Before boarding the longest flight of my life (twenty-six hours between JFK, Vancouver, Hong Kong and finally Shanghai), I had reached out to a friend that had visited China a fews years prior. After detailing a handful of spots to add to our list, she punctuated her text with, "I hope you have a better time than we did."
I'd like to think we did, but I must admit navigating through Beijing and Tianjin as a Westerner was difficult. Although hospitality desks provide print-outs of round-trip directions with English and Chinese translations, there is quite a bit that happens between those moments. If you and I ever sit down with a bottle of wine, I'll share my story of the longest cab ride of my life. The six hour adventure involved four different drivers, scenes from the film Babel, three police men, one hotel desk attendant, a desperate call to a tour guide from the previous day's excursion, a barage of honking/flashing lights and no seat belts in the back.
The things that resonate with me most may seem a bit silly, but I'm the type of person that walks into a pharmacy or bodega to see how people live. The products or tools that are at the core of every day living tell a story. Train stations are particularly transparent, as they strip down to basic needs.
In China, hot water fountains are installed rather than cool water. Folks refill bottles of tea and make instant soups.
ATMs are scarce (quite literally a challenge to locate) and cash was king. We walked a few miles before we stumbled upon a bank and were able to withdraw some local currency.
Eastern toilets. It wasn't my first rodeo, but I somehow forgot that these are a thing and was grateful I had napkins from my morning trip to the cafe on hand. I learned to carry hand sanitizer and paper with me every where.
Also notable, you are expected to sit in the front seat of a cab. This came as quite a surprise to me as I'm accustomed to the plastic barricades in New York cabs. Apparently, stranger danger isn't a thing in China.
Living a stone's throw from Manhattan's Chinatown, we are well versed in authentic Chinese food. Oddly, our favorite meal was dim sum in the Hong Kong airport. I have to say there was a consistency to the traditional dishes we tried to what you can find in New York. The one surprise we encountered was the popularity of live scorpion skewers (and many other types of critters) at Wangfujing.
The tour guide that brought us to the Great Wall, Ming Tomb and a Jade house was the only person we encountered that spoke English. We shared many hours in traffic with him and he spent a good portion of this time telling us about his daughter,"It's better to have a girl I think, you don't have to take on the expense of bringing another family member into your home." As well, he explained the challenge of becoming a home owner and the government's involvement in the process. Most surprising to me, he went into intimate detail about population control and his positive opinion of the practice. He was humble, kind and we are ever grateful that he gave us his cell phone number, as mentioned above, he acted as an interpreter between us and a cab driver the next day.
View my complete China album at Flickr.Tweet