Today marks one month since I left London, on Saturday the 4th July. It’s strange because in some ways it feels like it has all gone past in the blink of an eye – and surely it was only yesterday that I was sitting in the garden in Stockwell having a delicious breakfast before leaving? The longest I had ever been away before this trip is 5 weeks, to Peru; now, a month doesn’t feel nearly long enough to visit anywhere at all, so I’m even more glad that I’ve managed to find this 6 months (and possibly more) to go travelling.
On the other hand, when I think about all the places we have been so far, it is quite a few – we have definitely not just spent this month sunbathing (though the weather is not really up for sunbathing – it’s certainly hot, but more in a humid, sticky sort of way than a sunbathing-y way). We had a good chunk of time in Beijing at the start, and since then have visited the seaside city of Qingdao, sampled the delicious lamb skewers of Xi’an, said hello to the pandas of Chengdu, climbed Mt. Emei, taken a boat trip down the Yangtze River and been walking in Zhangjiajie national park among the stunning rock peaks.
On top of this, I feel my understanding of how China works has grown a little bit each day, whether that be starting to piece together the events of China’s history such as the Boxer Rebellion and the Opium Wars, or learning how to manage queueing Chinese style. We are still surprised by the country on every turn but there are some things we are getting more used to. One thing we’ve had to get accustomed to is the sheer size of the country, for instance, how long it takes to get between places. Today has been a rather dull 11 hours on two trains between Zhangjiajie and our next destination, Nanjing: hardly a thrilling day to write home about. Then there is the number of people everywhere, especially at tourist sites. The mountains we have been to in the past two weeks have been amazingly beautiful, but the paths are so full of people wielding seas of umbrellas and the ever-present selfie sticks that we have frequently had to queue just to go up the path. Or in the case of the Leshan Buddha, queue for about three hours for a descent down a path that should have taken about ten minutes. This may sound like grumbling, but it isn’t (entirely) – it’s just a slight readjustment to what we are used to.
We have developed favourite foods (I’m a big fan of the steamed buns, baoze, for breakfast, and the little blue and white sweet yoghurts found in every corner shop) as well as those we’ll steer clear of in the future, such as anything with mung bean in it, or anything advertising itself as “chicken hotpot” which is more likely to turn out to be “chicken claw and head hotpot” than what we were expecting.
And we still have more than 3 weeks left in China before I fly on to Jakarta! And there are many further interesting places to go on our itinerary in China itself…