Have you ever had a moment when you just daze away and into a visualization of your dreams and you find yourself smiling and overcome by a sense of happiness at what you’re imagining? In these moments, the dream seems so far away, but in my case, it actually came true – in the form of a trip to China.
Some days after a meeting with the Ambassador of China to Georgia, I received a call from the Chinese Embassy with the message – “get ready to fly to China in 10 days”. And with these magic words, my adventure began.
A direct 5-hour flight from Tbilisi to Urumqi brought me to the northern parts of China. However, the country is so big that I needed two more stops to get to the island of Hainan and the city of Shanghai.During the internal transfers, you really get a sense that you’re in a different world. Tourists in China mainly visit large cities; the provinces – not so much; therefore, during domestic flights I travelled with locals who were constantly examining me and talking to me smilingly in a language unknown to me.
Unless you plan on gesturing your way everywhere, I suggest taking a phrase dictionary. Almost no one knows English there; although that’s not necessarily the case with big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, where you can expect a decent level of conversational English from the locals.
As far as communication is concerned, don’t forget that access to modern social media platforms is limited in China, so sites like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, and Skype are blocked. “We Chat” and “WhatsApp” both do work. There is also a Chinese-language Google, but the information it provides is selective. If you acquire a local phone number, you can use the internal cellular network, although you won’t be able to call abroad (note that people abroad can call you).
Being without Internet only bothered me for the first 3 days, after which the digital world became an afterthought. Within two weeks I felt freed from the bounds of the Internet and the captivity of people’s opinions.First, I visited the extreme South – the island of Hainan – which welcomed me with its 27 million residents, tropical summers, and unforgettable adventures.
The island grows and produces rice, tropical fruit, tea, chocolate and many other commodities that are then supplied to the whole rest of the country. You can see massive rice plantations in action here, as well as the harvest process for cocoa, bananas, pineapples and other fruits and vegetables that you haven’t even heard of. I got to try a lot of foreign fruit, which I tasted with great interest, curiosity and caution.
There are probably exactly zero aggressive people in China. There is a saying that humans are naturally kind, and therefore if evil manifests itself in someone, that means they’re not acting from their true nature and its riddance can be achieved by returning to this original state. The latter is achieved through education. In this country, I was amazed at how 1.3 billion people could not step on each other’s toes and maintain harmony.
My journey continued through other cities: we visited Sanya – where a beauty contest is held, Nanjin – the setting for the famous cartoon movie “Kung Fu Panda”, Suzhou – the Chinese “Venice”, Shanghai, and several other cities. Frankly, Shanghai itself requires about a week to see all the wonders of its old and new parts. It’s truly a remarkable city with its 23 million residents.
In old Shanghai, you will see many houses that are typical of Chinese architecture, with beautiful decorations and exteriors that quite frequently feature dragons. In contrast, new Shanghai offers modern high-rise buildings, business and commercial centers, beautiful views and a vibrant nightlife.
In the suburbs of Shanghai, there is a panda safari where you can watch them sleep, eat and play. This was truly one of the most memorable experiences of the trip. In the top-brand stores here, I saw clothes that was better quality than anything I’ve seen in any other developed country.
I was especially taken away by Chinese cuisine – delicious and yet healthy. Green tea is incomparable. They drink it 15-20 times a day in little cups, without sugar. I recommend buying some and taking it back home with you.
You probably don’t need me to tell you how unique Chinese art is, but know that you will come across beautiful ceramic pottery, scores of handmade items, musical instruments, drawings and many other things that you can obtain for fairly decent prices as souvenirs for yourself and/or others.
China is a culturally rich and diverse country that surprises you every step of the way. After seeing it, you will probably think it produces more stuffs than the whole rest of the world put together.
This was a journey about novelty, astonishment, a bit of healthy fear, and many unforgettable experiences that will now become the reason I smile the next time I daze away.