Adventures In China Part Two
Hard to believe it, right? I only paid $1,500 for this adventure of a lifetime, 2-week gourmet tour throughout 6 major cities in China.
This journey stands out in my mind so vibrantly that I can write about China as if it were yesterday…20 years later.
Even the misadventures, which were few, still make me giggle.
There was the evening post Great Wall climb where I ordered a masseuse to my hotel room, and it turned out the young girl was absolutely horrible at giving actual massages, and bruised a few of the other travelers.
While visiting an herbalist for private consultations, my tour group of 20 compared notes afterwards and found out the doctor used scare tactics to sell us more herbal remedies! He told the women they would get obese and the men would experience erectile dysfunction if they didn’t purchase what he prescribed. We all had a good laugh on the bus.
After I reprimanded one of the group’s families who showed up 20 minutes late every single morning, I nearly missed the bus back to Beijing whilst trekking The Great Wall of China. Turns out there were far too many tourists congregating for stunning photo opps, so I hiked out several miles away from people and then lost track of my whereabouts. There’s more to this interesting story, suffice to say I sprinted up the Great Wall with a heavy backpack and caught the bus just in time.
Pollution is Chinese cities is a devastating problem, in fact I found the visibility extremely poor and air quality challenging, compounded by September heat and humidity.
People watching was a highlight during my 2-week adventure, and one interesting thing I noticed about the elderly was there higher level of activity compared to western culture.
Men and women in their 80-90s would ride bikes for transport, practice Tai Chi or dancing in public parks, weed their own gardens and rigorously play with the great-great-grandchildren.
This was fascinating to me and I snapped as many portraits as people would allow.
I shall never forget another particular elderly woman and still kick myself for not grabbing a picture.
While boarding a plane from Beijing to Xi’an, the slowly-moving line of passengers inched forward from the airport unto the jet bridge and into the plane, and the woman behind me became annoyingly too close for comfort.
She repeatedly stepped on my heels and prodded me into the passenger ahead.
I shot her a scathing look that hopefully relayed my message of “Back off!”
The non-verbal, eye-contact communication got me nowhere as she pressed us forward through the aisle.
In a couple glances I noticed this older lady was a sturdy farmer, as her weather-beaten face told the story of hard fieldwork, a wide-brimmed farming hat in-hand and 2 dirty rucksacks hung off her strong shoulders.
She stepped on my foot and swung past me as I attempted to get out of her way; she was seated in the seat directly behind.
For two hours the farmer woman chatted loudly with passengers, and I felt her familiar nudges as we deplaned in Xi’an.
Did this woman just want to bother me?!
I couldn’t go any faster and there was nowhere to move out of her way, yet she insisted on pushing me and trampling my person space.
As luck would have it, there was a long line for the woman’s bathroom in the Xi’an airport, and guess who was behind me eager to use the toilet too?
My 24-year-old patience had reached its limit as I finally turned to the farmer woman and blurted out, “What the fuck?”
The look on her face told me everything I needed to know.
Inwardly chuckling as I got my turn on the squatty potty, I realized she: a) did not understand my English profanity, and b) was clueless to the cultural exchange.
It was normal for her to push people around and encroach on their personal space! My seemingly obvious frustration was simply lost in translation.
That Xi’an elderly farmer lady probably forgot me moments after our incident, but I remember her clearly even 20 years later.
The Longjing Tea Plantation & Village in the mountainous park was a special experience.
130 acres wide garden with attractions related to tea culture, I sipped a variety of teas in a 100-year-old tea-house, trekked through the stunning plantation hillsides, watched the progress of roasting tea and learned how to hold a proper ceremony and pour a skillful cup of tea.
There are different cultural meanings to pouring tea for guests, and one that made me laugh loudly in the quiet tea-house was this:
If your host pours a cup of tea to the brim, it means they want you to drink and leave quickly.
Now if your host pours a tiny bit of water into your tea leaves, it means they want you to stay a while and converse, and they’ll keep refilling hot water as your teacup needs it.
One enchanting highlight is sipping tea at the Dragon Well in the garden and learning about the ancient 1,000-year Chinese history of tea.
