There’s a certain air to China – half of it is the smell of dirty toilets and the other half of it is a magnificent legacy of history and traditions.
Growing up, I’ll admit I never really saw myself as “Chinese”.
My parents are from Taiwan and Hong Kong, both of which have a less than amicable history with China; but both their families have roots stemming from Chinese heritage. Both my parents moved to Canada when they were young children, so we spoke english in our house and I was very much born and raised Canadian. I was in no way attached to my Chinese roots.
Having come to China (Beijing) for the first time a good 7 years ago was a great experience; but as a “teen” your interests don’t exactly lie in appreciating the traditions and heritage of a country. At least, that wasn’t the case for me.
This time, I felt so connected and inspired by the sights, history, and accomplishment that China has created and gone through. Visiting temples, sacred sights, shrines, and seeing how far China has come from its “dark ages” has been so motivating. To see a country that was in shambles, while the Western world advanced, become gentrified is such an amazing experience.
They still don’t have toilets; and I’ll share that every washroom (even in the most glamorous of restaurants) still requires you to squat into a hole that’s often puddled with urine (sorry for the gross imagery). But, despite this, the cities have come a long way.
I actually got the amazing pleasure of visiting several different spots and provinces on the outskirts of Shanghai, including: Suzhou, Huangzhou, Nanjing, and Wuxi. And I’ll say that their sites were where I learned, appreciated, and experienced the most of China’s beauty.
So here’s my story, my photo-diary of the little things that caught my eye, my deductions of the culture, and hopefully, a peep hole into the magnificent, and often misunderstood, world of China.
China takes their tea seriously…
Loose leaf tea seriously garners a new meaning after sitting through this tea presentation at one of their most famous tea farms (in the Guanzhou province). The way that they cherish, develop, and enjoy their tea is truly something special. It’s almost something medicinal… and sacred.
Their architecture really makes you think…
The architecture in China is undoubtedly “old” (for lack of blunter terms), but this age comes with history and values. That’s what I find so particularly grand about it all. The new skyscrapers in Shanghai are, of course, influenced by Western modernism; but just outside of the metropolis are some incredible sites. Some of my personal highlights was taking a boat around the sites in West Lake and visiting the Lovers’ Garden (pictured above). When going to China, taking some time to visit these architectural beauties is a must.
They don’t watch movies, they do this…
It’s incredible how passionate China is for their arts and culture. I suppose it was a big part of their history as well. The “Chinese Opera” takes its modern form in these grand outdoor spectacles with sets carved into mountains, forests, and lakefronts. Pictures just don’t do it any justice. The performance was great (and the talent is wonderful) but the production value is really what wins you over. You almost don’t believe you’re outside watching it all happen.
Their food is different – and I loved it …
As with any foreign city, I think it’s customary to check out their versions of fast eats. It shows you how their people eat (and eating is a huge peep hole into culture) and live. We always love the snack food in Asia, whether it’s in their stores or on the streets. It’s cheap (probably not the healthiest) and almost comical!
Taiwan’s street eats were even better – but more on that later (Taiwan travel diary coming soon).
It’s all about jade, silk, and pearls…
These three luxury commodities are some of China’s biggest prides and joys. We had the pleasure of visiting jade houses, pearl farms, and silk factories (yes! Silk worms). And I must say, after hearing more about it, I’ve noted a couple things.
Jade to the Chinese is almost like diamonds to a girl – sacred, meaningful, and (can be) very expensive. Pearls are worn by almost every Chinese women of wealth. And silk (one of the factories photographed above) is promoted almost everywhere (it’s like the I Heart NY tshirts, but China’s tshirts would say I Heart Silk). We also learned about the art of tea pots (yes, that’s a thing – we witnessed someone purchase a $5000 USD teapot) but the sparkly stuff is where it’s at.
It’s easy to find peace and love here…
The sunsets over great lakes, the bright lights of its city skyline, and endless amounts of exploration make China’s sites some of the best for solace and love. Dave and I spent time just sitting and looking out onto mountains, eating amazing food, and laughing at all the strange experiences we were having. This undoubtedly goes for tons of places in the world; but China is definitely not be discounted as a top spot.
When we left Shanghai for Taiwan, I actually fell sick with a really bad 24 hour flu. With all honesty and nothing barred, I was hurling every 30 minutes for the entire day. I’m not sure if it was the lack of cleanliness or the different sorts of food I was consuming, but I’ll tell you that I don’t wish that pain on anyone or anything. Moral of the story: make sure you’re ready with hand sanitizer, tissue paper for going to the bathroom, and Pepto Bismol, when you’re travelling to China.
With the exception of my 24 hours in hell, our China trip was incredible. It almost feels like it was all a dream. If you haven’t been, definitely go.