1. NATURAL BEAUTY
When most people think of China, the first thing that comes to mind are mega-cities with congested roads, massive crowds of people, factories churning out cheap goods, and a thick gray sky full of smog floating overhead. If the only images of China you get are from Western media, it makes sense that this is your perception. After living and traveling here for a few years, though, that’s not what springs up in my mind when I think of the Middle Kingdom. Rather, I see the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, the bewildering karst mountains of Guangxi, the sheer beauty of Jiuzhaigou national park in Sichuan, and the rolling rice fields of southern Yunnan. Even around Beijing and Shanghai, you don’t have to go far to be near a towering mountain or a majestic river. Get out of the concrete jungle and explore some of China’s natural beauty, because it’s all over the place.
2. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Coming from the Detroit area, I didn’t grow up with much exposure to public transportation. After all, it is the Motor City – everyone drives and options are limited and unreliable when it comes to public transport. In fact, this can be said for the entire United States. Planning a big trip via bus or train can be tricky if not impossible in the US, where outside of a few major cities public transportation is laughable at best. That’s not the case here in the Middle Kingdom, where you can travel to all corners of this massive country by bus or train. It’s astonishing what China has done in the past decade in terms of train travel – it now has the biggest high-speed rail network in the world, with nearly 7,000 miles of track. There are plans to double this by 2020, and lofty talks of building lines to connect China with London, Singapore, and even the United States. The high-speed trains are great and all, but I also love taking the older, slower trains when traveling. Hard-sleeper bunks are affordable and actually quite comfortable, and a long train journey in China is a great way to see the country and mingle with locals.
China is a huge, fascinating country with so much to see, and I love getting out and seeing it bit by bit. I love traveling here so much, in fact, that it’s possible I’ll visit every part of China before I visit every state back home. From the mega-cities, to seaside hotspots, to holy mountains, to stunning national parks, to historical sites, to tiny remote villages, China literally has it all. Getting out of your comfort zone here and heading to lesser known destinations is a rewarding experience as well, since you’re forced to use your Chinese, eat local food, and really dive into the heart of the country. I always loved traveling outside of Beijing, because it reminded me that I actually lived in China. Working as an English teacher in a place like Shanghai, it was easy to get sucked into the expat bubble, but there’s no such thing in most places you go here.
There’s just something about ancient Chinese music that I love. While I don’t know a whole lot about it, I do know that it sounds good. I got so interested in traditional Chinese instruments that I did a lot of research about them. I had an amazing time researching the posts and watching tons of YouTube videos. Traditional Chinese instruments produce an amazing sound. But it’s not just the traditional stuff I dig here. There’s plenty of great modern music as well.
5. LEARNING MANDARIN
Sure, mandarin is hard as hell to learn. With four tones and 10,000+ characters, it’s a daunting task to take on. Although my Chinese is not nearly as good as it could and should be (that’s what happens when you teach English full-time!), I love learning the language and doing my best to use it on a daily basis. Languages really do open doors, and when you can speak Chinese, even just a little. People are much more receptive to you and start to let their guard down a bit. Of course, I’ll always still be a laowai, but being able to speak a little Chinese goes a long way in making friends here and has been the catalyst for lots of incredible experiences. Of course, if you want to learn Chinese as well, you’ve come to the right place!