China has been more than anything a place of huge contrasts. It isn’t what I expected. The distances between the towns and cities is immense and I have found China to be at once fascinating, bewildering, exhausting, welcoming, inhospitable, beautiful, wild, over populated and almost deserted all in one go.
The high light of China for me has to be walking on The Great Wall. It was as amazing as I expected and a wonderful experience to share with the kids. Lunch at Maggie’s house was lovely, an example of the fantastic welcoming attitude that we met in many places we stayed. The opera at Xian was beautiful, a magical night that I will always remember whenever I think of China. The town of Lijiang was very different; the Naxi people demonstrated to us a tough spirit, determined to maintain their customs despite a massive influx of Han Chinese to the area. Lastly gorgeous Yangshuo, it must be one of the top photography sites of the world with the awesome scenery and friendly people. I loved it there despite the rain!
We have learnt some wonderful history during our time here but felt like we only scraped the surface. There is so much to learn, from the ancient history of the fantastic Imperial dynasties to the more recent history of Chairman Mao, the communists and the Cultural Revolution, The Opium Wars with the British and the old practice of foot binding. The Chinese people can be seemingly overwhelming in their sheer numbers, pushing and shoving, with little regard for antiques, animal life or each other and yet at times I have almost cried as people have been so so kind when I have felt at the end of my tether here.
The food has been central to lots of conversation we have had. In the north of China we found the dishes to be very greasy but the southern food is nothing short of inspired, from the spicy, chilli dishes of Sichuan to the exotic creatures we have seen on the menu in Guilin. Despite the fact that I have never been a lover of Chinese food we never went hungry and have had some great meals out.
On more than one occasion I have thought that I would never return to China. I decided it has been my least favourite destination during our trip with none of the charm of the South East Asian countries we visited like Cambodia or Vietnam. Yet as we leave now for Hong Kong, the city they describe as an amazing fusion of East meets West, I’m not so sure. In hindsight maybe we did too much, many other travellers we met were journeying around either the north or the southwest/south central areas. I can’t really sum up a place like China too well. Simon and Ali have loved it here, like me Maisie is a bit more ambivalent. One thing for sure we will never forget our time here it has been an awesome experience and I will treasure the memory.