China With Kids
So, China with kids has been a little more than I bargained for. This was one country I was really looking forward to. I needed to see the Terracotta Warriors, hike the Great Wall and float down the Li River. I wanted to see the family compounds and experience the vastness that is China.
What I didn’t bargain for was
- the food difficulties
- the HARD beds
- the hygiene issues.
Ok, yes, I of course knew that real Chinese food would not be like the western Chinese food I adore but I underestimated just how different it would be. I expected the ducks hanging from the storefronts and the streets teeming with pots of noodles and different cuts of meat but I didn’t expect the roasted dogs splayed out in front of the restaurants and the teeny tiny no longer chirping bar-b-qued birds roasting over an open fire….that we think we ate. I had heard rumors of hard beds and had experienced such discomfort throughout southeast Asia but literally plywood with thin cotton batting was harder than hard – and a little more than I can handle. But single handedly our biggest issue…the manners – or in our view, the lack thereof.
After 11 months of travel the kids are used to finding the positive in all (well, ok, most) situations. They are used to looking at the reasons for the cultural differences and in most cases we’ve come to appreciate and embrace each culture and the uniqueness of various peoples. That being said, China has thrown us for a loop.
It’s like the Chinese have taken every western rule we teach to our preschoolers and govern with the exact opposite philosophy.
- No pushing, no spitting, no yelling.
- Don’t cut in line, chew with your mouth open and eat with your hands.
- Don’t double dip, urinate (or dedicate) in public or heaven forbid pick your nose.
- And did I mention that spitting thing?
I, and every parent I know, has been drilling the above into our children since birth. So you can imagine, when my children, ages 9 & 10 are assaulted with the above all day, every day for 6 weeks…yeah, not working out so well. The level of disgust has hit an all time high – and we’ve got a week and a half left. Our tolerance level has hit it’s limit and we’re ready for a change.
So let me back up and say we didn’t start with the most contemporary of cities. We’ve hit sites that many Chinese have never heard of and most Westerners probably wouldn’t bother to visit (let me say right now, everyone’s missing out!). We’ve just left Beijing and have now hit Shanghai which, after 7 weeks seems gloriously sophisticated. To deal with some minor medical issues and to keep my children loving travel we’ve altered plans, taking things a little easy and are back to doing ok but let’s just say, it’s been rough going.
So that’s the bad of traveling in china with kids, or the highlights of the bad at least (other than extreme censorship – but that’s an entirely separate issue).
And the good of traveling in China with kids…
We’ve been trying for months to put words to our feelings on China. We’re equally baffled and amazed by all things Chinese.
have been beyond kind and helpful. We’ve been assaulted by people eager to take photos with us, had people buy us food, share their snacks, take hours out of their day to escort us to our guesthouse, give us directions, explain how something works. We’ve met people from all over China who are as curious about us as we are of them. We’ve received countless invites to hometowns, enjoyed several hours long hikes joined by a local (or group of locals) learning about their culture, their jobs, their education, their hometowns – and shared our stories as well. We’ve been stopped in the metro for a photo and 2 hours later left with 7 new friends all whom we hope, at some point in life, we’ll meet up with again.
It seems I keep telling the kids “this is the largest, the biggest, the tallest, the greatest, the oldest” (elevator, tram, glass walkway, Buddha, wall, you name it). It feels like we’ve seen them all…and they’re all here within China. We marvel at the concrete covered walkways in the national parks, the “Paradise Cities” in the middle of nowhere catering to the sheer volume of Chinese nationals visiting their country’s finest sites, we gawk at the sampans, chairlifts, elevators and gondolas shuttling people up various peaks making them accessible for the oldest, youngest and most physically out of shape citizens.
With each national park the kids state “who would have thought China has so many beautiful places to hike?” and we constantly declare that no one “does things like the Chinese”. So, concrete paths in a national park, hoards of tourists, buses shuttling you to and fro, we’d do it again to see these once in a lifetimes.
That being said, we’re shocked at the concrete, the roads, the reckless drivers, the mass movement of earth, the sheer number of people and the seemingly endless rows of apartment buildings. The pollution and poor air quality is unimaginable. The vast number of cities that are everywhere is still, seven weeks later, shocking. I just don’t think people can grasp the sheer volume of humans who are in this country, similar in physical size to our own yet with four times the amount of people. Astounding.
We’ve spent two months trying to suss out our feelings on China, it’s people, the things we’ve seen and our vast array of experiences. It’s a place we honestly aren’t sad to leave but it is one we’ll watch in the future. There’s a lot happening here in China. It’s changing at a rapid pace, and changing in ways we can’t even fathom. While we’re ready to leave, I suspect, it will be a place we’ll return in the future…if nothing else, to revisit these national parks, see how China’s landscape continues to change over the coming years, and maybe, if we’re fortunate, just possibly, to meet up with new friends we’ve met along the way.