China is a great country with almost everything seems so massive (size of the people, buildings, streets, etc), combined with super awesome ancient remains and culture. It is a country where modernity and antiquity collides. It is a country where you find a big boom in consumerism. Big cities like Beijing and Shanghai where its streets are full with advertisements boards and screens for coffee, computers, branded items, fast food franchises, and face-lifts.
Rapid economic boost in China is evident with their first class hotels, convenient pubic transportation, and excellent restaurants that are prominent in Beijing. At the same time in Hutong areas there are still a good number of courtyard houses.
There are 55 different ethic minorities in China, each with their own distinctive customs, costumes, and languages. These 55 ethnic minorities, though, only comprise 7% of the total 1.35 billion people of China. The rest 93% is Han ethic. Moreover, its traditional arts, architectures, philosophy, etc… to my opinion, are just amazing.
Western world seems to emerge with the eastern life. It is so easy to find western franchise stores. Starbucks and McDonald are just examples.
As great as it is though, there aren’t many public bathrooms in China. It was quite hard for us to find a public bathroom where I didn’t have to tell people behind me not to cut my line or wondering why there was no tissue and how the heck am I going to wipe myself?
And even more challenging was to find a clean public bathroom. Either you have hold your pee and expand your bladder or you just have to hold your breath and squat on … well… it’s hard to describe. Bottom line is that you have to be very flexible with your hip flexers and your sanitary requirements.
So, one of my strategy is to find the closest McDonald or Starbucks stores nearby. Yes, it is not because they have better coffees or better hamburgers, but because they have clean bathrooms with seating toilets.
Nonetheless, my husband and I had a great time in China. We went there with a mindset that we are going to be open minded to whatever experience we are going to encounter, just observing and not judging, and simply experiencing our time there fully.
With that in mind, we walked around, took public transportation, and we biked to places. Yes, we biked in Beijing. Our native Chinese friend told us that we are crazy. I think we must be a little bit crazy considering the traffic and how people don’t really follow the traffic lights. I rang the bell the whole time I was biking – making sure of my presence in known. Using my left arm indicating left and right turn, as if they understand. One time, I saw a car was going to cross the street even though the green light gave a way for bikes/motorbikes to go. I, with my both hands, pointed to the green lights indicating our turn, looked at the driver and said,”It’s our turn!” I think my body language spoke louder because he stopped and let me go. I laughed at myself. Joshua laughed at me.
When we stopped at a red light near our hotel (it was at the end of our bike-trip day and we were tired), a traffic officer walked toward us and started speaking in Chinese to us, asking how old we are, where were are from, etc. Laughed and smiled to our broken Chinese. We think that it’s so cool that an officer just walks around and chats with us. He totally concluded our day perfectly, plus the cold beer we had at the hotel’s happy hour.
People were very nice. Very often we got help from locals. One time, we arrived from Jinan, Shandong province, late at night. It was dark and we were not sure about our direction to a place we were heading. This older man saw us confused and then walked with us to the area we were heading and then he went on to his direction. It was a good 15mins walk from the subway station!
The subway system is awesome and so easy; it literally can take you everywhere around China. We took a bullet train to Xian from Beijing. With speed over 300km/hour, we arrived Xian in 5hours, which normally would take 12-16 hours with regular train. Again, from Jinan to Beijing with only 1.5 hours ride. Around Beijing, there are so many subway lines that can take you from downtown to the most outskirt of Beijing, from Ring 1 to Ring 5. Downloading the subway app and getting a local number with data were a huge help in getting us around.
We were adventurous. Going around like a local. Eating street food like a local, and then getting diarrhea not like a local. Oppsss… But hey, it’s part of the adventure.
One of the best parts of the trip is that we met up with friends from Portland! It just felt so great. We ate spicy Sichuan food and got hiccups and turned red, cheers with fruit juice, and parted with promises to see each other again.
We cooked together at a friend’s apartment and took over her bed, letting her slept on the couch. Only true friends will let you take over her bed. 😉
Restaurant foods were great but even greater was home-cooked foods. We were visiting a close friend in Shandong province and her family fed us with delicious home-cooked meal. I still remember the vegetarian dumplings her sister made for us. Oh! So good!
Anyway… If you want to go to China, work on your hip flexers. Remember to bring tissues, buy or “borrow” from your hotel, your choice. You don’t need a mask if you are there only for a few days, you’ll live. A wise advise from my friend who lives there. Most importantly, be open minded, no judging, and fully engage with your experience.