China China China. Oh China. It’s been a long week here in China. Yes long but also really exciting. I know I said this about Japan, but I’ll say it again for China: it was not at all what I was expecting it to be. Maybe I need to just stop expecting or anticipating certain things from certain countries so I’ll stop being surprised by what I see. As for China, I was expecting it to be a very distinct society, have developed infrastructure, and the streets to be crowded with people. In reality that was not the case for the majority of the places I visited. We ported in Shanghai, spent two days there, then headed to Beijing for two days, and finally we flew to Hong Kong where we met the ship and deported from.
Our first day spent in Shanghai was on a field lab with my Christianity class. We visited Basilica of Our Lady of She Shan; which is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and preservation. I wasn’t thinking this was going to be anything special other than visiting a place of worship for Christians here in China. That was not the case, I learned so much about Christianity, how it spread, and how Christians are treated all around the world. America is sheltered by freedom and I never knew how much persecution there was surrounding religion and more specifically Christianity. I learned some pretty disheartening information about the Chinese government and their control. This experience was more emotional than I expected it to be but really opened my eyes to what other cultures have to endure and how I take such a big part of my life for granted. However, the facilities of the Basilica were so beautiful. It turned out to be such a memorable day that changed my perspective to be more understanding and I’m really thankful for that. Our second day in Shanghai was an authentic experience for sure. We visited an underground market and it was so interesting. The Chinese love to bargain and Paige was the MVP of bargaining. Of course she made friends with all the retailers and started joking with them and we had so much fun with it. It was a whole new experience and I actually really loved it. That night the ship was leaving Shanghai to head for Hong Kong and since we were traveling overland we had to head for the airport in order to get to Beijing. We spent the night at the airport hotel and started our morning early the following morning.
A group of five of us headed to Beijing. Once we got there we were shocked to see that it wasn’t what we saw back in 2008 during the Olympic times. The actual Olympics area and arena were farther out in the outskirts of the city and we were staying in the heart of downtown. Figuring out the subway system in order to get to our Airbnb was an experience for the books. All we had was the address, which was written in Chinese, and fragmented directions thanks to the translation from Chinese to English. However, leave it to Paige to figure it out with no GPS or English-speaking natives. Once we settled in it was pretty much smooth sailing for the rest of the evening. We did head to the Forbidden City for a short while and that was really neat to experience. That was the first chance for me to experience how different Chinese government and society is from what I am used to. We had an early morning with our second day in Beijing. We had a personal tour guide, William, who took us to the Dingling Underground Palace, the Jade Museum, a traditional Chinese lunch, and finally to the Great Wall. The Dingling Underground Palace was really awesome. It’s an underground tomb of an emperor from the Chinese Ming Dynasty. It was excavated in 1956 and is the only tomb to be opened from any emperor in China thus far. It was so interesting seeing how much respect and power the emperors had and how politically different life is. The Jade factory was really neat as well as we got to touch and buy real jade as well as see how it is crafted. Lunch was a traditional Chinese meal at a diner at the bottom of the Great Wall and it was delicious. Then we headed to my personal favorite destination: the Great Wall. Once we got to the Wall we took what was like a ski lift up the side of the Wall. Once we were up there we were able to explore and climb as much of the Great Wall as we wanted. In my opinion, that is a monument that everyone should go see if they have the opportunity. The structure is incredible and has such meaning behind it and it was amazing seeing first hand. Once we were finished adventuring and hiking we rode a toboggan sled back down to the bottom. The sleds were single sleds but Paige and I both left at the same time from the top so we were essentially doing it together. It was one of the most riveting three minutes and nineteen seconds of my life and we got it all on the GoPro. I had such a blast doing the private tour and experiencing the authentic Chinese traditions and monuments. These activities were about an hour and a half from where we stayed so we were also able to see the Olympic area in passing. It was really neat to see first hand but much different than what was shown on television back in ’08.
As I said, I was expecting China to have a certain society, developing infrastructure, and crowded streets. Yes they are very patriotic and there is red everywhere (if you know what I mean.) In the big cities there are developed infrastructure and crowded streets, however, that’s not what the majority of China is like. All around the people seem to be the same, not too many of them care for us Americans and they are very aggressive, not in a negative way, just very different than what I’m used to. In Japan the people loved Americans and welcomed us with open arms. The majority of the Japanese would help us if we looked lost with what little English they spoke. It was so much different here in China. It seemed that the Chinese were very into their people and were in a rush to get everywhere, no matter where we were. Not to say that they were deliberately rude (yes there was some of that) but most people didn’t make an effort to help us or care to make sure we were alright. I don’t expect everyone to cater to the Americans but I thought the Chinese would be a little nicer considering the genuine Chinese people that I have encountered before. The entire time while we were in China I felt like we were be solicited to and that was very overwhelming and I didn’t really love that but it provided me with the opportunity to experience something new. There were government cameras at every angle of every square inch of the entire country, that was so strange for me and I didn’t really care for that too much to be honest. There were also male government officials in green suits that were at every corner of every street watching the patrons; it was kind of creepy. The majority of the infrastructure was more run down and old than what I expected. The only real modern buildings were in the outskirts of Beijing where the Olympic buildings were built for the 2008 Olympics. With China being so overpopulated there was not much commotion. Yes the cities were like any big city back at home but nothing more overwhelming than Chicago, in fact I thought the cities we visited were less crowded than the big cities. However, I thought the cities and even the small towns were much dirtier than any place I’ve been. There was no real management of waste. Oh ya speaking of waste, the toilets were just a porcelain hole in the ground, which was interesting getting used to. However, with all of that, it really was still a great experience in Beijing. After our adventures in Beijing we headed to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong was actually incredible. Even though it’s considered to be a China, it’s nothing like mainland China. They have their own government, their own citizens, and a completely different way of life. Personally, I felt that Hong Kong’s people were closer to that of Japan’s. As soon as we landed in Hong Kong from Beijing we were greeted with smiling faces. Not too many people spoke English but they were so willing to help us and wanted nothing in return. After some troubles of finding the port the ship was docked in, we made it and began to settle back into the routine of ship life. The next morning we had an entire day to explore Hong Kong, and we did just that. The city was much cleaner, the people were much nicer, and the air was cleaner than that in any other Chinese city. So on the last day we just explored the small markets, experienced some other small adventures in the city of Hong Kong, and slowly made our way back to the ship in hopes to sail to Vietnam.
Those hopes of starting our journey to Vietnam were delayed a little. We were informed that the captain wanted to wait to begin our sail due to rough sea conditions. Although this cuts our time in Japan off by a full day, I’m happy that we’re staying safe on the sailing. I can’t wait to be in Vietnam as we have some really exciting activities and plans on our itinerary. As for China, I learned so much about the cultural aspects of the country and this experience made me appreciate all that I have and appreciate this opportunity for exploration.