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Trip Report Why travel to China?

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I returned a few weeks ago from 15 days in China. We went there because our daughter is teaching kindergarten in central China, Zhengzhou. I love traveling, but had never thought to visit China, and really didn't know much about it until we started planning. So, posttrip, here are my thoughts on why China is such an unforgettable, fascinating and unique place to visit. I hope it is helpful to you, or opens up a good discussion.

1) The landscapes are unique, varied and incredible. China has everything from desert, to snowy mountain peaks, to craggy, misty mountains, to humid jungle, to undulating rice terraces and everything in between. I had never seen anything like the Longji rice terraces, the karsts around Yangshuo, or the unusual vertical crags of Mount Song Shan (about 1 1/2 hours from Zhengzhou, by the Shaolin Temple). We just don't have this type of thing in the west.

2) The history is so extensive. The ancient Chinese were the inventors of so much, and there are so many ancient sites to see that go back more than 1000 years. Things that are 600 years old are common. Xian, the Great Wall, ancient cities, Buddhist relics such as Longmen Grottoes, etc. The history of China is a must-know for all humanity.

3) The people are friendly. Okay, I am not talking about the touts in the markets or the taxi scammers. Beware there. But we met so many nice people as tour guides, on the streets and trails, and in hotels. People were warm and helpful. That is an important feature for any tourist destination.

4) There is a good public transportation system, at least between major areas. The fast train system is reliable, easy and extensive. The metro in Shanghai was a quick way to get around. We took a sleeper train (get the soft sleeper for a good night's rest) and that was a super fun, surprisingly comfortable immersion into Chinese culture. And it got us where we wanted to go more cheaply and more greenly than a plane. If you are feeling uncertain, ChinaDIY.com will get your train tickets for you, give tips and hold your hand for $10 pp fee. Otherwise, do it yourself on Ctrip.com. Taxis are pretty cheap, but have your destination written in Mandarin, get into the official lines and make sure meters are turned on, esp. when you get in at the stations.

5) Food is good!! Unless you are determined to eat Western food, there are some wonderful culinary experiences in China. Our favorites were hot pot and some of the street food we ate. I had some of the best pasta I have ever eaten in a noodle bowl (like soup) at a little noodle shop in Zhengzhou. Look for where there are crowds. The veggies, especially green beans, eggplant, snow peas and mushrooms, were just fantastic. Lamb kabobs and baked flatbread on the street? Great!

6) The biggest cities that we visited, Shanghai and Beijing, have ultra modern architecture and modern rapid transit. But there is a fascinating contrast with the countryside, in which you can still see fields worked manually, with wooden plows and water buffalo. And three-wheeled vehicles that go the wrong way and don't follow traffic laws. Cool stuff that made for a few laughs, too.

6) China is a country in transition. It has changed alot, and that change is gonna continue. Construction is everywhere. In the cities, a lot of the old neighborhoods are being bulldozed. We found it to be a relatively cheap place to visit, but there is no guarantee that that will be the case in the future. Go now.

Have fun experiencing a fascinating country!!

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    Interesting perspective. Thanks for posting.

    The grandiose has long been an important part of culture in China. From The Great Wall to vast temple complexes built on top of the most dramatic mountains. Form hanging monasteries attachred to the side of cliffs to giant buddhas carved out of rock. The Chinese tend to do theings BIG.

    Some excerpts form Amelie Notthombs novel, Loving Sabotage, which is about the impressions of a 7-year-old Belgian girl living in the San Li Tun diplomatic ghetto in 1974 Peking. I though you'd find it interesting:

    Some countries are like drugs. This is certainly the case with China, with its astonishing power to make all who have been there pretentious.

    I was no exception to the rule. China made me very pretentious indeed. But I had an excuse that few minor sinologists can claim: I was five when I arrived and eight when I left. I remember very well the day I learned that I was going to live in China . I was only five, but already I understood the essential part, which was that I would be able to boast about it.

    This is a rule with no exception: even China ’s greatest critics look forward enthusiastically to setting foot there.

    Nothing inflates a person’s importance so much as the casually uttered words, “I’ve just come back from China .” Even today, when I feel I’m not being treated with due admiration, I’ll drop an indifferent sounding “When I lived in Peking …”

    This has something concrete and specific to it; after all, I could also say, “When I lived in Laos …” which would clearly be more exceptional. But it is less chic.

    And yet, simple snobbery cannot provide the full explanation. Fantasy also plays an enormous and undeniable role. The traveler who disembarks in China without a goodly dose of illusion will never see anything but a nightmare.

    No other country blinds one so thoroughly: everyone who has been there speaks of the splendors they have seen. Even the best-intentioned tend not to mention the creeping hideousness that could not have escaped them. China is like a skilled courtesan who manages to make her physical imperfections disappear without even hiding them.

    And this passage about grammar in China:

    It is correct to say “I learned to read in Bulgaria .” But it would be wrong to say “I learned to read in China .” Correct form demands “It was in China that I learned to read.”

    There is nothing less innocent than syntax. Clearly, this construction cannot be used to introduce a banality.

    Thus, one cannot say “It was in 1974 that I wiped my nose” or ‘It was in Peking that I tied my shoelaces.” At least not without adding “for the first time.” Since without it the statement sounds awkward.

    Analysts of style will find this meeting of syntax and mythology perfectly acceptable. And, their requirements having been satisfied, one can then risk writing the following: “It was in China that I discovered freedom.”

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