In preparation for my journey to China, my supervisor, Su-Lin, eagerly instructs me on various Mandarin phrases. Having learned small portions of a Cantonese dialect, my knowledge of Mandarin is limited.
“Brooke, how do you say ‘Hello’?” Su-Lin, my draper, asks.
“Ni Hao,” I reply.
“How do you say ‘My name is Brooke’?” Su-Lin says.
I pull out the only phrase in Mandarin I know: “Pang Yee Tah Mah, Brooke,” I respond with a smile. Su-Lin laughs at my response, which translates to: “Can I have it cheaper, Brooke.”
While it is obvious my Mandarin preparation needs some fine tuning, what I cannot prepare myself for is the experience of China itself. China is a place I can say without hesitation is absolutely fascinating, despite the crowds of people, excessive pollution, and extreme heat. I have been to the top sights of Italy, France, Spain, and England at the peak of tourist season and driven through southern California during bumper to bumper rush hour, but it’s nothing compared to the millimeters between you and herds of strangers. As sweat drips down my back and I feel my sunglasses start to slide down my nose, I still feel the incredulity of my presence here. Although other Chinese tourists continually shove and push me, it doesn’t stop me from experiencing the unique cities of China.
- We are told publicly discussing the incident at Tian’anmen Square is prohibited, but it doesn’t stop my mom and aunt Francis from twirling in the world’s largest city square as they did previously at the Vatican. Julie Andrews would be proud.
- Groups of children crowd around my dad and other American tourists for photo opportunities, while our travel buddy, Debbie, enjoys her favorite travel pastime of photo bombing these pictures before the Tian’anmen Square is cleared.
- A walk through the Forbidden City and the Summer Palaces helps me appreciate its majestic appearance, yet I think twice about wanting to be an Empress walking down the path way in heavy robes as sweat falls down my tank top.
- If I thought being overheated as an Empress was rough, that’s nothing compared to the women climbing the Great Wall of China in wedges and sundresses. I applaud my cousin Niki for wearing flip-flops while enduring the uneven ultimate Stair master of the Juyong Pass. And yes, I made it to the top!
- Our next visit my sister Ming and I enjoy our current trend of enacting ridiculous poses in front of statues at the Ming Tombs to illustrate our cunning wit as my mom readies her camera for our next set of poses.
- Spending the morning at the Temple of Heaven turns out to be more than anticipated as we observe card games, dominoes, crafters, and the workouts in the park surrounding the Temple.
- Our cultural experience continues with a ride on the hutong to Old Beijing, a taste of Chinese medicine, and tea at the Bell Tower.
- I got some soldiers in here. Where they at? Where they at? Apparently in one of the 600 burial sites discovered over 30 years ago when farmers digging a well discovered the Terracotta Soldiers. Although it is very difficult to join the team of archaeologists who uncover these figures that range from 5′ 8″ to 6′ 4″, nothing says job security like 557 tombs to go! It’s also interesting to note that the Emperor’s concubines were buried alive with him.
- Our tour guide informs us of many “romantic” options available to lure tourists into a business but warns us “romantic” means other things that could lead us into trouble. Debbie remarks, “There’s romantic massages, romantic karaoke…” The tour guide responds, “We are a very romantic country.”
- It seems our appreciation for a local artist in the hotel gift shop is reciprocated when he offers to let my cousin borrow his bike. Before we know, she’s off into the bustling traffic with an inner compass that points to adventure.
- On our way out of town, our friend, Kay, provides musical entertainment to accompany our long journey ahead with renditions of “Don’t Rock the Boat” and “The Wheels on the Bus.”
- After we make our way through the Yu Yuan Gardens, a rush to the air conditioning in a sweets shop also brings me a bag of mochi. We also discover dim sum items and are delighted by a giant char siu bao at a dim sum restaurant. FEED ME, SEYMOUR!
- A spiritual awakening at the Jing ‘An Temple occurs under golden roofs, carved wooden railings, and monks in yellow-orange robes burning offerings. A strong presence is felt as we bow with incense and respect.
- Our last day is spent in Suzchou and we’re intrigued to see vendors selling ducks and chickens along the canal. The various clothes lines, small porch gardens, and small windows grace the docks surrounding the canal. We eagerly wait and watch a dog chase a plastic bottle in the water.
- At the Master of the Nets Garden, the air is so hot it’s hard to enjoy, but I am still impressed by the cypress that’s over 900 years old and the wooden door cut outs covered by silk paintings. While we wait for people to use restrooms, my sister and I fan our tour guide who remarks: “Back in the day, I would’ve had concubines for this.”
Although I master the squat toilet and understand why I should wear dresses and skirts my next visit, I’m feel a sense of relief to return home and not have to use water bottles to brush my teeth and see grey clouds with rain. Everything in Europe loses glamor because of graffiti, in China, pollution is the culprit. I appreciate that I don’t have to worry about skies polluted by coal, but at the same time I find myself continually intrigued by this country. As I hear “Moon River” play in the Shanghai airport, I think of all the sites hundreds of years old and continue to be amazed by the centuries of history and culture of China.
This post is a part of Weekend Travel Inspiration hosted by Reflections Enroute, The Crowded Planet, Contented Traveller, Albom Adventures, Safari 254, Families Go! and Malaysian Meanders, Travel Photo Thursday hosted by Budget Travelers Sandbox , The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes and Beyond, A Hole in My Shoe, As We Saw It, Selim Family Raasta and Eff It, I’m on Holiday, Fly Away Friday hosted by Life in Wanderlust and Time Travel Blonde and City Tripping hosted by Wander Mum and My Travel Monkey.