China was supposed to be a land of passage. It ended up being the final destination of our trip. We were supposed to spend two-three weeks three. We ended up spending one full month. We had planned to go to Beijing, Shanghai and then all the way to Lhasa. We ended up visiting Beijing and Shanghai as well as very rural areas in Hunan province, multicultural Gansu province, historical Xi’an in Shanxi province, and enchanting Jiangsu province.
If you have followed us so far, you will have expected this post with an attempt of a summary of our Chinese experience in seven questions as we did for Russia and Mongolia. So here we go:
Light bulb - what we have learnt
Ale: China is much more (and much more diverse) than any Chinatown in Europe. And Chinese people do actually eat dogs!
Fra: I learnt a lot. My understanding of the world is wider now, from so many points of view - geographical, photographic, cultural, etc.
Heart - what we have loved
Ale: on the very last day of our journey, our Couchsurfing hosts gave us a mini Chinese language class - that was lovely and so much eye-opening! And I loved walking the inner and then the outer kora around the Labrang monastery.
Fra: warm water. And feeling welcomed when people offered it to us, or when we found it at the railway station. It’s a simple thing that makes one feel at home.
Smile - what made us laugh
Ale: at Beijing station, after going through the security controls, Fra was stopped by a police officer for carrying a portable knife in his backpack. We were starting to explain that we carried it for preparing our food, when another police officer offered to us: “Oh but you use it for shaving, right?”...
Fra: ...Of course, I do - it’s exactly for shaving! [last time I shaved was possibly three years ago - check my picture below!]
Pointing finger - what we take away
Ale: the energy of the people - to set up the most exciting new technology-based innovation in Shanghai, to carry on when life is hard, to look after you when you make them the gift of your visit...
Fra: a deeper and more nuanced understanding of ‘communism’ and its various ways of implementation.
Shaking hands - what connections we have made
Ale: a third of the world’s population live in China, right? Well, no doubt, it was the place where we met the largest number of people. They ranged from our hosts on Couchsurfing to social entrepreneurs and innovators like the founders of Rainbow of Hope, Green Initiatives, Feiy, Impact Hub Shanghai, POSUL (in Chinese), to the inspiring members of the Fresh Start Rotary Club, to the full-of-energy youth from Serve for China, to a philosopher of herbal food, a very hospitable and knowledgeable eco-lodge owner. As well as travellers on long, slow trains. Bakers and restaurant owners in Tibet.
Fra: and besides all of these lovely people, a very special person - a young Chinese man who learnt Italian by listening to the Zecchino d’Oro!
Rooted foot - what we had known already and was important to remember
Ale: China is a continent. We heard young volunteers working on rural development projects saying: “We came here, to this new province, and we didn't know the language, the customs, etc. We had to adapt”. It was great, in our travelling, to get the chance to experience China’s largeness, diversity and very long history.
Fra: Asia is the Far East, it's exotic and its extreme - in its distance from our home, in its richness and its vastity.
Bin - what we’d kick away (didn’t like that much…)
Ale: the smell of cigarette everywhere all the time - on the trains, on the buses, at the restaurant. Non-stop. It is not only unpleasant for non-smokers like me but also a reason for concern! Smoking cigarettes is really not good :-)
Fra: struggling to use the internet as normal. When we arrived and could not access my Gmail, we were advised to open a new email account. Really?! Luckily,we soon signed up on WeChat!
Does anything resonate with you? Whether you have travelled to China or to somewhere else, whether you had similar or completely different experiences, feel free to use the comment box below or email us :)