So I have had a brief hiatus from blogging for the past month. The reason being because I have been in China. I know, so random, right? Well, I had the opportunity to travel there for a month and experience their amazing culture, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk a little bit about what I learned about life in China.
Let me start off by saying that I feel like traveling and experiencing other cultures is an incredibly important thing to do in life. It really puts in perspective our own place in the world, breaks down biases, and helps to broaden point of views. Learning and participating in other cultures, no matter where you are from, just makes you a more complete person on a spiritual level and gives you an appreciation for how beautiful humanity is.
That being said, I have traveled to a lot of countries in my lifetime, so i do truly feel blessed. But this was my first time to China! So I didn’t really know what to expect. I know the west has a long and complicated history with China, so I was curious to see what role that would play in my experience. My mood could be described as eager and excited but nervous, as probably anyone would feel when traveling to a foreign land. I wanted to make sure I was safe, but at the same time adventurous. So as I spent my month traveling through almost 20 cities throughout China, I learned a lot of amazing things about it!
First off, people in China are all incredibly friendly and nice. It’s not that that came as a surprise that there are wonderful people in China, but I can’t say that I had even one tense experience with any of my interactions. As anyone from a metropolitan city can attest, we have all had tension with other people from time to time. So I was amazed how relaxed and friendly everyone was compared to the rat race I have been used to. Case in point, I had an amazing experience while at the bank trying to convert currency. I forgot my passport at the hotel, and a lady behind me in line named Hongxia overheard my trouble. She offered to take me to another bank around the corner that was more suited to exchanging currency where she could use her ID to make the exchange for me. Now normally, I would think something like that would be a scam. She might have 5 people around the corner waiting to beat me up. Unfortunately, that’s just how you have to think sometimes. But I went with it, and decided to go with her. And that’s pretty much it. We exchanged the currency and she told me to have a great trip! No scams, or catches, or alternative motives. Just an awesome person who wanted to do something nice. To me though, I saw this as her taking 20 minutes out of her day to help a stranger for not a thought of anything in return. Like, it was just a natural reaction. And this was just one of the many interactions I had with people in China who all seem to be really awesome human beings. I was really humbled by the experience.
The weather, however was altogether another story. I have never experienced humidity on this level. A steam room would have been a welcome rest from it. But despite it, people walk and bike everywhere and seem to survive just fine. And oddly enough, after about a week, I managed to get used to it as well. One thing that I weirdly loved was the spontaneous rain. Some nights there would be thunderstorms, and as I would be sitting in my hotel room, I could look out the window into the dark stormy night and feel the rumble of the thunder as it seemed to crash down from the sky like a wave…I guess I like thunderstorms for some strange reason.
And of course the food was a huge part of my exploration. I have to say I was really eager to see what kind of food I would experience. In all my travels, I have to say China has the most interesting food I have experienced. Not necessarily the best ( it is a mixed bag, as I will further explain), but the culture around food in China was very fun to learn about. Let me start off by saying that there is no health department in China to speak of, and in some locations, the quality of establishment can be very…well, lets just say that I was greeted by a few more unchecked rats than I was ready for. And that’s to say nothing about the stories of the gutter oil…believe me, you don’t want to know, but if you’re curious you can youtube it! And although that sounds like something terrible, I looked at it like it is an adventure to experience. And after all, what is adventure without a little danger, right? So, getting past all the fears of what might be, after actually doing a little exploring I found the food culture to be very rich. One thing I found interesting is that there is practically no ice in china, and most beverages are served hot…even orange juice in the morning. Not even room temperature, Hot! It took a little getting used to, but their reasoning is that heat is healing for the body and cold is damaging. Interesting, right? The street food was incredible. My favorite dining experiences involved the late night places that have a selection of skewered food and a guy with a grill on the corner of the street. You can choose from a huge selection of skewered meat and vegetables. Just pick out what you want and how many and the cook will grill them for you right there, and you can sit down at a box-turned-table and enjoy your food fresh outside. It sounds a little dicey, but its actually charming, and strangely satisfying. For breakfast, my favorite thing to walk down the street and find someone selling meat bags (we know them as “bao”, but I like saying their translation of “meat bags” a little more!) and fried breadsticks which are a little like donuts are here.
Exploring the cities was fun to find food and interact with people. The only phrase I could master was to ask where the bathroom was, so I took every opportunity to act like I knew a little Chinese even though I had no idea how to respond when someone called my bluff!
Another thing that is a must do is exploring the historical parts and ruins that still stand. My favorite was Leifang Pagoda. It was a tower built to imprison a serpent called Lady White Snake who, after thousands of years of studying magic, was able to turn herself into a human. She married and lived happily until a monk captured her husband. When she confronted the monk, they fought and the monk was able to imprison her in the pagoda. He told her that he would not release her until either the surrounding lake dried up, or the pagoda collapsed. And strangely enough, the pagoda did collapse in the 1940’s. Locals reported stories that they saw a young woman escaping the rubble. Whats more interesting is that there is superstition that all who visit the surrounding lake will all in love due to a cure put upon the area by the Lady White Snake.
So my main take away from this whole experience. After being able to take part in a completely different culture and way of life, even after all our differences, human beings are all essentially the same. We all seek out the same things whether it’s food, or friendship, or love. And it is, in my opinion, essential to travel and meet people from vastly different backgrounds in order to see that our differences are something that should be celebrated.
So anyhow, I’m back now and just finished an incredible workshop in Napa that I will be writing about very soon, complete with a bunch of pictures and recipes. It’s good to be back!