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Published: July 23rd 2010
Doing China "a la carte"
Deciding where to go and what to do when my parents came to China was tough. We decided to visit three cities known for their historical treasures, and then to visit the grassland areas close to Huhehaote. In all, Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, Huhehaote, and a day in the Wokuotai grassland east of the city, two and half hours by car.
Mom and Dad are fearless travellers, who gave me invaluable experiences as a kid with summer trips and the like; but China, it is probably safe to say, is the farthest any of us has wandered afield, both geographically and culturally. Our meeting in Beijing, as documented in my previous entry, was a happy one.
This was a journey four years in the making: in 2006, I began formal studies in Chinese language, and have been studying the language and the culture on-and-off ever since. Having spent the past nine months or so living and working in China, I knew I had changed, but having my parents here I was able to see the changes in myself more clearly by seeing their reactions. Being their "interpreter" was fun; it showed me where I
had some major gaps in vocabulary but also where I had most improved in my spoken Chinese.
For me, what made the trip most special was not seeing the big things like the Terracotta Warriors and the Shanghai Museum, but the little moments where we were able to see a slice of Chinese life. Like when we were visiting Qibaozhen, a small canal town on the edge of Shanghai, where we spent almost two hours in an old tea house on the water. Or waiting in line for an hour for "Nan Xiang" dumplings in Chenghuang Miao (also Shanghai) and chatting with our neighbors, locals whose son and grandson were there visiting from England. And especially moments like the male music ensemble practicing in the park at the Temple of Heaven, taking us by surprise and holding us transfixed for several minutes.
We also saw signs of China's unbelievably rapid growth; on the highway out to the grassland, literally thousands of trucks could be seen on the expressway above us, headed to Beijing. We passed a back-up of trucks maybe ten miles long (in the other lane, thankfully). And even our day in the grassland had echoes of
the future, surrounded as we were by windmills, generating power for the locals and probably farmed out to other locations in China, as well.
One entry cannot begin to tell the story of our adventures and misadventures in China, since I myself am still processing all of my impressions and all that we saw and did. The trip reinforced my fascination for how Chinese people seem so connected with their past, while still aiming for a very exciting future. I saw the modern skyscape of Shanghai with people arrived for Expo crowding every riverside scene, the same day that I played my very first Chinese instrument, in a shop selling musical instruments introduced in China as far back as the Tang dynasty. China is an exhilarating place, full of contradictions and unexpected moments both of poignancy and fascination.
More thoughts and photos to come.
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