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Part of my New Year’s resolution this year is to travel to new places. Luckily, I have one of those jobs that affords me the occasional opportunity to travel abroad — the key is to take advantage of these job-related opportunities. Normally these trips take me to some dump in the middle of nowhere, but every once in a while I get to go to a dump that is close to someplace cool. This last trip was one of those occasions — China.
China is a very interesting place. Most Americans would strongly associate it with a closed one-party communist state, which it is. Still, the people and cities are abuzz with commerce in capitalism. I would venture that they are actually much more capitalistic than we are, although much less free politically.
The Chinese culture is also unique. In fact, it’s so unique that there really isn’t a “Chinese” culture at all. Instead, China is comprised of an amalgamation of hundreds of ethnic groups and subcultures, each with their own rich multi-millennial history, food, and often language.
On this last trip I travelled with a Mandarin speaker, and yet every time we switched locations, sometimes even within the same city, he marveled at the fact that he could no longer understand the people around him.
“Oh yeah, this guy, well he speaks a Shanghai dialect. Actually, not the Shanghai dialect, but a dialect from one of the Shanghai suburbs,” he might explain. “I have no idea what he’s saying.”
While in China, I did some of the regular tourist things. I visited the Great Wall, saw some tombs, visited Tiananmen Square, rode the brand new bullet train, ate some donkey, got in a fight with a drunken Chinese kid. You know, the standard stuff.
Still, my favorite part was just sitting down and eating and drinking with your everyday Chinese people and talking about our kids, discussing politics and what puts a pain in our ass, sharing aspirations and making fun of North Korean rockets. When I did this, I realized that this country, which is doubtlessly America’s greatest global rival for future wealth, resources, and power, is really made up of a lot of people with similar values and hopes that we share in the States.
This is the kind of perspective that you aren’t going to get reading news stories from either side of the Pacific.
It only comes from talking with the real people, uncensored, over a few glasses of baijiu.
So now we want to hear from you. Where around the globe are you going this year? Where are you going to travel to that’s out of your cultural comfort zone? What did you see? What did you learn? What’s your best adventure story? Were you able to take advantage of a work trip for some impromptu (or well-planned) adventuring? Feed the momentum and share your stories. Until then, have safe travels and hui jian!