Q: What message about China are you bringing home to America now that you’ve traveled to Beijing?
A: I will try to convince people we shouldn’t be afraid of China.
Sure it’s a country that is progressing fast, but we can look at our own country, especially during the Industrial Revolution when we expanded so quickly we could barely contain ourselves, and we can see that China is going through the same thing, just at a later time period. Progress is not something to fear.
Q: One criticism of China is that it represses freedoms. What’s your take on that after visiting?
A: Yeah, it’s kind of shocking that people in China don’t have as many liberties as we have in America, but once you understand why China’s policies were created, it makes more sense.
For example, many people are shocked by the One Child Policy, which mandates that Chinese people have only one child. However, the population of China is 1.3 BILLION, while the population of the U.S. is 300,000,000, and so China needs to limit its growth or it won’t be able to sustain. Anyway, since its start in 1979, the One Child Policy has has prevented China from giving birth to over 400 million new babies: an entire U.S. population! That’s an important policy.
As for Internet censorship in China, our guide explained that China censors Facebook and Twitter because misinformation can be disseminated so rapidly online, that with a country as big as China, it can be dangerous. The purpose of the censorship, he explained, is to prevent mass chaos and hysteria. But our guide said they don’t miss those sites very much because there is a Chinese version of both, so people don’t feel they are missing out. The only difference is that the government can control those sites.
Q: What were your favorite parts of our China tour?
A: Every time I go to a country, I love the food, and Chinese food was some of best I’ve had!
I also really liked the part of the culture that emphasizes mutual respect and “Face”, which in Chinese is called: Mianzi.
I LOVED the recreational park we went to (Temple of Heaven Park) because we saw people actually being active. You didn’t hear people say, “No, I can’t go outside because I’m too fragile” like they do in America. The thing is, people stay fragile unless you introduce them to something that challenges them or maybe even gets them hurt. Pushing yourself makes you a great person, and helps your body stay fit!
The kids in China seemed happy to be outside, too. In school they’re not just inside testing; instead they do morning exercise every day, while here in America we are taking recess away from kids at the mid-point of their lives when they really need to burn off energy. We wonder why people are getting obese in our country, when in reality we created our own problems… and just blame other people for them!
Q: What was your favorite historic site we saw in China?
I loved Lama Temple, because it’s nice to see that people are still rooted to tradition. I believe firmly that the only way to progress is to see what we did right in the past and work upon it. The Lama Temple is not just place of history, but also a center of Buddhist spiritual enlightenment that people work towards. It was nice to see such respect for something old, and to see that people still pray there.
My favorite activity was touring the Hutong area (very old, historic residential neighborhood of Beijing) because it showed how even in modernization, the Chinese are still trying to keep their old way of living. In the modern part of the city, no one knows each other and everyone is afraid of their neighbor because the media keeps saying everything is dangerous. Sure, the world is dangerous, but it always has been, and just being afraid of it isn’t going to make it better. Actually going out into the world and mixing with people does so much more for you and for them than being afraid. In the Hutong neighborhood, people were very welcoming, and they gave us great hospitality.
Q: What were some things you found difficult during travel around China?
A: Using the squat toilets! But if you don’t do it, you miss a great experience. A couple of times I almost fell backwards and had to grab onto the bottom of the door.
I didn’t like that there were poor people working as street vendors everywhere we went, but you have to respect them because they try very hard to put food on the table, just like many people in America do. When we’re in the mindset where we see one government as better than the other, we just see flaws, but then once you see past that, you can see everyone’s just trying to make a living. The American dream isn’t just in America; everyone in the world is trying to make it.
Q: What was different than you expected about China travel?
A: I arrived in China with the expectation that it is a culture very rooted in tradition and old customs, and that expectation was met. Now, I did expect there would be many buildings, but I didn’t anticipate the enormous quantity of modern buildings, nor how stoic some of them would be. I preferred the traditional buildings like those in the Lama Temple and Forbidden City to the modern ones.
Another surprising thing was that in China, you see a lot of signs in English. I thought that was very hospitable to tourists. In the U.S., the furthest we’ve gone is making some signs in Spanish, but that took so long to happen. That said, China still needs to make even more support for tourists, because it can be such a confusing place for outsiders to travel.
Q: Tell us a funny moment from our Beijing touring.
The Silk Market was crazy, seeing how the vendors developed linguistic skills just from bartering. They spoke to me in Spanish! To be spoken to in Spanish by a Chinese woman in China was so funny!! I heard English spoken by the vendors, but also Italian, Russian, and maybe even Norwegian. It was just amazing. And sometimes the vendors would say the funniest things. One vendor grabbed me and said: “I want to kill you!” But she didn’t say it with a true intent to kill– just with a smile to get my attention.
On a side note, I bought some excellent black silk pajamas at the Silk Market and wore them on the plane flight home from China. The pajamas inspire me to research more about Daoism. I like the sense of it.
Q: Would you ever live in China?
A: It depends for how long, Perhaps I’d like to do what my brother’s friend did and teach English in China, because I know I couldn’t experience all of China within my own lifetime. There’s just so much. But I’d be interested to live there for one year, just to see how life is there, full out… how things are in China without a tour guide.
Q: Was the price of this week-long China tour worth it?
A: Yes. Our tour guide John made it all worth it, cause I’ve been on bad tours, where the guide tells you the same thing over and over, but John learns from his past mistakes and adapts rather than saying same thing over and over. And I felt like we got so much food, too! We had tons of all-you-can-eat breakfasts and dinners.
Also, I’ve now gained many new skills. I can even identify Chinese, now, when I hear it spoken on the street!
Q: What words of wisdom do you have for students considering travel abroad?
A: I want to endorse the fact that it’s good to travel and meet new people. It’s good to go the entire world away, and the more difficult things are, the more you’re going to get out of it, if you try hard enough to make something out of every moment.
I disconnected myself from U.S. culture once we set foot in China and tried to immerse myself into Beijing as much as possible. I recommend students who travel try to do this.
It was fun to travel with Boston students, and being stuck on a plane for 12 hours and 45 minutes with the same people means you will have to make friends with them, or your whole trip will be a disaster!
You might think this interview is outspoken, but I’d rather be the most hated guy in the world than the quiet mouse. If you hold in your opinions, you’ll just be an old man full of regret.
Here’s a final thought in the form of a quote I heard once: “Traveling 1,000 miles is better than reading 1,000 books, and meeting 1,000 people is better than traveling 1,000 miles.”
Thanks, Daniel, and thanks, EF Tours! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this young world traveler?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!