This will begin a series of articles on my recent trip to China in February during their 2017 New Year’s Celebration Week.
To call it a vacation would be a misnomer. Adventure, discovery, and immersion in local culture and customs was more like it. I spent a total of 17 days in China with most of my time being spent in Zhejiang Province (south of Shanghai) and a few days in the northwest ancient capital of China, Xi’an.
This was my second trip to China in the past 3 years. When I return people often want to know if I saw the “Great Wall.” I did not. The “Great Wall” is closer to Beijing in China’s north. I certainly hope to see that one day but there are more than enough amazing cities and points of interest that it would take many trips to fully explore the breadth and depth of this magnificent country.
My hosts were a Chinese family and their extended group of friends and relatives. None of them spoke much English nor do I speak Chinese. This I found not to be frustrating or intimidating but enhancing the overall experience. When you can’t rely on the spoken word you take visual cues and body language to communicate and I found that intriguing and refreshing. I also made it a point to learn a new word or phrase in Mandarin every day. My Chinese friends were pleased by my efforts to say a few words in their language.
The English language was one of a few things that I left at home on my trip. The others were coffee, internet browsing, sweets, American food in general, and the News. Did I miss any of that? Not a bit! It’s amazing what we get used to in our daily lives and how much we don’t need it! Furthermore in 17 days I bumped into no Americans and only a handful of Westerners. I was on vacation from my culture as well.
Why visit China? Here are just a few reasons:
- China feels safe.
- In China the streets are clean (most unlike some Chinatowns in America)
- The Chinese are very welcoming and curious about Americans
- The historical sites are not to be missed
- The food. In my humble opinion, it is the best in the world.
My “Why” goes a little deeper than that. My mother was a “Hong-Sher” which in Mandarin means “half-Chinese.” My grandfather came from China. He died when I was 6 years old but I have fond memories of his visits to our home. My mother said grandpa revealed very little about his origins. He introduced various people to her as “aunts” and “uncles.” Perhaps some by blood and some by declaration. We were left with photo albums of Chinese people in traditional dress, photos taken at professional studios. We don’t know who any of these people are other than they might be relatives. Nor will we ever get to know/meet them.
So in one respect, my adventure in China was a search for “family.” As luck would have it, the family that I “chose” and that “adopted” me in China is as significant as my unknown “blood” family. In that respect my trips to China have been more than exploratory and fascinating, but transformational in terms of my sense of who I am and where I come from.