Chinese culture is rich, diverse, and will hit you like a ton of bricks. Keep an open mind while you're traveling, because this will be an experience of a lifetime.
Getting there is often half the fun, and in China there are limitless ways to travel from point A to point B. China already has the world's longest high-speed rail network, and has plans to add many new lines in the coming years. But there's more than just trains. Sightseeing in Chongqing? Cross the Yangtze or Jialing rivers in an old-school cable car. Horses are the best way to get around in the beautiful countryside surrounding Songpan in Sichuan. If you're flying into Shanghai's Pudong Airport, take the superslick maglev train into town at speeds of more than 260 miles per hour. China's crown jewels of passenger transport belong to Hong Kong, where it's normal to get around by light rail, bus, taxi, trolley, boat—it even has the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world.
Foot-massage spas are becoming all the rage in China, but if you thought this was a new trend brought on by an upwardly mobile (and naturally more footsore) Chinese populace, think again. While Western medicine sees the foot as mere locomotion, practitioners of traditional Chinese reflexology think that bodily health is reflected in the sole. Each organ is connected to a specific reflex point on the foot. With precise and skillful manipulation of these points, vital functions can be stimulated, toxins eliminated, blood circulation improved, and nerves soothed. If your masseur is skilled, he'll be able to give you a fairly accurate health diagnosis after just a few minutes of looking at the bottoms of your feet. Are you a smoker? Do you suffer from indigestion? Have you been sleeping poorly? Your feet tell all.
China Beyond the Han
The Han are far and away the dominant ethnic group in China, but there is surprising ethnic diversity, from Uighurs with almost European features in Xinjiang to nomadic Mongols, to the Dai and Hani of Xishuangbanna. Officially there are 56 ethnic groups that make up the great Chinese nation. Though small in number relative to the Han, the minorities have historically been a force to be reckoned with. Rulers of the last dynasty (the Qing) were Manchus. Though Chinese history is rife with examples of inter-tribal war and Han incursion into non-Han territory (Tibet being the latest and most famous example), the revolution, in theory, leveled the playing field. Traveling through areas less dominated by the Han Chinese offers views of the country far different from the usual Beijing-Shanghai-Three Gorges tour.
All the Tea in China
For a vast majority of the Chinese people the day begins and ends with tea. Whether it's being savored in a delicate ceremonial porcelain cup or slurped out of a glass mason jar, you can bet that the imbiber takes tea consumption seriously. Ask a Chinese person about the best tea and the answer will very likely depend on where they're from. The highly prized Pu'er tea has a dark color and heavy, almost earthy flavor. It gets its name from the region of southern Yunnan Province where it's grown. Fujian produces the best oolong teas, thanks to the high mountains and favorable climate. Oolong is usually served with much ceremony. Perhaps the most expensive tea in China is a variant of green tea from the Longjing ("Dragon Well") region of Hangzhou. Longjing tea is served in clear glasses, so one can watch the delicate dance of the long, thin leaves as they float to the top.
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