Three months, 11,000 miles of travel and visiting more than 20 cities, we are leaving China. After all this, what do we think of China?
China brings to mind one word: wow. I knew very little of China prior to coming here. All I knew was that we had three months, where we would go and what we would do was completely unknown. Wow, how time flew, we did so many things, traveled to so many places. Wow, the people I met. Wow, this country is beautiful. Wow, the trains. Wow, the people. Wow, the history. Wow, China, wow.
Some big, eye-opening wows I am not going to miss: etiquette and hygiene. I found that no matter what, I can’t stand it when people chew with their mouth open. I can’t eat when lips are being smacked together and half-chewed pieces of food are falling from people’s lips. I can’t believe that children are expected to do their business on the sidewalk, when there are public bathrooms everywhere. It is not that the infrastructure for cleanliness doesn’t exist, they have made an honorable effort, but etiquette and hygiene just doesn’t seem to be the cultural norm. Wow, I look forward to being in a place where people are not spitting on bus floors and I have to dodge human feces on the sidewalk.
As good a place as any?
A father holds his child while it defecates in the middle of the Forbidden City, one of China’s largest tourist attractions. A bathroom was less than 100 meters away.
The good, no great, wow, surpass my gripes. My biggest wow was the honesty of the people. I have traveled all around the world, dealt with people of all cultures, yet I have seen few as honest as the Chinese people I dealt with. There was no foreigner pricing, what the locals pay, you pay. I didn’t have to negotiate for a bowl of noodles like in Hanoi, worry about getting overcharged for entrance tickets like in Thailand, or worry about being robbed like on buses in Cambodia. Sure, prices at markets are quoted to be negotiated, but the daily transactions, complete with posted prices, was amazing. A few times I tried to round up my bill to not have a pocketful of change, but was forced to take my change. Wow, thank you China, for your honest people. Clearly they exported all their shady people to the world’s Chinatowns.
Wow, the infrastructure. China is pumping money into its roads, trains and national infrastructure. It is clear that not very long ago this infrastructure was pretty bad. We rode on many unpaved streets, riddled with holes, but were happy to see that brand new highways and streets are being built almost everywhere. We rode every type of China’s trains and were amazed by their quality and service to everywhere. It is true, you need to buy your tickets early or you end up in the “cattle class” of hard seats, but any higher class and “wow”, what a nice, affordable way to travel. We rode the trains almost 10,000 miles and have no complaints. Wow.
China is an amazing country. If you haven’t been, add it to your future travel plans. In the future, with all the changes, travel here will only get better. I assure you communication will be a problem, but the people will work with you to help you. The storekeepers will help you get what you need. The trains will take you where you want to go. Wow, I’m going to miss traveling in China.
Saying ‘goodbye’ to China will be like saying goodbye to a close friend, she has treated me so well and provided so many amazing memories. I have to admit I was nervous about what people were saying about her before I came and how it might affect my relationship with her. But, China has far exceeded any expectations I had and while not everything was perfect it wasn’t the horrible experience everyone warns you about, like when you room with your best friend in college. Regardless about what people say about my new friend behind her back I will always defend her, because until you get to know her you have no right to comment.
Yes, there are the glaring examples of poor hygiene and bad table manners, but past that the other issues regarding travel in China are surmountable. The vast distances to travel are combated with nice, clean trains even if you do have to plan ahead. There is a considerable language barrier, but the people are surprisingly helpful in trying to understand you. Best of all they won’t rip you off just because you don’t speak their language. I was always shocked by the low prices of things and that it was the same price as the locals paid.
What I will miss most about China is the scenery, which never failed to amaze me. Around every corner was a new panorama of breathtaking beauty. The sights in China are so unique as well, no other country has a 5,500 mile wall, five holy mountains, including the best view of the world’s tallest mountain and countless awe-inspiring temples, monasteries and Buddhas. The amount of things to see in China could keep you busy for years. It certainly kept us running at a frenetic pace to see over 20 cities in the past three months, but it was more than worth it. From back alleyways in Pingyao and the rice terraces of Yuanyang to the majestic mountains of Tibet, China’s superlatives will be hard to beat.
Next to the scenery the best part of China is the food, the sheer variety and incredible tastes of this vast country were delicious to explore. I loved the skewers of meat hot off the grill and pitchers of beer for just a dollar in our first China stop: Qingdao. Since then the Peking duck in Beijing, spicy Sichuan food in Chengdu and the interesting yak options in Tibet made for some of my best food memories thus far. With meals costing between 50 cents and fifteen dollars you can’t go wrong.
The only thing that can make great views and delicious food better is sharing it with amazing people and China delivers on this front as well. We met some of the most intelligent, interesting and well traveled people on the road in China. From English teachers in Qingdao to fellow travelers on the hiking trail in Tiger Leaping Gorge the people we met in China will remain one of the highlights of China. It was always fun to get to a new hostel and run into an old friend, many a times this caused us to be up until all hours of the night catching up on each others travels. I will miss all of our diverse China friends.
I will try not to cry, but I won’t say “goodbye,” instead I will say “see you soon” because I will most definitely be back. I know there will be a lot of changes between now and then so; “keep in touch, will ‘ya?”