March 2, 2017

Travelogue: China

We've posed questions to frequent travelers about the different countries they've experienced and the cultures in which they were immersed.
When we visit other areas of the world we find things we didn't expect, we grow in ways we never could have anticipated, and we take home with us a piece of the culture we visited.
Whether we expect them to or not, our travels always change who we are. Every fragment that is adjusted and shaped by seeing the world, brings us inches and sometimes miles closer to what we were always meant to be:
One people; one heart.

China, from Madi L.

What did you expect to find that you did not see?

I went to China with very few expectations because I had approximately zero clue what I was getting myself into. I had a strange mix of expecting to see large cities with large crowds of people, but also Mulan was in the back of my mind? Also, my brother kept talking about dragons and Genghis Kahn, so that didn’t help my expectation. What I didn’t expect to see were villages and mountain ranges, or fields of perfectly-tended flowers (The Splendid Sea of Flowers—it’s incredible. Highly recommend.) We stayed in Chongqing, which is a city with approximately 35 million people. So yes, I did see very large cities, but they were definitely not quite what I expected.

Did you eat anything that you would later report to your friends as "so that was weird"?

In Chongqing we got to explore the night market. None of us knew what we were doing, but we were all very hungry. We walked around until I caved and just pointed at something then paid for it. Come to find out, it was fried octopus on a stick. So that was weird.

What differences stood out to you the most?

One evening, right before we were about to explore the night market, we had to have a group meeting. Everyone met in the 16th floor lobby of our hotel, and immediately you could sense that something was wrong. Our group leader explained to us that the government banned singing for an unknown amount of time. This was obviously disappointing, as we went to China to tour and sing in various locations, but it was much more than that. Our leader explained to us that we were not to talk about singing or if anyone asked why we were visiting that we had to make up an alternate excuse. He explained to us that the communist government is notorious for placing cameras behind mirrors and various places inside of buildings. The general way of life in China was much different from the states, but what shocked me the most was the constant fear of the government.

What was your main mode of transportation in the area you visited?

Our mode of transportation was by either bus, plane, or rail transit while in Chongqing. Most people rode bicycles, motorcycles or cars if they didn’t walk.

What was the best meal you had?

If there was anything that I didn’t expect, it was how good the food was going to be. There was a definitive difference in the meals between Jinan and Chongqing, with the main difference being that more southern parts of China tend to serve spicier meals. In Chongqing we were able to experience the famous hot pot meal. Each meal had anywhere between 15-20 dishes and you were expected to try a little of everything, and the meal wasn’t over until the servers brought out watermelon for dessert. I have never eaten so much food in my life.

What customs do you think should be adopted by our country?

The way the people take care of their elderly in China is beautiful. When people stop being able to care for themselves, they move in with one of their children. In the U.S., we almost always put our elderly in nursing homes or assisted living. In China, adults and elderly are highly respected and cared for.

What was the most interesting thing you saw or visited and why?

At one point in the trip we visited an ancient village outside of Chongqing (the city that banned singing) to walk around and shop. As we walked through the village, people would stare at us and mothers would hand me their babies. Like, just give me their babies. To hold. It was magic.  They would touch my freckles and long eyelashes then show me their camera, wanting to know if they could take a picture of me with their children. (Obviously the answer was yes.) When we got to the end of the shops, we decided to sing in their town square, even though singing had been banned. We sang a traditional Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hua, and probably 100 people gathered around and sang with us. People were dancing and some even cried. 

What insights did you walk away with that you couldn't have anticipated beforehand?

I left China with experiences I never would have dreamed of in a million years. If someone would’ve asked me a year ago about my dream destination, China would be low on that list, very low. But I left China with a full heart (and suitcase). Everyone we met was so kind and the people consistently gave us the best that they could offer. I expected to try new things and see new sights in China, but I didn’t necessarily expect for it to change me and my worldview. But that is just what happened.
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