25-28th May 2016
After a fantastic time in Japan, my visit to China is off to a bad start when I peruse through the on-flight magazines to find an article that feels less-than-slightly propagandize. To make it more poignant, it’s an interview with someone who supposed emigrated from Japan to China. He just can’t understand why anyone would ever want to leave China if they were born there. This place is just amazing.
Then I step off the plane. Facebook check-in? Nope. Not allowed. The Great Firewall of China is there to stop me. It’s OK though I downloaded a VPN before I came.
No again. The Great Firewall is one step ahead and has already blocked the free VPN I downloaded. To make matters worse the Google Play store is blocked so it’s hard to download a different one. I relent. It’s only a week. I’ll survive. Maybe.
On my first day of exploring I decide to lavish a little bit on lunch. It is the city of Peking after all and that means Peking Duck is definitely on the menu.
Having eaten a Peking Duck for two and feeling a little bit bloated I move over to the Forbidden City. Ironically, that’s one of the top tourist attraction. Not so forbidden now, aye!
This is where I meet a lovely, educated, businessman for the Agricultural Bank of China. We get chatting. He’s here for business. He enjoys the company of international people to broaden his mind. Then he tells me there’s a tea festival going on that ends today. I feel a little bit cautious going with a strange man but my instincts are that he’s OK and I assure myself I’ll be able to run away if we need to.
Then he calls his driver and I get cautious again.
We drive for some time. He speaks to the driver in Chinese. Hmmmmm. We keep driving. I’m counting how many lefts and rights as if I’m going to feature in the next “Taken” movie. Then we arrive at what is obviously a tea festival. All is good.
We go into one of the more traditional tea houses. Sit on some authentic wooden chairs and have an entire collection of tea sampled for us with all the aromas and tastes being just exquisite.
The next day I’m off to a prearranged tour of the Great Wall of China. We meet inside a very fancy hotel. Where obviously none of us can afford to stay but hey. Our little group moves on out and we drive to the Great Wall.
You don’t drive there, get out and walk the wall. Oh no. You’ve got to climb up that wall before you get to walk it. Boy, in that heat, that’s a lot steps.
Once you’re there though, you’ve made it. You appreciate the work and dedication that it must’ve taken to build such a thing. As well as all the people who died or got executed for it along the way.
Then as we’re prancing back down and I’m cheerily saying hello to anyone that will listen and many who don’t, I get chatting to this lovely little Doctor.
We toboggan down together and when her hat flies off I catch it. Couldn’t have been a better opportunity and it went smoothly.
Hoping that the tour guide doesn’t mind I have already invited her and her two friends to come eat lunch with us. They agree and look quite excited at the prospect. Needlessly to say, they are pretty stunned that there are westerners out there who can actually use…… chopsticks!
I’m so glad my experience with two locals has been so positive after having such a negative outlook on the country from the outset. I still don’t particularly like the blend of capitalism and communism but it’s nice to see a different world perspective. You also realise how much of your life is dedicated to so few companies influence (Google, Facebook, hellooooo!).
Now I’m off to Shanghai. The train station has some super high tech displays on and does well to paint a good image of the place.
Upstairs waiting for the train and it’s a bit more chaotic though.
This is the thing with China I find. To only see one view of China you would have to stick to the single tourist path they have created for you. It’s so narrow though it’s almost impossible to leave with this holistic view. You’re always one floor, or one corner, away from experiencing the poverty, the sprawling neighbourhoods, the chaotic power lines and some very unhygienic food from getting a fuller, richer experience.
My first night in Shanghai becomes a bit of a (welcome) mess. It’s Saturday and some new friends I’ve made in the hostel have found out about a Pub Crawl. It’s only on Saturday’s. Shall we do it?
> Only on Saturday’s?
We’ve got to do it.
The first hour is an open bar, so we decide to go crazy at stop one and then take it easy. Trouble is, someone’s lost their key card. After 20 minutes of searching, we’re not leaving without her, it turns up. It was in the bra. Where else would it be?
> The only question is: why didn’t I think of looking there in the first place!
With that we’re off. We manage to get to the bar but there’s only thirty minutes of free drink. Double gin and tonics and whiskey and cokes all round. Followed by tequila shots. Followed by doubles again. We all got White Girl Wasted and the night slowly drained into the morning.
Once we have recovered, we spend a night on the Bund and the smog is really starting to concern me. Apparently we’re here at a “good time” too. This is one of my nightmares, waking up back in the UK one day and the whole world just being like this.
The day after we hit another temple during the day.
Find a lovely shop called Kate Wood.
> I can’t stop thinking about my previous job and how great some of these bags would look with some of the Stuart Weitzman shoes we sell.
In the evening we head out to a local restaurant that always seems packed with local customers, so it must be good is the assumption!
Yes. It was very good! Such good prices too!
Although I’m happy to be leaving China, and I won’t be in a rush to return, it has taught me a lot and opened my eyes to a lot of things. It’s also inspired me to read more, to reflect and to challenge the assumptions I have.
And that’s a good thing.
With that, I say goodbye and god bless China.