Chinese History on a Budget
I had always been fascinated by Chinese culture as a child. My mother’s grandfather being Chinese may have had something to do with it, but my mother’s family grew up in Ecuador though.
My mother grew up involved in Chinese/Ecuadorian specific clubs and culture in her hometown. There was, and still is, a Chinese population in Ecuador; who knew. Growing up, I longed to go to China one day and learn about this enchanting place.
When I was just nineteen, I surprised my parents when I told them my first backpacking trip would be to China and my ticket was already purchased. My ticket was so cheap. I still recall how much it cost too, $998 taxes in. I had purchased a ticket with about 4 stopovers. It was so horrible, I remember thinking that I would never, ever do more than one stop over again. It took me a full 24 hours, if not longer to arrive.
I set out to China in mid December with a friend and my trusty Lonely Planet guidebook. When we finally arrived we landed in Hong Kong, which wasn’t part of China at the time. The city was crowded, lots of business people, cars were on the opposite side of the road and there were signs everywhere that told foreigners which way to look before they crossed the road.
Our room was so small, I recall extending my arms out lengthwise and being able to touch both walls. There was sightseeing to be done and yummy dim sum to be had and then we were off to Kowloon on mainland China. Even though I completely packed way too much for this first backpacking trip it didn’t stop me from shopping in this fashion mecca. I scored with a black, Chinese silk dress for $10 and very unique platform boots for $40.
We traveled off the beaten path and made our way via bus, train, boat, and bike. We went to Guangzhou, Foshan, Yangshuo, Chongqing, Wuhan, and arrived in Beijing. A 24 hour-long train ride got us back to Kowloon for our departure.
Along the way we ran into some interesting challenges. In one small-town bus station, we wanted to go to one town and had to match up the characters on the ticket to the one on the bus and hope we were going in the right direction. In another town, we hailed a cab and used the guidebook to say where we wanted to go, but the driver didn’t understand our pronunciations, interestingly, he couldn’t read Chinese script either. On another occasion, I was haggling with a merchant and she didn’t seem to understand my three fingers to mean ¥3. Turns out, she did not recognize that my thumb, index, and middle fingers to be a representation of “three.” She could only distinguish it by index, middle, and ring fingers. While walking in a large city, we wanted to cross the street only to find barriers along the sidewalks – everywhere. We had to travel up a couple of blocks to either go over the bridge or under the tunnel to cross and head back down. There were large populations of people everywhere we went. Lastly, when I was in Kowloon and trying to use the automated bank machine, I realized the keypad numbers were reversed starting at 9 and descending. I had to think quick to determine my alpha PIN as it didn’t have letters on the numbers either.
I learned a lot from this trip. I saw some great sites, fantastic scenery, made some great friends, and learned how to pack for my next trip. A quick Google search will show that there are more touristy hot spots to go to, even in remote places. It’s clearly changed from what I remember, which is even more of a reason to buy your ticket and just go!
I did eventually get my fix for Chinese culture, which started me on obsessively reading about Chinese history. I wanted to learn why my great-grandfather wanted to leave in the early 1900s. My journey for that information still continues.