Although it took about three days to finally get my body clock back on track after returning from China, the jet lag was worth it.
I visited the country with 38 other teens through the ambassador program, People to People, which gives students a great learning experience while working to break down cultural stereotypes. For example, I learned that China is not as communist as one might expect. I saw a range of classes, from beggars to wealthy “fat cats.” Also, I learned that 75 percent of China’s businesses are privately owned.
We traveled to many of the major tourist attractions, such as Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and the Terra Cotta Soldiers, but we also went to places that I wouldn’t have visited had I gone on vacation there.
A lot of tourists might not go on a rickshaw ride through a hutong – or slum – of Beijing, or visit a Kung Fu school, a cloisonné factory, a silk embroidery school and a Buddhist temple.
While all of these places were fascinating, I most enjoyed meeting new people. We visited a school that taught English to middle school kids, and we also stayed with a Chinese family for one night. The people showed kindness, even without using a language that we could understand.
We also got a great taste of Chinese culture at the homestay – a shower spout next to the toilet with no curtain, just a drain in the center of the floor, babies not wearing diapers and simply doing their business in the streets, and the family refusing to stop putting food on our plates if we got close to finishing; the mother even spoon-fed us a couple of times!
Street vendors are illegal in China, but they practically attack foreigners. On his bike, one vendor followed my friend and me during the rickshaw ride, holding out his merchandise and shouting, “Free! Free!” So my friend and I, being incredibly stupid, took it. Then of course, he started shouting, “Ten dollar! Ten dollar!” while holding onto the side of the rickshaw.
It took forever to make him take back the merchandise and leave us alone.
The worst part of the trip? The toilets were practically holes in the ground and sometimes we would have to use tissues that we carried around in our purses because the bathrooms had none. There was practically a Hallelujah chorus if there were Western-style toilets in a place. (Luckily all of our hotels had them!)
The second-worst part was the mixture of heat, humidity, and pollution. The smog was so thick that it was impossible to see any blue sky in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai.
But overall, the trip was din din din hao - very, very, very good!