Throughout nearly seven months of travel in 11 different countries, we’ve been exposed to a number of unique traits specific to various cities, countries and entire continents. Some of them have already been written about in our blog, but others over time became commonplace to us and we neglected to mention them. As such, we wanted to share some of these fun facts/observations with you. Continue reading
Beijing. Shanghai. Hong Kong. These are the cities that come to mind when many people think of China or envision a trip to the world’s most populated country. We did too, which is why we spent a week exploring Beijing. But did you know that almost half of China’s 1.4 billion people live in rural parts of the country where mountains outnumber skyscrapers and rice paddy fields stretch as far as the eye can see? We spent one month exploring rural China, what we are calling and consider to be “real China,” and encourage you to do the same if you’re planning a trip there in the future! We spent most of our time in Dali, with a weekend trip to Jianchuan, but the recap below can be applied to both cities. We also got to spend time with Karen’s sister and our brother-in-law, who met up with us at this point in our journey.
As we approach the halfway mark of our year abroad (side note: how is that even possible?!), there is one theme that pierces through all of our experiences thus far: expect the unexpected. I mean we’ve written a post specifically about just that here and have had some pretty unexpected moments, which we have written about here and here. Yet somehow, we continue to find ourselves being surprised! We encountered our fair share of unique surprises during a month in China’s southeastern Yunnan province. For one, we did not anticipate the beauty of this region with it’s pure air, beautiful lakes and 360-degree mountain views. Nor did we expect our bus driver to stop for a car wash mid route while we were locked inside, or for our cab to get a tire change on the way to the airport, while we sat inside the car (you can’t make this stuff up). But unexpected events lead to funny memories, interesting stories, and darn good video footage! So, let’s get down to business:
Though we both got food poisoning twice while in Yunnan (with one of those times occurring on our scheduled departure date), we did manage to try a lot of new things while learning about the traditional cuisine.
- Shared dishes. It is customary in China to share dishes with everyone at the table. The rule of thumb is to order one dish per person along with white rice for the table.
- All things pork. Seriously, they love pork and eat it in all forms. We saw everything from pork skin and uncooked pork fat cubes to blood curd soup.
- Spicy! We found much of the food to be pretty spicy, often topped with a type of crushed red pepper (seeds and all). Of course, if you asked a local, they would say that it was not too spicy. But our sweat glands and tear ducts told us differently!
- Always order soup. It is viewed as an essential dish at almost every meal. There are conflicting beliefs on when to drink the soup. Some Chinese believe that drinking the soup before the meal keeps you thin, while drinking it after makes you fat.
- Yunnan rice noodles. A signature noodle only found in, you guessed it, Yunnan! The noodles are typically served up in a broth with seasoning, meat, vegetables and spice.
We experienced our fair share of Chinese culture during our time in Yunnan and want to touch on a few noteworthy examples:
- Minority groups. One of the main minority groups in Dali is the Bai people. Their influence can be seen throughout the city from the colors and designs of buildings and homes, to the local festivals and tourist attractions. In addition to the Bai people, there are influences from both the Yi and Han people, making for a diverse mix of language, cuisine, and traditions.
- Spirits. It is common to see a small pile of food on the sidewalk in front of a home, which is believed to be consumed by spirits that visit in the night. The people also honor the dead by burning incense and paper money in hopes that the spirits of the dead will protect and bring good luck to the family.
- Squatties. You can’t write a post about China and not mention the squatty potties. If you don’t know what these are, I recommend a quick google search. Pro tip: bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer. It’s rare to find either in most public restrooms.
China is different than the States in a number of ways, but the most amusing difference to us is definitely the variations in social norms.
- Bait & Switch. There were multiple occasions when we would order something and receive a similar, but not what we ordered, replacement. Rather than tell you when they are out of certain ingredients, servers at restaurants will take your order and then serve up something different. We experienced this multiple times (chicken parmesan instead of grilled chicken and mayonnaise and pickles in place of tartar sauce) and every time we acknowledged the mistakes they plainly replied that they didn’t have what we ordered so they brought us something different.
