Ni hao! Alright, finally getting to posting this one guys. This summer--14 days, 6 cities. Absolute madness! So wrong it was right. I will list the ones that had the largest impact on me (also to not make this turn into a novel that no one has time for!) As promised, the breakdown:
1. Chengdu: Flew in here on the first EVER flight from San Fransisco, CA to Chengdu, China. 14 hours. Many psycho college students (30) and many more lovely Asian fellow plane-mates (hundreds). It made for a very long trip. By the time it was over, we had been in transit for just over 24 hours. I have never hit the sheets and fell asleep instantly before this instance. I had time to check-in, lay my stuff down, FaceTime my dad as he was starting his work day (13 hours ahead over there from US central time) in the O.R. Moment shown here. Happy dad and happy daughter to be safe and sound across the world. NBD. 2. Chongqing: "Rural" 14 million person city. Also NBD. We drove through four hours (actually seven, we missed an exit....) of rural farmland in deep central China. Absolutely incredible and beautiful and life-changing. We are so so blessed. 3. Shanghai: Not I, Shanghai. So they say. This city is inexplicable. Dazzling. Alive. A true star. A diamond in the rough. My favorite part of this city was touring through the markets, going out onto the glass floor of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (1,353 feet tall-holy moly), and the night river cruise where we got to experience the lit showstopper of Old and New Shanghai beautifully juxtaposed in all its glory. 4. Beijing: The Great Wall of China. Need I say more? Plus, the gardens of the Forbidden City and the architecture are just incomparable to anything else around the world.
The things I love hearing/answering about my Chinese experience: 1. Do they speak English? Not near as much as I expected...and when I say that NO. Not at all. It is so rare to hear English/see anyone who looks remotely english that even I was shocked to see another American-esque looking human in Shanghai. You just don't see tourist-y people like that except in major tourist attractions (I know right wow go figure!). It's enlightening and fun! Never have I had my picture taken like that--we felt like celebs! 2. What did you eat? I have NO EARTHLY IDEA. At all. I mean that 100% literally. Yes I know we had chicken head, cow intestines/tongue (entrails as they call it--a huge delicacy and honor to eat over there. I'll just take chicken nuggets, but thanks...) and a whole lot of lettuce with melted, thin peanut butter on it with a TON of rice (that's all we could be certain about). Other than that though, your guess is as good as mine. Needless to say, I went to bed hungry more than once. Hence, tip #1, if you're worried about packing light, do NOT sacrifice packing snacks so you can fit the extra pair of shoes. Ditch the shoes. Trust, trust, trust me. 3. Were you ever legit scared for your life? Yes. Two times. On the Chinese airline (AirChina), and on the bullet train. Security for both was straight out of the 80s. Not that I was around in that time, but I can imagine that's how it would be. I mean their outfits certainly were, so I feel it's a fair comparison...ha! Anyway, being a 21 year old American, it's understandable that the system (or lack-there-of more like) freaked me a little bit. Especially because I'm pretty cautious/paranoid/I like knowing my surroundings. Tip #2, relax. To live a little you gotta give a little.
Tip #3 is a standalone. ALWAYS, I mean a-l-w-a-y-s snap the picture. I don't care what it is or how useless it seems. Take it. You only regret the pictures you don't take. So stock up on memory-cards, charge up that battery, and rock the fanny pack (or more generation-appropriate handbag) to carry all that stuff around. You never know when you'll capture the picture-perfect moment.
The essentials: 1. Some sort of sunglasses. Even though it's cloudy 98% of the time in China, when the sun does show, you will be blinded because you aren't used to it [after not seeing the sun for days on end, you feel like a vampire in essence when you finally do catch glimpse of the rays]. I brought my Erika Ray-Bans. They're not too fancy, and the rubber frames stay on my face very well when I'm walking around (let's be real, when I'm sweating profusely from the Chinese climate -- humid and hot in the summer). Not flashy, yet comfy. I.e. THE BEST. 2. Comfy walking shoes. As stated earlier, I did the [not so smart] thing of bringing more shoes instead of food. HOWEVER, I ended up living in one pair. My leather Reef sandals carried me through every terrain I came across in China. Think like the Chinese, be the Chinese! With such a crowded system, walking is a way of life there. Join in! 3. A small, over-the shoulder bag that ZIPS closed. Thieves are unfortunately a real part of life, especially in certain foreign lands. I used the brown Erin Fossil handbag (can be seen in my Great Wall picture, along with my Erika Ray-Ban shades and Reef sandals). The leather was perfect, and the point is to not stand-out. Be smart, play smart. 4. A journal. HAVE THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE and DOCUMENT THE EXPERIENCE. Even when you are DEAD tired, WRITE it down. You will never remember like you did at the moment. Please. If you follow none of the tips, follow this one. It's the most important. I recommend Moleskine, they're durable and come in many different styles. They even have nifty ones made just for travel, with rules of thumb and other fun things included.
Main point: These rules/tips/my opinions/thanks for listening all apply to any journey/adventure/trip, even if it's just to somewhere domestic. Stay thirsty for travel, my friends!
How do you all prep for a big trip? Let me know in the comment section below! 谢谢 -- Xièxiè (thank you!)
River in Chengdu, China
Buddhist Temple (Downtown Shanghai)
French Concession Market (Shanghai)
Night life version of Pearl TV Tower (Shanghai)
Pearl TV Tower (Shanghai)
Gardens in the Forbidden City (Beijing)
Lindsey (best friend/flatmate) and I -- Forbidden City (Beijing)