.mafengwo.cn/gonglve/ziyouxing/153319.html)

[6] Yellow Plateau(高原) in Central China: this is the cradle of the Chinese civilization. It is also famous for its unique house setting – a home in a cave. (窑洞)

Yellow Plateau, China (source: http://www.mafengwo.cn/gonglve/ziyouxing/124074.html)

Yellow Plateau, China (source: http://www.mafengwo.cn/gonglve/ziyouxing/124074.html)

Reasons to visit China: Number 6 – Efficiency

Chinese domestic transportation system is efficient and extremely affordable. A train from Beijing to Shanghai takes around 5 hours. The cost is about £50 per person with a reliable, comfortable journey. It is not easy to figure out how to get train tickets for the first time. But when you have done it once, the second time comes easy.

Reasons to visit China: Number 7 – Safety

China is also surprisingly one of the safest countries to travel and live. You rarely see drunk or aggressive behavior in public. People generally have a curious and friendly attitude towards foreigners, most of them are more than willing to help those in need.

Reasons to visit China: Number 8 – Language

Language is also less an issue than what most people had expected. The public signs are usually bilingual with both Chinese and English. Most young people are able to express basic phrases in English. All these combining together makes life as a tourist much easier than most people thought.

Fuxin Park, Shanghai, 2018

Fuxin Park, Shanghai, 2018

Why I write this guide?

Windows, Wuxi, China, 2018

Windows, Wuxi, China, 2018

I remember the first year when I left China. There were numerous occasions I felt the huge contrasts between what I had been taught and what I was encountering. I was filled with confusion, not knowing where the truth lies any more. Feeling shocked and to a degree, betrayed, I embarked on a journey of discovering and soaking in everything in the West, leaving my past behind.

In 2014 I went back to China for a job in online education. That precious two years gave me a rare opportunity: to see the country in my own eyes again but with a pair of eyes that was new. Yes, I had my struggles: the pollution, the Fire Wall, you name it. But I also had my discoveries: how this country, like a teenager, breathes with energy, hope, and excitement, believing tomorrow will be better than today.

I sometimes equalize my love for China as my love for my parents. Recognizing its flaw, I still make my affectionate visits. The more I know about it, the more I enjoyed and want to know more about it.

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