Making up with China

I was unfair to China. Now I see.

After I traveled the world in 2008, people would often ask: what’s your least favorite country? I used to say China was a country I wouldn’t urge going back to, but now I recognize its value and would actually love to visit it again.

Tobogganing down the Great Wall was really great, and learning the millennial history of The Forbidden City in Beijing was even cooler. Squat toilets with a mirror in the stool were weirdly fun; the variety of food at the rotating tabletop was delicious until it made me sick. So many sauces and flavors mixed up did not settle well in my stomach, but I secretly loved not understanding a thing of the writings on the menu. Or anywhere, for that matter. (Make sure to get your concierge to write addresses in Chinese characters before you go out, otherwise, you’ll probably get lost and never found).
And then there are the ‘replicas’. Chinese fake designer purses, watches, electronics (although I did buy an iPod and pretty sure it was all real, it still works!), apparently even bogus Viagra and Head & Shoulders shampoo can be found for an ultra discounted price. What I didn’t know until I was at A+ Lounge, a nightclub in Chengdu, is that copying might be part of the Chinese nature. There I was, dancing at an elevated booth that overlooked the main floor, when I saw another girl, Chinese, dancing as well. We smiled at each other, and I raised my glass to cheer from distance – after all, people don’t dance much in China. The men sit around drinking and playing dice while the women… chat? To be honest, I don’t remember many local women out. But there was that dancing girl, my distant dance partner, and we kept shaking and twisting. After a little while, I noticed her dance moves were becoming very similar to mine. No, that must be in my head. So I changed dance moves, and guess what? A few moments later, she was again copying my style. I thought that was hilarious: Chinese will even copy your dance moves.

Better patent that boogie style of yours before entering the People’s Republic.

And, obviously, there’s the bargain trot with vendors. They are deal wizards, and I learned that if the initial price is 100, you could lower down until about 25.

The sky is constantly foggy, but at night that might make the Shanghai skyline at The Bund even more distinct. I remember the floating billboards reflecting colors in the water being a beautiful techno touch.

Shanghai is a modern city with its usual metropolis chaos, but upon entering the Yuyuan Garden your mind might instantly find peace. The name actually translates as ‘garden of happiness,’ and its ponds, flowers and prayer halls would be the best place to find inner peace.

At night, we found peace at a club called Shelter. I was there in 2007 so this spot is probably closed by now, but what a legendary spot that was. A bomb shelter transformed into a bar, the entrance was like a tunnel made by crafty prisoners. Once in, the dance floor was not-literally on fire, the drinks were well priced and, weirdly, you’d barely see any Chinese nationals, even if you went through the other three tunnels within. Great times.

So China, I actually almost loved you. Would you please forgive me and possibly take me back?

Summarizing, I’d like to go back to China for:

  • Having more delicious fried rice, sticky dim-sum, and spicy noodles;
  • Feeling like I’m in another world because the writing is so different;
  • Visiting more Buddhist temples;
  • Going back to Chengdu to understand why the locals made me fall in love with the country;
  • Trying to find locations mentioned in Crazy Rich Asian trilogy. 😛

What about you? Why would you go (or go back) to China?

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