I’ve made it out the other side of six months in Asia and over five weeks in China – five weeks behind the Great Firewall, which blocks WordPress, Facebook, Twitter, Google and more. It was an epic experience; every day brought some new amazement, whether it was an 8,800-kilometre wall or having to use a public squat toilet with no door or toilet paper. Five weeks is not enough time to see everything I’d like to in China, but it was enough time in China for the sake of my sanity.
One of the highlights was the people I met – both the Chinese, who are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and the tourists. Each country seems to attract certain types of travellers and in China I met some really interesting people, including two guys riding a tandem bike from Shanghai to Paris, another who was living in China by selling his art on the street, Swedish and German musicians, a New Yorker food artist and an applicant to the Mars One project who is in the running for a one-way ticket to establish a colony on Mars. Definitely expanding my ideas on life and career options.
I visited Guangzhou, which is China’s third largest city, Yunnan province with some of the best food and sights of the country, Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou National Park, Xi’an and Beijing. Beijing was the highlight and also the only place where I saw more than a handful of Westerners, though I still was asked by a Chinese roughly three times a day for a photo and still had a severe language barrier. While I know the very basics of Mandarin, so little English is spoken in China that pretty much everything is really difficult. It’s not like any other country I’ve been – where you can get by with English and a phrase book. I’m so glad I went there but I won’t go back to China until I know the language.
Flying from Beijing to Stockholm (via a twelve-hour overnighter in St Petersburg airport) meant my return to Western civilisation after six months in Asia and I’m suffering reverse culture shock. So many white people! I can drink the tap water! And I can flush toilet paper down the loo, and I can sit rather than squat. No one is staring at my white skin or taking photos of me. I’ve been eating brown bread and cheese and salads and Greek food and sushi. On the downside, everything is crazy-expensive.
But please don’t think I’m back to normality. First of all it’s snowing here, which is amazing to me. Secondly, I’m staying with a Swedish friend who has a Finnish mother and Iranian father, as well as some Israeli relatives currently visiting. Amazingly, they all speak English to me but on any given day they’re communicating in Finnish, Swedish, Farsi and Hebrew. And thirdly, Dad was wrong when he emailed me saying that he’s happy I’m back in the safer Western world. Two days after landing in Sweden I came down with the worst stomach bug I’ve had in years. I had nothing like it in all of Asia. Luckily it was gone within 24 hours and now I’m pretty much over that and the jet lag. But I’m still hiding out inside, away from the -2 degree weather.
My bed in St Petersburg airport.
High tech in Russia.