China is weird. I can’t decide whether it’s a developing country or years ahead of the first world.
My wife and I didn’t spend too much time in China, we only got to visit two cities: Beijing and Shanghai. Both cities are so different that they could be separate nations.
Overall, I didn’t really enjoy China, but I do think that it’s a must-visit place. The nation offers a glimpse of a past history/culture that is incredibly rich, as well as a preview of what the future will look like for human civilization moving forward.
Here are a few highlights from China.
I did not like Beijing. After watching the Olympics in 2008, I was expecting a very modern city full of cosmopolitan people. Instead, I found the city to be dirty, the infrastructure poor, and the people hilariously rude toward foreigners. As a side note, apparently the citizens here love spitting—like all the time.
Everything in Beijing is massive. In the more modern parts of the city, you aren’t going to find a single small building. I kind of felt like I was walking down the Vegas strip, where everything seems walkable until you actually try walking and you realize that every building is monolithic and it takes forever to travel even a single block by foot.
Even though I don’t like Beijing, there is a lot to impress in this city. So many cultural relics; the food is also pretty good if you’re adventurous and seek it out.
The Great Wall in the Mutianyu section of Beijing was the coolest thing that we saw this entire trip. If you haven’t been, you must add this to your list of places to travel before you die.
Mutianyu is a bitch to get to, taking about two hours from Beijing city center (remarkably, it’s still in Beijing city proper). But it’s worth the drive because this section of the Great Wall is far less touristy and busy. It was awesome, there were many parts of the Wall where we didn’t see any people.
The view is spectacular and the Wall is in great shape after 2,500 years. I’m not sure whether you can see it in the photo, but on the top-left of that frame is some Chinese text that paraphrases as: “Obey Mao.” Glad to have the reminder even here…
After two days in Beijing, my wife and I took a 2.5 hour flight down to Shanghai. Wow, what a difference. The city here is exactly what I was expecting from modern China. This place is kind of a mix between Tokyo and New York City.
Shanghai was a bit of a resting point for my wife and I after 2 weeks of intense Asia travel. We spent our time walking around and eating as many dumplings as possible. Shanghai is known for their fabulous soup dumplings, called Xiao Lung Bao. It’s really difficult to find decent soup dumplings in the states, so we got our fill here.
My Shanghai highlight was walking along the Bund, which is a famous waterfront section of the city. This was the place where foreign traders came to set up their banks and trading houses back in the 1800s and 1900s. The boardwalk is beautiful. If you venture into some of the buildings you’ll find some solid art deco style architecture.
My eyes have been stinging non-stop since I arrived and there is constant tickle in the back of my throat. My wife and I came prepared with some serious looking masks to cover our nose and mouths, which we ended up not using (they were a pain to pack too).
Truth be told, the pollution wasn’t as bad as we were expecting, but it was still the worst pollution I’ve ever experienced. On the upside, the heavy smog during the day created nice lighting conditions for photography. The pollution made all my outdoor photos look like Instagram photos even without any filters applied.
Glad we did China but happy to move on. Next stop in our tour: Taiwan.