Now, I’m not a wise old man. And, to be honest if I was, I’d only be doing it for the beard. So here to help me talk about just how incredible China is as a destination are some pearls of wisdom from my main man: Confucius.
“Silence is a true friend who never betrays”
A tasty little philosophical nugget for you there, and a statement that really rings true. Unless of course you’re standing on stage at a local Chinese karaoke bar, awaiting rapturous applause having absolutely smashed your debut karaoke performance with an epic rendition of Disney’s Mulan “I’ll make a man out of you”, only to be greeted by silence (swiftly followed by laughter from your fellow Topdeckers). Take it from me: silence is not your friend in this scenario.
To be honest, I initially thought the locals were simply awestruck, but it seems they were just very confused. It’s possible that some of the hand actions I used to illustrate the lyrics may not have helped – but how else was I going to symbolise ‘man’?
The thing is, this was an opportunity just too good to miss. We were in Chengdu, at a funky bar packed with locals belting out some C-pop ‘classics’ (I’m guessing here as my Mandarin is not quite perfect – three words and counting!) So, it would have been crazy to ignore this glorious opportunity to finally get recognised and kick-start my karaoke career… But, hey, sometimes things don’t go your way.
On the flip side, my performance was followed by one of the group performing Kelis’ infamous “Milkshake”, and his strikingly enthusiastic rendition was met with a healthy dose of laughter as well. As a quick disclosure – no boys came to the yard, not one.
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Yes, yes we do. One of the most controversial aspects about travelling in China is the enforced block on Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media channels. However restricting this may feel for some travellers, for me it meant for the first time in a long time I genuinely had the opportunity to just disengage from home and enjoy a unique destination in the company of other like-minded individuals.
I could explore China in all its modern wonder mixed with rustic charm and felt like I never missed anything because I was busy scrolling through Insta or checking out what salad my 2nd cousin had for lunch. We were all there just living each moment. From the phenomenal Forbidden Palace to the incredible Terracotta Army, or even just tucking into a wonderful dinner of soft fluffy baos (buns) with sweet sticky pork centres, black peppercorn beef, wonton noodle soup and Kung Pao chicken, all washed down with jasmine tea. Life felt simple… and it was good!
“Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish men from beasts?”
Two words: Panda twerking. I’m strolling around an incredible Panda Sanctuary in Chengdu looking at these gentle creatures chomping away on Bamboo and doing what they do best – lazing around, looking cute and eating. I begin to wonder: “If I was an animal, would I be one of these guys?” Before you can say ‘concubine’, one of them gets up and does the old ‘Miley Cyrus’ routine, and I change my mind. I think I’ll keep some self-respect and stay human thank you! I walk on to see the Red Pandas in the next section humming Blurred Lines as I go…
“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
After the hustle and bustle of the big cities you may be forgiven for thinking that China is one big metropolis after another. But on approaching Yangshuo & Longsheng you will find a picture postcard vision of rural China in all its inescapable beauty. Plush green mountains edge the horizon, blue lakes mirror the moonlight and rice terraces etch into the mountains and fall away into the valleys. It’s a literal breath of fresh air and one of the most serene places I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.
We head to Yangshuo, where an incredible light show is held on the river. Over 600 people head to the water each night to enjoy a fantastic spectacle of light, music and dance. The Li river is the stage, surrounded by illuminated mountains as the backdrop and the starry night sky as the canopy: i.e. pretty hard to beat.
However, I think that my trip highlight has to be sunset over the water-filled rice terraces of Longsheng. We hiked up to a viewing platform and gazed down upon this glassy green staircase as it flowed along the contours of the mountain into the distance – it was mesmerising. But as the sun set, we could see a thousand sunsets in a thousand pools; the colours flickering from the brightest yellow to gold, from rose to mellow amber – this was a moment of true, captivating beauty.
“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”
So, if you are considering a trip to China at all then I would strongly urge you to go. Go with the notion that you should expect the unexpected; go and try a little bit of everything at the restaurant table, go and ‘sing’ Karaoke in a random bar. But if, even after the wise words of Confucius, you are not sold on China as a destination – go and travel. Just ensure that “wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”