Asia Photo Diary: China
My time in China didn't get off to a great start. On the last couple of days in Hong Kong, I had actually become a little sick because while the weather is really hot and humid, the shops and restaurants are freezing cold, which really messed up my body temperature. I'd developed a sore throat and by the time we arrived in China, it had turned into a full-blown cough. It's funny though because it's not something I really think about when I look back on my holiday and even when I travelled Europe, I was sick for the majority of my time there, but it hardly comes to mind. I think with travelling, you only really remember the good stuff that keeps you wanting more.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the journey to China definitely wasn't a pleasant one. Flights from Hong Kong to China are really expensive, so we chose to travel by train, which was a 24 hour ride. We stayed on the train overnight and let's just stay it was an experience I'll never forget! Travelling by train from Hong Kong to China (and vice versa) isn't something they cater to for Westerners, so there was no English whatsoever and only about two Western toilets on the entire train while the rest were squatting! They also allowed smoking on the train (you practically can't smoke anywhere in Australia) and when you walked through the carriages, you'd get the different smells of everyone's food, which really made me nauseous. Plus, it was generally quite dirty and not up to the standards I'm used to. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely not complaining when I say this because if this is something only the locals really do, why should they cater to the small amount of Westerners? The whole reason you travel is to experience new cultures and while it was definitely a culture shock, I felt like I'd stepped out of my comfort zone too and that's never a bad thing.
24 hours later, we arrived in China and made our way to our spacious apartment in the heart of Beijing. When choosing where to travel in China, we decided on Beijing because we really wanted to do The Great Wall of China, which Beijing is closer to, and I'd read that you get the best of both the city life and culture in Beijing, as opposed to Shanghai, which offers more of just the city life. I really would've loved to have travelled there too, but it was a five hour bullet train ride, which we just didn't have time for, unfortunately. We took it easy on the first day - the apartment owner showed us around a little bit and then we came back to shower off that horrible train journey! At night, we went out for dinner and put our Mandarin language apps on our phones to good use!
The next day after a good nights rest, we headed out to explore the city, stopping at a nearby shopping mall for some lunch. My sister and brother went a little crazy shopping in Zara (I really don't understand the hype over this store as I can never find anything I like there) and it was really funny seeing my brother fall in love with it! Like the good sister I am, I enabled him to buy all that he wanted because to me, you should never hold back with the shopping when overseas because you'll more than likely regret it. I didn't think the shopping mall was all that great until low and behold, I saw SEPHORA. I didn't get too much as the China stores don't stock many brands, but it's still always fun going into stores you don't have back home and it was funny when my brother asked me if I owned a face toothbrush (he meant a Clarisonic - what a noob).
Later that day, we caught the train to Tiananmen Square, which was hectic! I know China is overpopulated, but actually being there and experiencing it is a whole other story. There is just no such thing as personal space! The trains are so crowded, you literally have to fight your way in and out and if you're standing up, you don't need to hold onto anything because you're so packed in like sardines, everyone else keeps you balanced! At first, travelling around China was a little difficult as no one speaks any English and it's not like you can use Google Maps either because can't access any social media (except Instagram, and I definitely suffered from some Bloglovin' and Twitter withdrawals!) nor Google products there either. If you're catching taxis, the address of where you want to go needs to be written in Chinese too, so you really have to plan your journey ahead. After Tiananmen Square, we went to Forbidden City where some locals speaking English were selling us tour guides. I was really sceptical and thought they were going to take a run for our money, but my dad is the kind of person who will give his money to dodgy people and by overpriced travel books on the street! We ended up going with one though and they took us to an acrobatic show. Later on, we had dinner at this really dirty restaurant (there was scrap food out right in front of us!) where the English menu was written in a notebook and the staff and locals dining there couldn't stop staring at us in amusement!
Back with the tour guide again, we were up early the next day as we headed for The Great Wall of China! It was a two hour car journey there from Beijing and when we got there, we entered through the Mutianyu section of The Wall as apparently it's less crowded than the other ones. The open cable car ride up was so scary and while my mum took photos of the gorgeous views, I was too afraid to get my camera out as my hands were shaking! The experience of walking The Great Wall of China was incredible as it's such a huge part of the country's history. Some parts are actually quite steep, so you can only imagine how difficult it was to walk before they opened it up to the public. My mum, sister and I didn't go up too far, but my dad and brother managed to go quite a distance. On the way back down, you could go for a toboggan ride, but my mum and I aren't really adventurous in that sense unlike the rest of the family, so we took the cable car again. I had got used to it this time around!
