I couldn’t let my time in China go by without mentioning the incredible hospitality I received when I was there.
One of the many things I’ve loved about writing this blog is that I’ve visited all these wonderful countries and I’ve been able to tell you know just how wonderful the world actually is. I have now visited 23 countries in the past 24 months and I’ve never felt threatened or unsafe. From the once most dangerous city in the world in Colombia to the favelas of Brazil, the people I have met from the places I have visited have opened my eyes to just how many good and honest people there are in the world.
I was a bit disillusioned with the world before setting off on this trip. In my former my life I was a Crime Scene Investigator in London. This was a great job but 9 years of dealing with crime everyday was enough to make you see the world in a slightly negative way. Media tends to focus on the negative which leads us to believe that we are all falling apart at the seams and that there is war and unrest everywhere. There are of course places in the world which are sadly undergoing many struggles but there is also a lot of good in the world.
Which brings me on to China. I think it’s safe to say that China has some polices that I don’t agree with so this is an account solely based on my personal experience in China.
I didn’t know much about China before going apart from things like the Great Wall, the Terracotta army, the transiberian express and some of the things I’d seen in the news. It’s safe to say I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.
I was quite surprised by how few westerners there were in the places I visited. I visited 4 cities during my 8 days in China and didn’t see many westerners at all. There were a few more in Shanghai but not as many as I thought there would be.
Because of the lack of westerners myself, Katie, Amy and Caroline were stopped on so many occasions by people wanting photographs with us. In Xi’an a girl asked if she could have a photo with me because she said I looked like David Beckham. I asked if I could also get a photo with her and she looked at me like I was a total weirdo! Ha! You can see her reaction in the photo with the bikes in it.
The David Beckham thing went with me wherever I went in China. I’m not going to lie I actually loved every second of it until I realised that David Beckham promotes pretty much every single product in China and as a result his face is absolutely everywhere. It then hit me that maybe Chinese people only thought I looked like him because he’s the only westerner they ever see (and the fact I’ve got a dodgy haircut:)). My dream of thinking I was a millionaire sportsman was quickly shattered!
Katie is fluent in Chinese and without her I was lost when ordering food. In Xi’an I went to a cafe for lunch and the whole menu was in Chinese. There weren’t any pictures of the food either so I couldn’t even just point. This was the case in many of the local restaurants. In the end I had about 6 members of staff around me giggling and laughing with only one knowing a tiny bit of English. She knew the words for meat and noodles so that’s what I got. I actually wanted vegetarian noodles but my Chinese language app didn’t have a word for vegetables. No wonder it was free! They all just seemed to really want to help me which was lovely.
Katie was determined to make our time not only worthwhile for the children’s hospice but also fun. She took us all out for dinner and Namoi who is the Chinese director at the hospice organised for us to go to Karaoke. If you thought my singing at the opera house was bad then you haven’t heard me doing karaoke. That’s me and Naomi’s husband Damien singing Barbie Girl by Aqua in the pic. Damien being the karaoke pro doing his very best to look like Barbie.
All the gang at the hospice were so friendly and accommodating as were most of the people I met in China. A wonderful guy called David who is the administrator at Butterfly and a few others from the hospice took me out for dinner and to see some of their city. We all went for a walk up a well known hill (I can’t remember the name) to a viewing point overlooking Changsha city. It was really lovely and I got to know everyone and learn a little bit about Chinese culture.
As we were walking David asked if I had any brothers or sisters. I told him I had a big brother. Completely forgetting about the one child per family law in China I asked David if he had any brothers or sisters. He replied no and when I asked if he would like a sibling and he shouted out with excitement of how much he would have loved to have a brother or a sister. This was yet another reminder of just how fortunate I am to have the life I have.
Naomi was absolutely amazing in helping me when I was in China. She booked me a cheap flight to Xi’an, found me a cheap hostel and even organised for her friend to pick me up from the airport. A wonderful guy called Zhao Hao picked me up but only spoke a few words of English. My Chinese was no better than a simple hello but I had downloaded a Chinese language app before arriving especially for moments like these. It is amazing how much of a conversation you can have when just saying one or two words.
Zhao Hao was beyond generous. From the airport he drove me to the Terracotta Army museum where he first bought me lunch. I tried to pay to say thank you for the lift but he didn’t seem happy with this. Apparently it is frowned upon for a guest to pay for anything when in the company of your host. He then waited outside in his car for two and half hours as I went in to see the Terracotta Army. I had asked him to leave as he had two kids and worked all week as an accountant. I felt terrible that he was spending part of his weekend with someone who didn’t even speak his own language. He then drove me to my hostel and even checked me in before carrying my bag up to my room. I’ve never experienced anything like it and I was totally overwhelmed by his hospitality. The generosity I have received around the world has certainly changed how I want to host my guests. Other than my mum I don’t know anyone who would do this for someone they have never met.
I spent 8 days in China and only got to see a small part of it but my experience was a very warm, welcoming and generous one. One which I will never forget and one which has made me re-evaluate how I want to host guests. A huge thank you to Naomi, Linda, David, Alan, Zhao Hoa, the Ayis, Katie, Caroline and Amy for making me feel so welcome. I hope I can do the same for you one day.
2 days to go!