Ever find yourself lost in all the thoughts and moments of the day and yearn to go further? Beyond the boundaries and familiarities of that which you know and trust, but perhaps are growing bored of? Sometimes, though we may feel forever fond of our hometowns, their well-known faces and their lifelong memories, they cannot quench that undeniable thirst for adventure, that urge to getaway. Saint Augustine once said: “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” The first step you take on that beautiful, foreign land is you turning the page and beginning your own adventure. And where better to start than somewhere with breath-taking, vast and versatile landscapes? A country that offers exquisite regional cuisine and dishes at every border? A country that is dipped in thousands of years of culture, ancient medicine, philosophy and customs which we still recognise in its alive and beating heart? A country that is not just a country, but a feeling, a sentiment and a way of life. This is China.
Over the years, travellers have added their individual experiences to the growing reputation China has as an extraordinary, unique and, at times, chaotic country. It has been described as ‘bemusing’, ‘beautiful’, ‘challenging’, ‘delicious’ and ‘the trip of a lifetime’. And it’s not hard to understand why. The roots of the first Chinese civilization dating back to more than one million years ago. Since then, China has evolved from ancient dynasties to the modern revolution and is now the country that it is today. Its rich history and sheer vastness mean that there is always more to learn, uncover and indulge in. China was the birthplace of Confucius, and many of those age-old proverbs and sayings that lots of us endeavour to live by were born out of Chinese philosophy and tradition. The roots of much of our understanding of acupuncture, homoeopathic remedies, and herbal health benefits stem from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). We owe more to China than we think.
One of the overwhelming aspects of travelling through China that people have picked up on over the years is the generosity and kindness of the people. This may be hard to believe at first when pondering the size of the country or glimpsing the busy, bustling streets, but it really is true. The Chinese are big on helpfulness, whether it’s helping you with directions or explaining a local delicacy, you can be guaranteed a pleasant welcome by China’s inhabitants. They are also big on family and physical closeness. Many people have found that, when sitting down to a meal in China, they feel as though they are sitting at a wholesome family table. This stretches across the full country as people treat everything as communal and for sharing… With sometimes even a friendly little fight over who is taking care of the tab! One traveller said, “I have never been treated to more meals than in China.” As well as this, you may even have noticed, people in China put lots of emphasis on the importance of physical closeness – the connection through touching one another that can never quite be matched, even with the wonders of modern technology. Citizens of China, male, female, young, old, friends, family and everything in between, often walk around arm in arm or joined in some physical way. As we grow up and leave the innocence of childhood behind, we often become cynical, shying away from the simple and pure things that we once partook in without question – a simple hug, kiss or handhold. In China, you can expect to feel a part of something, it is a guarantee that it will make your trip even more meaningful.
So, what is there to do? The question is, rather, what isn’t there to do? Explorer, historian, art fanatic, philosopher, music lover or foodie, China has it all. Some must-see sites in China include the Forbidden City of Beijing and the Shanghai Circus World. The Forbidden City, a palace in the heart of Beijing, was home to many emperors for centuries – from the Ming to the Qing Dynasty. The stunning architecture and surrounding gardens are sure to leave you speechless, and certainly, let you into some secrets of China’s past. For those of you that want to take things less seriously, kick back and be entertained, Shanghai’s Circus World is the place for you. It seats over 1,500 people at any one time, and upon admission, you will be privy to performers of every kind and given the opportunity to experience the real magic of a circus. It would certainly be a mistake to miss out on seeing China’s national treasure, the giant panda. Home to fifty pandas, the Chengdu Panda Park is an excellent, safe and educational way to encounter these beautiful, solemn creatures and understand why the Chinese love them so much. For historians and art lovers, a visit to the Terracotta Army is essential. These magnificent sculptures were built as an act of protection for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang. The idea was to have the figures depict his armies so that he would be watched over and protected even in death. It truly is one of the most magnificent pieces of art you are likely to ever see.
What can you eat? The quality of the food in China, both off the streets and in high-end restaurants is, quite frankly, unparalleled. When walking the streets of China, it is not uncommon for you to come across, Jiaozi (dumplings), Huo Guo (hotpot) and even Rou Jia Mo (Chinese hamburgers)! Street food is generally low on price and high on quality, and you would be missing out to not try as many new things as you possibly can. The cuisine of China also changes depending on what area you find yourself in. For example, Beijing is world-famous for its Peking Roast Duck. This well-loved dish, both crisp and delicate, is often complemented by hoisin sauce and cucumber and enjoyed in thin white pancakes. What more could you want? Sichuan cuisine, however, is renowned for its spice and zest, so much so that it may even numb your mouth! Sichuan pork and fried chicken are perhaps some of the most delicious delicacies you will ever taste.
China is simultaneously weird and wonderful, and you may see some sights you’re not used to. Perhaps it would benefit you to keep in mind the thoughts of a past traveller: “It’s China. That’s just how it is.” From motorbike cargo – that is, motorbikes zooming past you carrying boxes, animals, or perhaps a whole family – to a distinct lack of traffic rules, embrace whatever comes your way. You might find yourself in awe of The Green Village of Houtouwan, an abandoned fishing village covered entirely greenery or pondering how small we really are as humans whilst taking in the views from the 5,000 feet high Tianmen Skywalk. Whatever you see or do, wherever you end up, just remember, it’s China!
So, with all this in mind, only one question remains: What are you waiting for? China, though mighty, and perhaps even daunting, is the key to unlocking the door of the unknown, the magical. It’s a chance to immerse yourself in history, food, language and to get to know a people and a culture that could influence your life in ways you never would’ve dreamed of. Embrace being a wanderer, and remember, as J.R.R Tolkien famously said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”
Article Written by Chloe Nelson @ The Overseas Teacher