On our way back into the city, the traffic was absolutely chaotic, but once we were off the freeway, we stopped in at a teahouse. I think it's customary for Chinese tour guides to take you to overpriced teahouses, but like the suckers my family and I are, we ended up buying some, anyway, because it was just so damn delicious! Sorry English people, but no one does tea quite like the Chinese. In the evening, we caught up with my mum's cousin and his family for dinner. He moved over there a few years ago with a job and has been living in Beijing ever since. We'd been wanting to try peking duck since we first arrived, so they took us to a really gorgeous restaurant specialising in the cuisine. The skill of the people cutting the duck was insane and the food was just lovely, although I do prefer a little more of that tasty fat, which this duck did not have. We had some amazing cocktails to go with our meal too.
We did do a little shopping in China, but my dad and brother weren't interested, so it was just us girls. We stopped in for lunch at Sizzler's, which doesn't sound like the most amazing place to eat unless you're eight years old, but the Chinese version of Sizzler's was actually really delicious! It was nice to have a change from rice and noodles too and eat some fresh salad. We all ended up buying something on our girls' shopping day, but as I expected, the shopping wasn't that great in China. While they have Western shops like Zara, H&M and Forever 21, the fashion is just really different there and the shops obviously cater to that. On our way back to the apartment, again, the trains were chaos and I remember telling my mum that we should just wait for the next train. We did and it was just as jam-packed! Another interesting note about the train stations and even all around the city is how tight security is. You have to check your bag through security at all stations as well as almost all tourist destinations, and there are even security guards with guns. My mum's cousin didn't think anything of it when I mentioned it to him because that's normal to locals and I find that such a fascinating aspect of travelling.
On our last day, our tour guide took us to some beautiful temples and we went for a swim at the Water Cube, the place the athletes competed in during the Beijing Olympics, which is now a water park. It was a nice change from all the walking and while holidays are mostly sightseeing and shopping for me, you have to remember to relax on holiday too. For dinner, we went out for Japanese barbecue and the staff were so friendly. I think it's really important to try and speak a little bit of the language whenever you travel to foreign countries (you can usually get away with just hello, goodbye and thank you, anyway), but when they make an effort back and speak in English? I never ever would expect it, but it's so sweet! It's fun being a foreigner in another country because they always assume you're American too.
The following day, we caught the taxi to the train station Hong Kong bound and wow, what a nightmare that was with barely any English signs! Plus, my dad decided we needed to enter through the exit! I was definitely dreading the train ride back, but this time round wasn't as bad. We actually made friends with some Hong Kong locals who spoke English and the people you meet along the way become such a huge part of your travel memories. I also decided just to suck it up and spent the majority of my time listening to my iPod. Washed Out and Toro y Moi definitely made it more bearable and I remember almost falling asleep as the sun shining through from the windows kept me warm and relaxed. It was actually really peaceful and lovely. I could spend hours alone, just me and my music.
Once back in Hong Kong, we had a few hours to kill, so we got some lunch and wandered through the Temple Street Night Markets again. After that, we caught a taxi to the airport Singapore bound where we stopped over for the day, sleeping at the airport. When we woke up, it was time to hit up Orchard Road (and by Orchard Road, I mean Sephora) and it was the most immaculate road ever. It was just so clean and lined with the most amazing shops! I'm so sad we didn't have more time there, but hey, there's always next time. A few hours later, we made our way back to the airport where we literally made it with two minutes to spare! I honestly thought we were going to miss our flight home! I'm so glad we didn't because honestly, I was so tried and pretty eager to have my own bed again.
I definitely did not expect this post to be so long, but I wanted to remember those little details and write them down while they're still fresh in my mind. China was just so different from any other country I've travelled to and I definitely learnt a lot about their culture and how vastly they differ from other Asian cultures. I think with Asia, people tend to generalise the people and lump them into one big stereotype, which is so far from the truth. Having travelled to Japan and now China, I now realise this and while I could sit here and explain the differences, I think that's something for you to all go out and experience yourselves if you ever get the chance! Whenever I've served Chinese customers at work, I've felt that sometimes they can be quite rude, but now I understand the difference in culture and while it's frustrating, I think I've learnt to be more understanding. They aren't the most friendly, helpful nor clean people either, but travelling is all about learning about other people and you can even learn a lot about yourself too. For that reason, it's not something I look back on as a negative experience and it can really make you appreciate what you have back home. As much as I love travelling, I'm so grateful to be living in a country with clean drinking water straight from the tap, fresh, clear blue skies, freedom of speech and most importantly, clean Western toilets! There really is no country I'd rather be living in than Australia... except maybe France, but of course, that goes without saying.
I can't wait to show you all my holiday haul soon! Get ready, guys, because it's going to be insane...