Highlights of Northern China

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.

Beijing Highlights

Tian'anmen Square

  • 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.
    Tian'anmen Square
  • 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.Entrance copy
  • 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.
    Success copy
  • 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!Elephant 2 copy
  • 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.Chinese Chess at the Temple of Heaven
  • 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.Teapot at the Beijing Bell Tower
  • Our cultural experience continues with a ride on the hutong to Old Beijing, a taste of Chinese medicine, and tea at the Bell Tower.

Xian Highlights

  • 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.Terracotta Soldiers
  • 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.Convenient Store in Xi'an
  • 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.”

Shanghai Highlights

Yu Yuan Gardens

  • 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!Jing'an Temple
  • 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.Dog in Suzchou Canal
  • 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.Master of the Nets Garden in Suzchou
  • 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 MeandersTravel 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 HolidayFly Away Friday hosted by Life in Wanderlust and Time Travel Blonde and City Tripping hosted by Wander Mum and My Travel Monkey.


Budget Travelers Sandbox
Wander Mum


  1. InsideJourneys

    It’s fun to learn a new language, isn’t it? Hope you learn enough Mandarin phrases before you leave.
    I’d love to visit China – the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace are high on my list. A few years ago, I rushed to see a small exhibition here in NY of my other faves – the Terracotta warriors. It was quite impressive but I’d love to see them in China. Hope you enjoy your trip!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I enjoyed China a lot and would love to see more. I hope you can see the Terracotta Soldiers in person, it’s definitely a great experience and there’s nothing like seeing them in person!

  2. Ruth

    I have only been to Shanghai. The experience was like no other. I really, really want to make it to the northern part of the country. It is a matter of taking the decision since it is quite affordable to visit from Los Angeles.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Hi Ruth! I hope you can make it happen. Going back to China is huge goal of mine. I’d love to see Southern China, it looks fantastic!

  3. corinnevail

    I love, love, love Beijing. What a vibrant city it is! I hope you had fun.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I enjoyed Beijing, but I love Xi’an for it’s unique feel of the country even more. Beijing does have wonderful monuments and palaces to take in though!

  4. beatravelling

    Looks like we did a lot of the same stuff 🙂

  5. XX, Will Travel

    Wow! I have to get to China!

  6. budgettraveltalk

    An intriguing look at China through your eyes.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Thanks Jan. I hope to return and visit Southern China someday, it looks amazing!

  7. corinnevail

    Brooklyn, This post brings back such amazing memories of China and Beijing and Xian. I love it there! It looks like your parents had a blast.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      We did enjoy China! I’d love to go back to Southern China and see more of the country.

  8. RoarLoud

    Beautiful photos, I’d love to see the Great Wall! I can not imagine wearing heels or sandals on it though!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      My thoughts exactly. I’m not sure what made people think wearing sandals or heels would be a good idea, but on the uneven steps of the Great Wall of China, you don’t want to risk anything!

  9. Anda

    I’d love to visit China, but struggling to learn their language…. I don’t think so, although I’m sure it could serve me well.

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Learning a new language is always tricky, but my family and I managed to do OK in China. I wish I could have spent more time alone to explore and really get used to a place where I’m not familiar with to develop my understanding of the language–oh well, next time!

  10. Very nice pictures! I’d love to see the terracotta warriors one day. Buried alive sure sounds romantic…
    I’ve recently been told that “the whole of China has a smell” (which apparently smells like clothes that haven’t been washed for a while). Did you notice that?

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Yes, unfortunately the pollution contributes to that smell, I think. I hope you get to see the Terracotta Soldiers, they are incredible!

  11. Ahila

    Looks like you had a great time with your family in China, despite the smog and other issues. How did you manage without Mandarin? I was with Chinese friends when I visited so didn’t have issues in communicating but felt that it would be very tough for me to travel on my own without the language. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I traveled with my family on a tour, so our guide made sure we knew certain phrases when we were on our own. Even though my mom knows a dialect of Cantonese, she knows some Mandarin from when she visited and lived in Taiwan. I would love to go back without a tour and see more of the country on my own, but prepare with more of the language for sure!

  12. Flo

    I used to visit China a lot for work (mainly Hangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai) and can’t believe how little of the country I’ve actually seen. Your post is how I feel about visiting China – there is a lot to dislike (the crowds, pollution, squat toilets), but wow is there a lot of ground to cover and culture to experience. Thanks for sharing! #flyawayFriday

    • brooklyntvlasich

      Even though there are things I didn’t enjoy, I would definitely go back and experience southern China. That’s the one thing I’ve gained from visiting China, that others don’t live exactly as you do, but the variety we have in life is what makes it great. I would say the worst part was the pollution, I could deal with everything else but that.

  13. ttbchloe

    Isn’t Northern China amazing?? So much culture!! I spent a week in Beijing and had such an incredible experience. Quite the culture shock (they LOVED me since I’m blonde) and it was so fun to experience something like that. Thank you for sharing on #FlyAwayFriday and can’t wait to read your next post!

    • brooklyntvlasich

      I was continually fascinated by Northern China and would love to visit Southern China to see the magnificent landscapes and experience more of the culture. I can imagine your experience must have been quite unique with people being intrigued by your blonde hair. I’ve had people in South America inquiry about my nationality since I’m Eurasian, so I understand what you mean by culture shock!

  14. Kana

    I really need to visit China! Even though I was born and raised in Japan, I never went out there! Beautiful photos, too! Thank you so much for sharing on #FlyAwayFriday – can’t wait to see another post tomorrow! xo

  15. WanderMum

    Thanks for giving a taste of China! I’m currently in Hong Kong and appreciate to a small extent the overpopulation you describe. People everywhere! I’d still like to explore mainland China though! Sounds like a fascinating trip. Thanks for linking #citytripping

    • brooklyntvlasich

      It’s exciting to hear you are in Hong Kong. I’ve wanted to go, but it does sound very crowded and busy. I’m looking forward to reading a future blog post about your experience!

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