The countryside was gorgeous and I felt extremely alive walking through the terraces, watching growers pick tea leaves, knowing I was drinking the highest quality found in China.
I spent more money on mementos than I did on the entire 6-city, 2-week tour, and one item I walked away proudly with was a large canister of their highest grade of tea.
How does it taste? Well, it’s acquired for those whose taste buds can discern the potency of freshly harvested green tea. When you chew and swallow the actual tea leaves during your tea-sipping experience, you’ll add quite a bit more nutrition.
Food was a mealtime adventure every single day, and I agreed to eat some of the more unique dishes, like barbecue rattlesnake and baby turtle stew, of which I had to first remove it’s little toe claws before digesting. I passed the dumpling feast challenge in Xi’an by eating every single one of their delectable fresh dumplings served to me during an evening of entertainment. I’ve never felt so full in my life!
Have you ever tried Peking duck? It is absolutely delicious when prepared roasted properly.
Back in the day when I used to eat meat, I’d select Peking duck over any steak of beef.
In Beijing, formerly Peking, there are a couple famous restaurants that are renown for their amazingly scrumptious duck, and I was lucky enough to visit one!
Straight to the top floor the elevator took me, and I wandered the hallways with photos of celebrities, politicians and other VIP guests who shared the same culinary enthusiasm.
Prior to duck roasting, I was given this special pen to sign my name on the duck’s uncooked skin, and once roasted the name popped into full visibility.
Perhaps it was a bit touristy, but I enjoyed eating my own name carved into the crispy duck skin as I expertly wrapped it in Chinese pancakes with spring onions cut into brush shapes and sweet bean sauce.
A multiple-hour rickshaw ride around Beijing, and my elderly driver’s calves of steel, reminds me of an unforgettable journey where we stopped for intermission.
The rickshaw procession drove us to visit some locals living in homes one step above hovels.
Wide-eyed and curious, I walked into this inner city village of people living in small cement boxes with 3 walls and mere curtains for entryways.
A cute older man with a friendly smile took my hand and excitedly led me around his home, whilst speaking rapid Mandarin he proudly showed off his prized possessions.
The man was most fond of his pet, a white bird, singing in a cage that hung from the open entrance of his house, only protected by a flimsy, pink cloth acting as the door.
This gesture warmed my heart.
Joy transcends language barriers, culture and material wealth. These people had seemingly so little, yet were proud to show me how well they lived.
During my international travels I’ve explored 2 of the 3 world’s biggest slums in both Mumbai and Nairobi.
Many travelers would turn a blind eye or be fearful to experience abject poverty, yet I desire to witness how humanity lives in all its different ways.
I want to see for myself. This keeps me perpetually humble.
Witnessing the 40,000 unearthed Terracotta Warriors was quite the sight and the site!
We see them in glossy postcards, animated in silly Hollywood movies, or walk past fakes in fancy restaurants.
Alas, to see the real ones up-close-and-personal is a far different experience!
“The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE with the purpose of protecting the emperor in his afterlife. The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE, were discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong County, outside Xi’an, Shaanxi, China.” – Wikipedia
Interestingly enough, I bought one from the ‘government issue’ store of authenticity and had my tour guide bargain for me.
Well, I don’t know if I got a good deal or not, because it cost thousands of dollars to purchase and ship a life-size “Archer” terracotta warrior to San Francisco.
I named him Ping and he traveled with with to various homes in California, ending up with an ex-husband after a divorce.
Years later I heard a nephew broke off his arm. Poor Ping.
Another memorable city was Suzhou, China ‘The Venice of the East.’
What an enchanting place to explore, especially after visiting the famous Venice, Italy one year prior.
Suzhou is renown for many water canals and bridges around the city; in fact more than 42% of the city is covered in water!
The oar man of my boat was an elderly chap, quite adept at steering us through the waterways to avoid hitting other boats.
Unlike Venice, Italy, there was no serenading.
One day I’ll return to explore more of China’s interior region and take a cruise down the Yangtze River. China is a massive country, boasting a whopping population of 1.4 billion people! I am drawn to some of the lesser known areas away from crowded cities, as well as the opportunity to explore Mongolia.
Enjoy the Photo Gallery below and ‘Adventures In China Part One.’
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