“Who can take a picture of us?” – I don’t know, but there are like a billion people around!
7 days. 5 cities. 0 people we could communicate with. Brimmed with the excitement of eating scorpions, cockroaches and/or curing their yellow fever, 23 first and second-years ventured to the Middle Kingdom as part of Wharton’s invasion of East Asia this spring break. As a big traveler myself, I was very excited to see a country that many have seen already, and for which a great many stereotypes exist: incredible economic growth with heavy pollution, a strong communist regime and rice, lots of rice. Certainly, these stereotypes exist for good reason, yet our week in China has shown all of us that the country is so much more than is encompassed by these meager aspects.
In an entirely tour-operator-led trek, including dedicated tour guides and buses, we started off a very cultural week in Beijing, seeing well-known highlights such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China (which we all agreed is a must-see for anyone!). This whirlwind tour of China’s capital has shown us that if one is to understand today’s China, one must fully understand the long history of this country – a country that had already invented advanced technologies such as the compass at a time when Westerners were still figuring out the most fashionable type of Toga.
Embarking on a quest to understand China’s past, we next ventured to China’s ancient capital Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors. Ordered by the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang, 8,000 of these Terracotta Warriors were buried around the emperor’s grave to provide protection in his afterlife, showing that delusions of grandeur do not only exist amongst WGA Club Presidents, but that such delusions have been part of leadership as early as the third-century B.C. We further witnessed Chinese history through temple and old town visits in Hangzhou and Xitang as well as the country’s magnificent nature on boat tours across ancient lakes.
However, not all of the trek was a history lesson. A visit to a traditional green tea plantation allowed us to learn about the process of making this extremely healthy and tasty beverage, and convinced us that the polyphenols in green tea are apparently more effective for weight-loss than a few months on Weight Watchers. Nevertheless, this was China after all, and we were quickly offered to buy these green tea polyphenols in pill form, exclusively available for purchase at the plantation (and, needless to say, quite a few of our trek members ended up buying these to get ready for spring time!).
Finally, whilst most of the trip did surround China’s past and its traditions, our final destination, Shanghai, gave us a glimpse of China’s future. Combining its colonial past with the product of 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth, Shanghai is now a modern metropolis that encompasses the best of Eastern and Western culture, minus any English skills. Think of a city that has more skyscrapers than New York, more luxurious shopping than Paris, and more expensive restaurants than London.
Culturally, China turned out to be quite the experience as well. As we were following the well-trodden tourist path, we had no shortage of vendors trying to haggle with us to buy the latest kitsch with their minimal English skills (“ok, hello, hello, 20 Yuan? No? Ok 5 Yuan. Ok thank you.”). Collectively, we must have also featured in over 100 pictures shot by the locals who desperately wanted to have a picture taken of us, or with us – in the most extreme case, one lady simply gave me her kid and asked me to pose with it for the camera.
All in all, whilst the China Trek was perhaps not as scandalous as Japan or as nature-filled as Kenya, it was truly an adventure to China’s past, present and future.