Usually when you think of China, you picture The Great Wall, bustling Beijing and stunning Shanghai. But what about the rest of China? China is a vast country with a variety of geography, climate and culture.
I went to China on a study tour to better understand how tourism affects China and it’s population. Having never been to China before, I was excited to see the country which usually has its doors closed on the rest of the world. I must admit, I was also nervous to travel there as you hear stories from other travellers like getting targeted by Chinese authorities just for being a westerner. Nevertheless, off on the adventure I went and an adventure it was.
The tour started in Beijing, a place which, I think, should be a must-do on every tourist visiting China’s list. Here I participated in all the typical touristy attractions, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. I didn’t feel out of place in Beijing as there were many tourists from other countries and it resembled other Asian cities I have visited in the past.
The next stop on the list was Xian, where the famous Terracotta Warriors are located. Before I begin with this part of the story, I want to mention that due to China’s insanely large population, the majority of Chinese people holiday within China, and domestic tourism is becoming one of the country’s biggest economic contributors. This is where the trip started
to get really interesting.
If you ever want to feel like a celebrity, visit China.
When I was in Xian I also participated in the typical tourist attractions, such as the terracotta warriors, Xian Bell Tower and the Muslim quarter. However, the difference here was that I, along with the tour group accompanying me, was a token white tourist among a sea of Chinese people, and the Chinese people loved it. Although my characteristics do not resemble blonde hair and blue eyes, much to my surprise, the Chinese people found me to be fascinating. They poked and pulled me in different directions to get a glimpse of my pale skin, took photos of me and with me, and even tried to get me to connect with them on Chinese social media (I can’t speak Chinese). It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and is now one of my fondest memories. Situations like this really put into perspective that the world is vast and not as connected as one might think. The Chinese people were so fascinated by me and my accompanying travellers because they had never seen a non-Chinese person before. Media and internet access is incredibly restricted in China and western media is strictly forbidden.
I really enjoyed my time in China and the experience of ‘5 minutes of fame’. Beijing is a great starting point for anyone as you can experience the history and culture of ancient China. Xian is a vibrant city and a cultural melting pot as it is situated on the beginning of the Silk Road and I highly recommend to visit here. Also, Chinese people are incredibly friendly! Although there was a language barrier in my experience, they were always very polite to me and willing to assist. Although, I do recommend brushing up on your Chinese skills to avoid accidentally using a communal squat toilet bathroom like I did (they have western style toilets available if you ask them).
If you do end up in China and have a similar experience, let me know! And as always, until next time readers, happy travels!