He Said/She Said: Entering the Dragon

He Said/She Said: Entering the Dragon

China.  You can’t turn on the news without hearing something about it.  We couldn’t mention it to another traveler without getting an opinion or four.  There is a lot said about it, but what is it really like?  It is a huge country, where one person’s experience in just a few places can’t begin to explain it.  No matter, hearing all these opinions shapes expectations, these expectations are just figments of our imaginations until our feet hit the ground.  Here are our thoughts after our first day in China, arriving by plane in Qingdao from Seoul, South Korea.


As I watch the sun set from the rooftop balcony of our hostel in Qingdao, China, I am in awe.  Qingdao isn’t a booming Chinese metropolis such as Shanghai or Beijing though, I am in awe of how comfortable it feels to be back in a more gritty and raw city.  I like the food being sold on the streets complete with kegs of beer lining the stalls.  I love the commotion, cars try to hit me as I cross the street, the putrid smells…on occasion.  I am in awe more with my response to returning to the developing world than China itself.

After landing in Qingdao we waited with hundreds of people to go through immigration, then wandered around looking for the bus.  Our hostel’s directions said to take the “No. 2 bus” which apparently doesn’t exist.  After paging through the Lonely Planet to find the Chinese characters for where we were going we were told to get on the 702 bus.  After boarding the bus driver asked where we were going and said “no”, as in, “no, this bus doesn’t go there.”  We got the Lonely Planet back out and he said, “OK,” while pointing to a map that plausibly showed our stop.  Point all you want to signs in Chinese, but the characters are more drawings than language to me.

I snapped a photo of the characters, hoping there would be a screen on the bus that displayed the stop.  There was no such screen.  As we rode the shaky, loud bus, we had no idea where to get off.  We asked people sitting near us, but and they responded in Chinese (I think…), then one walked to the driver and told us in English that the driver would tell us when to get off.  After a few more minutes the bus stopped and the driver stood in the middle of the bus, in the most authoritative way imaginable he pointed at LOCAVORista.  It was our time.  Outside the bus he shouted directions to us in Chinese while pointing.  I got the gist, cross the street, then head that way.  Within 5 minutes we were in front of our hostel.

After the sun fell, we ventured out for dinner at street stalls.  We sat down at one that sold skewers of meat and beer.  I asked how much a pitcher was by holding money, pointing at the pitcher and asking “how much?”  The waitress paused, thought hard and said “seven”, hmm, $1 USD for a pitcher?  That couldn’t be right, but I ordered it anyways.  Assessing the menu, written in Chinese, we surmised that skewers 10 for 10 RMB ($1.50 USD).  Ordering blindly we pointed at three things.  I know that we had pork that tasted just like the “Pork chop-on-a-stick” at the Minnesota State Fair.  The other two things I don’t know what they were, but they tasted good.

I like this, I don’t know what’s going on, I can’t communicate, I don’t know what I’m eating, but when prices are like this I don’t really care.  If I get something I don’t want, I just don’t eat it.  This is fun travel, it’s dirty, requires us to pay attention, but I am glad to be here.


I expected China to be confusing and cluttered instead I have found that it is surprisingly clean, chaos-free and culturally intriguing.  From the moment I got off the plane to join a sea of short black-haired Asians in the immigration line to the trip to our hostel door I was impressed with China and found the people to be kind and helpful.  Immediately all my backpacker stories went out the window and I felt comfortable back in the developing world.  I almost had a sense of “this is more like it” or “awe, this is where I belong.”

Getting to the hostel wasn’t easy, but it certainly wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The immigration officer was very confused about the blonde Chua that stood in front of him, but everything went smoothly.  I definitely got the expected stares from folks walking down the street, but no offensive pointing or strange remarks, just giggles.  The language barrier will be an issue, but I already knew that.  Most of all I was excited to find that communication wasn’t impossible, people worked to try to understand and I was able to get what I wanted from my very first day in China.

Not only was I able to get what I wanted I was extremely impressed with the wonderful hostel facilities and abundance of vendors offering fresh fruit and fried chicken among other things.  China certainly hasn’t restricting any of my needs or wants.  Thus far it has been a beautiful place to visit and one of the most interesting places we have been thus far.  I am looking forward to the next three months here.

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» Mom A :
Aug 10, 2011

While we weren’t on our own after the first 4 days in China, we were very glad we did that. Bruce, tall and blonde, with me, small but not as small as everyone else and red hair, had no way of passing as anything but what we are. But anytime someone was able to help us, when it was evident we had a question or needed directions, people were helpful. It amused me that good was the hardest thing to figure out if no one spoke the language, which didn’t happen in local eateries. I thought pointing would be easy but it still isn’t easy to tell what at l east half the items are. We agreed with you, try it and see! I got a kick out of giggles because that was far better than being treated poorly, which never happened. Have to admire the two of you spending so much time in China in some of the less touristed places. Figuring out how to figure things out presents a new challenge regularly. Worth it however, since so regularly there are new, different and exciting things to amaze you!

Looking forward to seeing how amazed you have been in North Korea!
Love you two!
Mom A

thinkCHUA Reply:

Mom, China is definitely not easy even just to point, but you’re right it is totally worth all the confusion- especially the food. Other than giggles we do get a lot of just plain staring. But, China continues to shock and amaze us!

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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