2 Christmases ago, my grandma on my dad's side (we call her Ning-Ning which is grandma in Chinese) graciously gifted our entire family an 11 day trip to China to see our roots. Those 11 days were jam packed with tours, train rides, and site seeing in 5 different cities! When I was abroad in the Netherlands it was fairly easy to adjust to their culture because it wasn't too different from the life I know in America. Most people spoke English, the food was similar to food I have experienced before, and I was able to travel around the country without any difficulties. China, on the other hand, could not be more different from America. All the toilets are squat toilets, which basically means you squat in a hole when you go to the restroom. The rules of the road are nonexistent, meaning that people cross the street wherever and whenever they want. I think I heard more honking in the 11 days we were in China than I have in all the days of my entire life. I think the hardest adjustment was China's strict censorship. I had zero access to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Google, Gmail, etc. Which basically means my entire life was on hold--I kid, I kid. I managed to get through most days without missing my social media, but it was strange that I wasn't able to check it even if I wanted to. It made me realize how lucky we are as Americans to be able to have freedom of speech and to be able to think, learn, and say whatever we want to. I don't think I've ever really realized how important the First Amendment is until I had it taken away from me.
Enough about the bad, let's talk about what was great about China. The food surprised me. Except for a few unlucky dishes that made my stomach a bit uneasy, the food in China was great! It probably helped that our trip was planned by a tour guide who knew exactly what kind of dishes to order for wary Americans. Although the food was tasty, we inevitably got sick of it after 10 days of eating similar dishes. The Great Wall was incredible to see in person. It was almost surreal that we were walking on and climbing one of the 7 wonders of the world. I also LOVED the scenery and the slow-paced lifestyles of the villagers in the small cities of Guilin and Yangshou. I realized that I'm much more of a rural countryside girl than a city girl. Beijing and Xian were both large cities with many many many people and lots of smog. Although very historical cities, I preferred the natural beauty of Guilin and Yangshou. Finally, the best part of the trip was getting to spend time with my Dad's side of the family. At the beginning of the trip, Ning-Ning gave us all 100 yuan (around $15) to spend on one person in the family, whose name we picked out of a hat. On the last day of the trip we exchanged gifts and were all surprised at how thoughtful all the gifts ended up being.
Ok ok ok enough writing. Here are the images that I captured from each city.