This article is the first in a series about planning and preparing for what is likely to be the most exciting trip of my lifetime! I’ve had a long time fascination with Asia, particularly China and Japan. Regular readers of this blog will remember the article from August of 2012, on Karate-do and found here. For many years, I was an avid practitioner and instructor of Karate and built friendships in that field of study. Now, as an English tutor, I have had the opportunity to share conversations with many wonderful ESL students in China. I’ve also had the pleasure of hosting some of my Chinese students here in my home. I have gained some great friendships and I hope to seek advice about the best options for visiting their country.
I am requesting that all of my Chinese readers take time to offer their bits of advice and suggestions for where an American should visit in China. Don’t be bashful. Even if your are not a current student, I would be grateful for any advice you may offer.
For this initial foray into The Middle Kingdom, the cities of primary interest to me are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong . A couple of students have opined that 2 days in Beijing is enough. I do want to experience an authentic Peking Duck dinner and see some of the main attractions, but my preference would be to see more outside of the capitol city. For example, I have been informed by several students that near the city of Shanghai there are a number of very attractive but smaller cities known for their extraordinary gardens and natural beauty. Also, the city of Xi’an with the Terracotta Warriors is attractive to me and I understand that the region is famous for noodle dishes. I love noodles! I think Szechuan Provence would be worth a visit, but is it too far away from the rest of my itinerary to be accessible on a trip with constraints on time? I think a visit to Tibet would be extraordinary, but I am certain that it would be out of the question this time. In fact, to my thinking, Tibet and the high mountain regions of any country are a special type of exotic destination requiring extraordinary preparations, including prior fitness training to be in shape for such extreme altitudes. That is not the purpose of this trip. On this journey, I am seeking to visit as wide a range as possible (up to 6 major cities and the countryside in between) across a large and diverse country, within a short period of time (2 – 3 weeks).
Like the United States, China is an expansive country with a lot to offer any foreign visitor. To narrow the highlights down to a reasonable travel plan that will fit within my time frame will be challenging. Is it possible to see this much in two weeks? Should I plan to fly or can I experience travel by train within China? Ultimately, I may be forced to recognize that China is too large and too complex to try and experience in only one visit.
One very good resource that I have found for researching this trip is from Sarah Naumann’s column on travel in China. If anyone can offer other resource for researching this trip, please share them.
Early in 2013, I purchased a new camera in anticipation for this big trip. I wrote about the new digital addition to my camera collection here. I am now fully equipped with all of the necessary memory cards, extra batteries, filters and other gear to venture to such an exotic destination. When I think of China, I think of exciting subject material and a mixing of the ancient with the modern. I imagine plenty of vibrant colors. The new camera has performed admirably thus far and I expect it will do well capturing the images and scenes of China.
I expect that this trip will dazzle my culinary interests as well. Food will be a major subject for photography during this trip. I have found that the little idiot camera (the Canon SD1300) works quite well for taking a quick snapshot of plated foods or a small table display of culinary delights. Any regular reader of this blog knows I am a bit of a food nut! In my previous life, I was a chef and spent many years in the restaurant business. I also have a tremendous interest in the foods of the Orient, though my skills and knowledge in this area of cooking are limited. For me, the bounty of culinary delights China offers is unparallelled in variety and complexity. What foods should I seek in each region? What are some of the famous foods from your region? Where are the best places to eat?
I must admit that I am a bit concerned about food sanitation in Asia. On one hand, I feel reasonably confident that the larger cities will meet modern health standards, but on the other hand, I suspect that if I venture to smaller cities and more rural areas, the standards of sanitation may be a little sketchy. My trip to the Philippines in 2010 was revealing with respect to health and sanitation standards in some countries. To the best of my recollection, all of my vaccinations are up-to-date, but I will check to see if there are any that I may need. Are there any issues I should be concerned about? Any things I should avoid for health or safety reasons?
Now, for the decision of when to travel. Originally, I had the idea to visit late in 2014. However, At this point, it is looking like it would be better for me to travel in 2015. The plus side of traveling at later date is that I have more time to plan in greater detail.
So far, my research indicates that the best season to travel is in Autumn, either September or, October after the National Holiday. I do not handle heat and humidity very well and I find it especially uncomfortable while traveling. I have been told that the weather is a bit cooler in autumn.
My Passport is valid through February of 2017. So, please let me hear from you. Tell me where I should go in China? What foods should I try? Where should I stay? What cities offer the most interesting cultural and historical significance? Let me see your comments and, of course, I thank you in advance.