Who could say that he has a complete picture of China? How many days are enough?
You begin your trip knowing that for the next approximately 18 hours you are going to be on a plane. While your physical stamina weakens, your intellectual demands increase. You can’t wait to check-in to the hotel and rush to the streets of Beijing, anxious to taste Peking duck, try to decode ideograms and load the memory of your camera with countless snapshots. You are there. You crossed a whole continent, landed on the Beijing airport and the countdown until the day you leave China has began. You have to make the most of it, “taste” a whole new culture. Like a foreigner who had eaten “greek souvlaki” many times before, but can only appreciate its actual taste when in the country of origin. So, an insatiable start.
The visit to the Forbidden City, the Tien An Men square and the Summer Palace impress you from the first minute. The size takes your breath away, the stories from each dynasty take you on a journey to the past, the domestic tourism makes you feel anytime how far away from home you are. The Chinese are countless and literally everywhere. Coconut water-ices, bottled water worth of 0.10 euros, Lemon Tea flavored crisps, commemorative photos, surveillance cameras at every corner.
Ni hao, xie xie, zai jian. Hello, thank you, goodbye.
1 euro equals to 9.15 Chinese yuan.
Sizes without principals and a scale never known before to architecture. The one-story Hutong in contrast to the modern apartment buildings, the Olympic facilities, the hotel and business units. Disorderly building that is outweighed by the excellent transportation system. Walking around the city of Beijing you begin to wonder. What is the concept behind the irregular construction and what respect lies to the design of the network of pedestrians and all kind of vehicles-carriages, rickshaws, means of public transportation and cars.
As a visitor, you have the same chances to find litter in the streets as to find a fellow European tourist. Next to zero. That does not appeal to shopping and transportation. Big chances to purchase products at unbelievably low prices and expose yourself to danger when taking a taxi.
The coach reaches the entrance to the Great Wall. Imposing, grand and ready to offer you a breathtaking view. You buy your Chinese straw hat, you get armed with courage for the ascent and finally 60+ minutes later you sit on the loophole of one of the observatories and muse like there’s no tomorrow. Nothing else but the earth and sky. It doesn’t matter where or when you leave your mark and there’s nothing like singing and dancing greek folklore dances during the descent of the Great Wall!
The transport from Beijing to cosmopolitan Shanghai lasts only two hours by plane. However, it takes us five hours because of a stop we have to make in a town 300 klm away from our destination. During that three-hour delay we begin to actually meet each member of the 51 member-group and become familiar to each other. It is possible that by this time there are people of the group you didn’t have the time or chance to talk to before and maybe you don’t even know their name. That time is found in the confounds of a narrow airplane which resulted in the unity of the team in Shanghai.
Water dominates, in every form. Humidity, rain, sweat, the river. Welcome to the port of the East. And if until now is isn’t understood, now it is time to realize that size counts. It counts 474m above the ground and just two decades of progress. During changing elevators the only thing that makes you realize the ascent is the swing you feel. On arrival you need some time before you begin to take pictures. A few minutes are enough to get down to the known level, but just how many minutes are enough to conceive the sight?
Bearing in mind the conquest of the 100th floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the roaming in the streets of Shanghai goes on with the umbrellas in hand. A friendly piece of advice: don’t seek for a taxi in Shanghai when it rains. Maybe you should keep walking heading for the French district. This area gives you the illusion of familiarity. This place offers you special nights of entertainment, tasty food and great shopping opportunities.
All the above until the time comes to visit the EXPO. An international exhibition where the domestic tourism prevails. Pavilions where you have to wait for 3 to 4 hours to enter and others without any special attendance. In strict order of priority, great expectations and stops to rest and try the traditional food of each country. The pavilions that live up to the expectations stand out, and the one you will never forget is that of China. You feel like a little child when visiting the funfair and just before it gets tired everything seems greater and bigger than it actually is. When the bet about who collected the most stamps on their exit of each pavilion on their EXPO passport wears out, the only things that remain are the pictures, the souvenirs, the exercised leg muscles from walking and countless stories to tell.
In China, while communicating is quite difficult, that’s why the excellent knowledge of English is payed well, you are compensated by the mentality and manners of the locals. The Chinese have style. From the way they are dressed and dress up their children to the ritual of eating. They will be fascinated by your appearance but will be scared when you try to talk to them. Their humble manners can be mistaken for rudeness when, for example, they repeat “no” to a simple question you ask them in english. Their eyes stare at the ground from respect, but when you try to speak in their language a wide smile spreads on their face. They want to photograph you, touch you, repeat the word “beautiful” in Chinese and will be very happy if you return the compliment.
China is a dream. It is formed in the mind of every man of the west from tv shows, films, visits of friends, and personal research. As a matter of fact it is extremely difficult to reach a conclusion about this journey. All the desires and expectations you had before setting off are contradicted. It is possible to state that having been there you would never go again. Maybe you’ll think twice.
The scales will balance depending on the memory.
If you live some moments from this dream, ideal or not, a steep landing in Athens is enough to get you back to reality.