From ancient pagodas to futuristic magnetic trains, China is a place where history meets the present in an array of diverse cultures, landscapes and foods.
by Megan Eaves | Originally published in WildJunket Magazine February/March 2012
On a far-flung hilltop, a mist-shrouded pagoda is surrounded by thick bamboo groves, while miles away in the distance below, a space-age train rockets people between sets of gleaming skyscrapers. These images capture the one word that sums up China: paradox.
China is simultaneously the past and the future. It is a country where lone farmers in woven hats answer text messages from 3G phones in between plowing rice fields from behind water buffalo. Technology meets timelessness in this strange Middle Kingdom, where even the savviest Sinophiles struggle to keep pace.
For many, there is little thought about China beyond the media-driven frenzy touting the so-called “Red Giant” as the next big doom; but behind the toothpaste scandals and human rights arguments thrives a country unlike any other that will capture your imagination and spirit.
To start with, China is a land of overwhelmingly big cities. Beyond the obvious – Shanghai at 23 million, Beijing nearing 20 million and Chongqing at a whopping 28.8 million – and dozens you’ve probably never heard of that could blow the populations of Houston, Chicago and Atlanta well out of the water.
Yes, China is a land of social paradoxes, but it is also one of natural contrasts. From the arid bamboo groves of Zhejiang Province to the lush canyons of Yunnan Province and the vast Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts that sweep across the northwest, culminating in sand dunes and oases, China has just about every type of landscape imaginable. The people who inhabit these settings are as diverse as their backdrops, but all have one in thing in common: ferocious joy and the ability to make even the most confused of foreigners feel welcome.
China is a land of social paradoxes, but it is also one of natural contrasts: from the arid bamboo groves of Zhejiang Province to the lush canyons of Yunnan.
And then there is the food. We’ve all had Chinese food at one point or another, and while it may not have been the most authentic of versions, the widespread availability of Chinese food around the world is a testament to the enduring and diverse culinary tradition that this country has cultivated for millennia. Food experiences differ depending on where you go, from the hearty dumplings of the northeast to the tongue-thrilling chilies of Sichuan Province and the many spices in between.
Getting a handle on China is impossible in one trip – decide what type of experience you want and narrow in on that region. If it’s the iconic land you’ve seen in pictures, opt to explore the well-trodden Golden Triangle, where you’ll walk the Great Wall and admire the stoic Terracotta Warrior Army. For those with a knack for unusual history and warm weather, make for the Sultry South – learn about tea trade and the 16th century Portuguese influence in the city of Xiamen and pick up the Cantonese language around Guangdong Province.
Nature lovers and those seeking a mythical China should head to the country’s interior, where misty villages teeter on as they have for thousands of years and spicy food abounds. And those with a bent for the truly exotic can get acquainted with the collection of diverse landscapes, from magical sand dunes to endless prairies, and the colorful people that inhabit them in China’s far northwest.
This is just a preview of the 10-page feature article.
About the Author:
Travel writer and wanderluster, Megan Eaves is the author of This Is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics andInsiders’ Guide to El Paso, and she runs the Irish travel website http://www.irishjaunt.com. Having traveled to 25 countries and lived in five, she is an expert on Ireland, China and the American Southwest, where she grew up, and also often writes about her adventures around Europe, especially London, where she is currently living. www.meganeaveswriting.com
If you enjoyed this preview, you can read the full article in WildJunket Magazine Feb/Mar 2012.Read full article