After barely sleeping for three days and enduring a fifteen hour flight from Melbourne, I finally arrived in Beijing and began to explore the large and culturally diverse country that is the Peoples Republic of China. During my time in Beijing I saw live scorpions being served up as dinner, bargain hunted in small markets, almost got ripped off by a dodgy ‘art dealer’, strolled down the ancient ‘Hutongs’ (alleyways) which criss cross through the city and much more. My senses were enticed by a variety of new and exiting tastes, colours and smells and I was amazed by the sheer diversity that could be seen between rich and poor, developed and undeveloped, Asian and Western.
I faced many challenges during my time in Beijing, most notably the language barrier and culture differences. Air pollution is also a major issue that millions of Chinese have to face daily, making it hard to breathe and even see. Along with this, poverty and hardship was evident throughout the city. It was confronting to see disadvantaged people living off the streets and picking things out of rubbish bins in order to survive. Despite this, it was also humbling to witness the resilience and resolve that some of these people showed. Contrastingly, parts of China were highly commercialised and entrepreneurial, showing just how far China’s economy has deviated from ‘communism’ in the traditional sense in the last 90 years.
In Beijing I had the privilege of visiting Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, The Lama Temple and the Great Wall among other things. It was breathtaking and almost surreal to see these historically and culturally significant sights up close and personal. The Great Wall of China was defiantly a major highlight of the trip. I visited the rugged and unreconstructed part of the wall in a place called Jinshanling which is about three hours drive from central Beijing. I was awed by the sheer magnitude of the Wall and by the beauty of the landscape surrounding it. It was amazing to see first hand one of the world’s most famous culturally and historically significant architectural achievements and to learn that millions of slaves lost their lives during the building of the wall.
Following my time in Beijing, I traveled west to the slightly smaller Xi’an where I visited the famous army of the Terracotta Warriors. The detail that was put into each figure was fantastic and it was outstanding to see that no two faces were alike. Despite this, I found the experience to be overcrowded and commercialized which hindered my ability to fully appreciate the fascinating archeological site to the extent it deserved.
After leaving Xi’an I made my way south to the more rural towns of Guilin and Yangshou. This was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Situated on the Li River, and surrounded by overhanging limestone peaks, both Guilin and Yangshou encompassed stunning natural beauty and traditional Chinese culture. During my time in ‘rural’ China I participated in various outdoor activities such as bike riding, kayaking, and bush walking which were fantastic ways to view the beautiful country side and gain an appreciation for the lifestyle of the millions who lived in semi–rural China.
Following my exploration of Guilin and Yangshou I visited the city of Hong Kong which I found to be very western (due to its previous British occupation) and very modern and commercialized. A highlight of Hong Kong however, was the ‘Star Ferry’ ride around the harbor from where the dazzling lights of the cities sky scrapers could be seen, showcasing the vibrant economic future of China.
Overall, contrasting with western culture, there did not seem to be the same sense of individualism and separatism evident within Chinese society. The Chinese expressed a sense of nationalism and cultural pride which is missing from many western societies such as Australia. On the whole, it is evident that China as a nation epitomizes diversity. This can be seen through the divide between the wealthy and socioeconomically disadvantaged both within and between the major cities and the rural villages.
During my trip to China it seemed that I had experienced every emotion possible. I was happy, sad, excited, overwhelmed and shocked all within 21 days. But mostly I was grateful for the experience and glad to have the opportunity to experience such a different culture to my own first hand. Upon travelling to China I discovered that many of the stereotypes put in place by westerners simply aren’t true and are just misconceptions stemming from a lack of understanding of the Chinese culture and way of life. As I first time traveller I found that my time in China has changed me in many ways and has given me a new outlook on life. It has taught me to better appreciate the differences existing between people and cultures and that wealth shouldn’t determine happiness or quality of life.
Previously Published in Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga