Ever since I was 15 years old I’ve had an insatiable wish to go to China. 7 years later my wish came true. During my three weeks in China I definitely experienced my fair share of culture shock. I’d be lying if I said China met all my hopes and expectations but, overall, I enjoyed the experiences I had and I’m glad I went.
For old time’s sake, here are some of my fondest memories:
The man in the phone shop who helped me not be homeless, despite my flurry of foreign tears.
Right off the bat, my China experience was a complete disaster. (Read all the embarrassing details here). Obviously, this was far from a highlight but the rescuing I received was magical. A local man working in a phone shop took pity on me (and time out of his day) and gave me free water, tried to translate my problems and went out to find a taxi to take me to the British Embassy. In all, about an hour spent with a foreign girl in a flurry to tears who couldn’t speak comprehensible Mandarin and he never asked for anything in return. Bless that man.
Seeing the delight on someone’s face after expressing my thanks in fluent Mandarin
At the other end of the same traumatic day as above, I mercifully found myself where I was meant to be staying, thanks to a maid in the building who showed me where to go, despite knowing no English. I was indebted to her. I do believe she was the first person to receive my first fluently spoken Mandarin sentence! “Thank you so much for your help” (“Xiè xiè nǐ de bāng zhù“). She looked delighted, either because it’s not common to show your appreciation to maids or because she appreciated my Chinese effort. Maybe both!
Having communal dinner at Black Sesame Kitchen
Probably my favourite thing in Beijing was the communal dinner I had in a Hutong (hosted by Black Sesame Kitchen) with 12 other tourists, collectively from 7 different countries. I met so many friendly and interesting people that night and we collectively devoured 10 of the yummiest Chinese dishes I’ve ever had, which were all freshly cooked in front of us and explained to us in detail by our delightful host Coco. Make sure you sign up for one of their communal dinners if you’re in Beijing! It will make your trip, I promise.
Taking a dumpling cooking class
On a similar note to the communal dinner, I had possibly even more foodie fun at a dumpling cooking class hosted by The Hutong. 2 expats, 6 other tourists and I got to make a variety of dumplings (with a lot of guidance along the way…) and we got to eat them all at the end. So good. I rolled myself home that night. Check out The Hutong when you’re in Beijing too. They’re such a friendly bunch of people and they do plenty of other activities/tours as well as amazing community work in Beijing.
Sharing a joke with a taxi driver
I think it’s fair to say taxi drivers in Beijing (and probably most of China) are not the friendliest but for whatever reason, the driver who took me ‘home’ after the communal dinner was a delight. At one point he gestured to the car in front and exasperated-ly said two words, so I translated them on my phone, saw what it meant (a Mandarin equivalent to “what d’ya think you’re playing at!”) and repeated them back to my taxi driver whilst also gesturing at the car in front. He started laughing, either because of my bad Mandarin or my unexpected ability to make a sort-of joke in Mandarin! He also tried chatting to me and asking me questions about my life and what I was doing in China. My ability to answer (and sometimes understand) Mandarin questions was still pretty basic but we had a nice little chat and he even helped correct some of Chinese which I genuinely appreciated!
Making friends with Lily, my cycle tour guide
It turned out I was the only person who had signed up for this particular cycle tour around central Beijing so I got my delightful guide, Lily, all to myself! We spent about half a day together chatting like friends, taking selfies, sight-seeing and learning what felt like everything about each other’s lives. Lily was undoubtedly the friendliest person I met in Beijing. I wanted to take her back to the UK with me!
Talking with old ladies in parks near Houhai lake
I’m sure every park in China at any given time will have a fair share of old people. They were collectively the friendliest people I met in China. Perhaps it’s the chilled-out vibes of the parks. Many old ladies in the parks by the lakes in Beijing wanted to chat to me or to dance/sing in front of my camera. I just wish I knew more Mandarin! Next time.
Asking a variety of people ‘where is the… entrance/exit/subway/bathroom?’ in Mandarin and having each of them understand me the first time!
Sometimes it’s the small victories in life. Being able to ask for directions somewhere in Mandarin and actually having people understand you is definitely up there.
Talking with old ladies in People’s Park, Shanghai
In Shanghai, I’m pretty sure I came close to marriage in this park. (Parents go there on Sundays to search for a potential son-in-law/daughter-in-law. Read my post about it here). Aside from that, there were more delightful old ladies patiently helping me practice Mandarin and quizzing me about my life, including my marital status.
Meeting Anna in Shanghai
In Shanghai’s Sir Elly’s Terrace (read my review here) I met Anna, an American businesswoman, NYU professor and possibly the friendliest foreigner I met in China. Together we shared a pot of tea and talked about seemingly everything! I wish I could have taken her back to the UK with me too!
Riding a bike on more than 3 occasions and living to tell the tale.
If you’re ever been to China, you’ll know what I mean. I sustained a couple of muddy/bloody knees but survived to ride again. Cycling on China’s variety of paths/roads was an experience in itself.
Waking up and seeing the mountains of Guangxi for the first time.
After two weeks in cities, and sort of forgetting where I was that first morning in Yangshuo, this was both a shock and a delight. It wasn’t a postcard photo that was the other side of my curtains. They were real mountains The countryside landscapes are just stunning. (See my Yangshuo posts for more photos). I’m dying to go to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park one day!
Well, China, that’s a wrap. The highlights outweighed the disasters. I’m sure I’ll be back one day. Thanks for having me! Zàijiàn!
Have you been to China before? What is your favourite memory from there? Tell me in comments below!