- Meaningless seat numbers. Ever seen a 6’3″ man box out a group of Chinese people in order to claim his assigned bus seat? Well, it happened and it was glorious. Although we were the first people to purchase bus tickets from Jianchuan to Dali, and first in line to board, it didn’t really matter because the seat number printed on the ticket is meaningless for certain bus lines. This means it is first come first serve and people can be pushy, creating a crazy chaotic scene when boarding. But, when you’re the tallest person on the bus and only a few seats have any sort of leg room, you have to do what you have to do.
- Public transit delays. Always leave extra time when using any sort of public transit in Yunnan. You never know when your bus will stop for a car wash, your cab will need a tire change, your bus driver will stop to pick up anyone who flags them down and will drop them off wherever they’d like for a few extra $$$, or your cab driver will surprise you by picking up someone else who called them for a ride and then ask you to wait while said person browses at a market. Seriously, these things can and most definitely do happen.
China was certainly one of those places where the lifestyle differences are palpable. You recognize just how far away from home you are, and you really get a chance to appreciate what life is like across the world! Check out our latest YouTube video below for a feel of what life is like in the Yunnan province, and be sure to follow us on instagram @kimblesinbits for daily updates!
Adam and I have been on the road for four and half months and we have definitely experienced our fair share of adventure, usually in the “let’s go for a hike” sense but other times in the “did we really just sleep on top of a mountain” sense. We live for adventure but I have to admit…we were nervous about visiting Beijing, China. After spending a month in the US and two weeks in Europe, we had started getting used to hearing English and eating familiar foods. China was going to be an experience for all of our senses and we are happy to report that China. Is. Wonderful. With over 20 million people, ancient sites and impressive modern architecture, Beijing is unlike any other city that we’ve visited.
It can be overwhelming planning a trip here, with so much to learn before you go and see and do once you’re there. To assist in your planning, we’ve prepared a short list of dos and don’ts in Beijing:
DO use the subway to get around town. It’s safe, cheap, and very easy to navigate. All signs are in both Chinese and English, and all announcements are made in English as well. If you can, grab a subway map from your hotel to help you plan your trip and navigate as you go.
DON’T drink the tap water, it is not safe. Bottles of water can easily be found at any of the small convenience stores scattered throughout the city.
DO visit The Great Wall. The Mutianyu section of the wall is only a two hour drive from Beijing and offers a great view of the wall and the foothills. You can reach the wall by foot, by ski lift or by riding in a four person gondola. If you’re feeling adventurous, take the winding steel toboggan track back down from the wall. It’s so much fun! (check out the video!)
DON’T cross the street without looking in all directions, twice, even if you have the ‘walk’ signal. There are buses, cars, mopeds and bicycles on the road and they all seem to follow their own rules of the road. The biggest vehicle should always have the right-of-way which means if you’re walking on foot and not paying attention, you’re going to lose.
DO expect to be served rice, noodles and soy sauce for breakfast. Say goodbye to your bowl of fruit loops and blueberry pancakes.
DON’T forget to check the hours for The Forbidden City. Otherwise you might show up an hour after the gates close like we did (oops!)
DO eat dumplings and peking duck. Highly, highly recommend Mr. Shi’s for dumplings and Da Dong Roast Duck for their lean duck. Quick tip on the duck: one is enough for two people, and since it is served with a condiment tray, soup, fresh fruit and a dessert, you definitely won’t leave hungry.
DON’T be surprised if people stare at you or want to take a picture with you. We’re not sure if it’s Adam’s height, his massive beard, or his downright good looks that’s turning heads in China but he is definitely an attraction for the locals. We’ve seen everything from a 360 degree stop-and-stare, to a wide-eyed, mouth open double take. In fact, our visit at The Great Wall was interrupted a few times by people wanting to take pictures with us! I only wish I could see what they were posting about us on social media.
To see a video recap of our time in Beijing, including footage from The Great Wall, Mr. Shi’s and Tiananmen square, click the link below or visit the “Kimblesinbits” YouTube channel!