The first time I went to China was in 2007. I went on a group trip with my fellow university students. It was going to be one week where we visited Beijing, Chengde (yes, you read it right not Chengdu but Chengde) and of course the Great Wall. Thinking about it now that was a LOT to see in one week. Considering that you can easily spend an entire week already visiting Beijing. Anyway I guess it’s safe to say that this trip probably changed my life, where my passion for China and Asia truly began and it’s also the start of where I am in my life today.
You might ask why am I writing this post now? Because I have been obsessed lately with travelling (well not just lately but seems even more the last several weeks). I feel quite restless and I feel the need to see as much of Asia and China as possible while I still live here. So when I was going through some old pictures on facebook and on my computer I found all these memories from years ago so that’s why I am starting this new section for a while called ‘Trip Down Memory Lane’. The first one will be Beijing in 2007, a very important trip for me.
It’s also quite ironic that I fell in love with China through my trip to Beijing, everyone who knows me also knows that I am not the biggest fan of Beijing, it’s too big, too cold in Winter, the pollution. I find it a harsh northern city. But in 2007 that was a different story. It was my first time to Asia and to go for one week to this country that I have been so fascinated with for such a big part of my life was ticking of a major thing on my bucket list. So little need to say that I was beyond excited and nervous! I had no idea what to expect, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t expect it be so modern. It has been over 7 years ago now so not totally sure anymore what exactly was going through my mind.
I do remember that we arrived really early in the morning, did the usual thing… put our bags in the hotel, have a shower etc and then it was straight on the bus to explore the city. It also was quite an experience to travel in a group. I think we were about 20 something and we had a camera crew with us from the Belgian national television who wanted to film our week in China. Which of course all added to make the trip extra special and to be able to share it with so many different people.
It’s also quite weird thinking back about that trip now, to think how young I was and how little I knew about China. Of course we can all read the facts and stories about China. But to understand what China is really about, what people think here, how they act, how they interact with each other, what is considered appropriate, cultural traditions etc. Oh boy I was so naive about it then and I had no clue. Pretty sure that years from now I will say the same thing about 2014.
This was one of my first sights in Beijing and I couldn’t believe how modern it was, how wide the streets are and how tall the buildings are. This was nothing like the China I saw before on paintings and postcards 🙂
All the street food and the smells also blew me away, a lot of the times in a good way but definitely not every time.
Everywhere there were cars and people. It was just endless. I remember expecting this considering it’s such a large population but I couldn’t predict what it feels like. I personally found it very tiring. There were so many new things to see all the time but also so many people to watch out for, to interact with and a lot of noise everywhere we went, on the streets, in the restaurants etc. I couldn’t zoom out yet like I easily learnt how to do now, so I felt like my brain was going in overdrive quite a lot. Now after so many years in China I still get anxious sometimes when it gets super busy and you are surrounded by thousands of people in one small place but I found it easier to tune out all the noises, the people etc. I guess that’s how Chinese people also do it, mind them they often live with whole families in small apartments or with 10 students in one dorm at university. So zooming out is often the only way to keep you sane
Our first time eating dumplings in China at this man’s house in the middle of the Hutongs. He thought us how to make it and then we could do it ourselves. It was such a fun experience and so felt like the real China to me, it seemed so authentic and unique, I found it incredible how hospitable this man was for letting such a big group in his home. If I look back at it now he probably has several groups a day coming to make dumplings and wasn’t so unique after all. But still it was a really great experience that enjoyed immensely, so in the end what’s the most important?
Of course we also visited the drum and the bell tower… This took me back and still takes me back when I look at it to a time in China when life was much more back to basics, where the city still needs protection from intruders and life was timed by the sunrise and the sunset. To an imperial China with emperors, concubines and kung fu pandas 🙂 .
One of the other amazing memories of this trip was when we visited an elementary school and to see the happy and surprised faces on these kids, some of them probably had never met a foreigner until then.
Towards the end of the trip I got really sick so there are a few activities I had to pass on like visiting the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Well, I actually was there but I had such a high fever that I was more hallucinating and shivering than paying attention to where I was, let alone I felt like taking pictures of it. Luckily I went back a few years later and did it all over again so I will definitely share those pictures with you later.
We also went to another city more north of Beijing, called Chengde, on which I will also talk about in a later post because it was actually really amazing the views we had there. But on the way from Beijing to Chengde we also stopped at a small village on the outskirts of Beijing. It was a totally different situation here… imagine rundown houses without doors, barely electricity, no shops, no heating (oh yea, did I mention that we went in February and that it was one of the coldest Winters in like the last 60 years?) try -15 degrees Celsius, without heating! The people there were so poor and they lived so basic, But they still had a brand new car in front of their house. Yes, China is the country where wealth is measured by the amount of cars. That was a sight I didn’t really expect to see and really shocked me to think that 30min outside of Beijing people still lived like that AND yet they had a car. It was so contradicting but now it would be a sight I wouldn’t think twice about it anymore. I would almost expect to see it. Because owning a car in China is such a status symbol. People will think so much more of you if you own a car or a house. Imagine that in your tiny village you are the only one owning a car. Why would you invest in a house or moving to the city? They have no education or probably not even an idea of what is going on in the city and everything is so expensive it becomes unaffordable. At least with the car they have a lot of face and they are mobile.
This is a short recap of my first trip to Beijing. Stay tuned for more of this trip like the few days we spent in Chengde and of course our excursion to the Great Wall.
(Sorry for the lack in photography skills, but only had a small cheap camera back then 🙂 )
Who of you has ever been to China and what was your first impression?