So without much preamble – I wanted to restart this blog for a while and talking about our recent China trip seemed a good way to go about it. That is not to say that other travels in the past three years have been uneventful. But writing has taken a backseat to several other life events, like moving countries and aiming for normalcy in the day-to-day. Also other forms of documentation, like instagram for instance, have been more convenient. But the urge to write and describe has always lurked in the background. And the convenience of applying filters to lazily taken photos from a phone seems to aid this growing feeling I have that life is moving on too fast. In any case I said without preamble but I find myself rambling.
“Why China?,” I have been asked by a few people when I told them we were going. A little bit of disbelief that we could push aside many more exotic options and opt to visit this country with a terrible reputation for the pollution of its cities. To those people I always replied, “why not China?” A country with a very long history, a dramatically altered path in more recent times, a populous nation with an ever increasing influence in the world and one of our neighbours. Why not go?
Truth be told these considerations weren’t in the forefront when we made our bookings, uncharacteristically for us, months in advance. In the run-up to the actual decision to go were long, cold days filled with kung-fu movies. And watching Jaden Smith board an Air China flight in the remake of the Karate Kid most certainly had a sublimal effect. One morning I checked for prices, found a great deal and we were booked.
But there has always been this curiosity to go see this massive land. Is it all rice fields and kung-fu? Is it all factories and sweat shops? Is it all seduction and spy-like mystique in cities like Shanghai (I laugh at my own naive notions of the world)? What is the world’s second-largest, and soon to be largest, economy looking like? We had to go see for ourselves.
Journey To The East
I’ve put in far greater efforts into researching and planning trips when I was younger. One of the most important preparations we made for this trip to China was deciding where we would go in our limited time there. 10 days really isn’t much time when you are faced with a country the size of this one. The initial plan was to go to just Shanghai and Beijing. But a Chinese colleague suggested adding some more destinations and we were glad we did in the end. So we also worked in Huangshan and Xian into the itinerary. The former is also known as the Yellow Mountains; Xian is most famous for its army of terracota warriors.
To all these destinations we added AirBnb and youth hostel bookings. And train reservations (thank you ChinaDIY). I cannot overstate the charm and adventure of taking care of yourself in basic settings in unfamiliar surroundings. It adds so many more layers to the thrill of travel. Budget accomodation, public transport, street food and self-catering are the way we like to travel most. And with hand luggage only, to allow us to be as unrestricted as possible, carrying only the basics to have light loads. So we set out with one medium backpack each for two weeks in China on a rainy London afternoon, with the air smelling of the promise and romance of fresh adventures. The commute to reach Heathrow itself was quite a journey, as is often the case with Heathrow. But uneventful with the exception of my bag attracting the suspicion of airport security. The reason being my insistence on carrying along leftovers of mutter-paneer which was too good to throw away.