The beach at Da Nang is considered by some to be the best in the world. We think of many things when we envision our perfect beach. Long stretches of smooth sand between our toes. The gentle rhythm of clear blue water. Miles of skyscrapers blotting out the sun. The pounding of jackhammers. The diesel fumes of construction trucks. Overpriced seafood restaurants that look like they were plucked from a truck stop and thrown on a sidewalk overlooking the South China Sea.
Thick stalks of bamboo tower overhead. The tops sway back and forth in the breeze. Birds are chirping. The air is brisk and refreshing.
An old tractor, possibly built before the revolution, putters down the mountain pulling a trailer of freshly cut bamboo stalks. Stalks of vegetables lay on the stone walls alongside the road, drying in the sun. The yellow autumn rice fields look like gold as the sun lazily drifts behind the green mountains.
I’m not talking about the rulers of the Chinese Communist Party during the Cultural Revolution. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gang_of_Four). The Gang of Four I’m talking about is the late ‘70s British post-punk band.
They’ve been a favorite of ours for a while, and the album “Entertainment” is probably one of the best albums. So, when we read that they were coming to town for the 40th anniversary of “Entertainment” and playing the album in full, of course were going to go. Even if the show was a 40-minute subway ride away way up in Hongkou. Even if we had to work the next morning.
The thing about Beijing that struck me the most was how
gritty it all was. Gritty to the point that you could taste it when you walked
outside. There’s a constant layer of dust that settles in to your mouth with each
I don’t say this to disparage Beijing in any way. It’s a fine city, with lots of interesting sights and interesting things.
Standing on top of the hill in Jinghshan park, behind the mighty
Palace Museum, we could see the Forbidden City stretched out before us in all
its ancient magnificence. The sparkling new skyscrapers of modern Beijing were
all but lost in a grey haze. The buildings where we were, at least, were lower
than expected. The city seemed to stretch out for miles, perhaps into infinity,
before disappearing into the haze.
We met a tour guide in Hoi An, Vietnam who was born and raised in the nearby city of Hue. We told him we were staying there for two nights. He frowned at us.
“Most people spend four hours in Hue,” he said. “Even a full day is too long.”
This seemed to be the sentiment of most of the fellow travelers we met in our hostel. The consensus was that Hue was fine, but really just a pit stop on the road to the bigger and better attractions of Da Nang and Hoi An. It might be the most underrated place I’ve ever been to.
(click here for helpful resources to learn Chinese)
What has been the most difficult thing about moving to China?
Culture shock is a real thing, of course. Every culture has its own quirks that take some getting used to. In China, people spit on the street. Sometimes kids will poop on the street. They have squat toilets. People shove in the subway. They eat frogs.
Sure, these are all different, unusual, maybe even weird to someone coming from the West. Fundamentally, though, they are all superficial. I have been pleasantly surprised with how quickly I’ve grown accustomed to all those things.
You ignore the spitting. You laugh at the kid pooping. You build up your thigh muscles for squatting, and you learn to either shove along with everyone else. Or else find the toughest old lady you can and follow her. Oh, and frog meat is actually pretty tasty.
None of those things, or any of the other superficial cultural differences, are really that difficult to adjust to if you’re able to keep an open mind.
The biggest difficulty is by far the language barrier. I swear I’m learning Chinese, but damn it, it’s hard!
Many years ago I used to work in the meat department of a grocery store. I’d stand behind a counter for eight hours a day serving free-range beef and organic skinless boneless chicken breasts to Minneapolis, Minnesota’s more well off customers. I’m not particularly into meat or serving customers, but it was a job and it was a fine job for the time I did it.
Linhai is a small city that seems to be off the radar of most Westerners. It’s a mere three hours on the fast train outside of Shanghai, between Ningbo and Taizhou. The summer rainy season left the surrounding mountains full of bright vibrant emerald green that stood out against the grey sky. So much green, that parts of the hike around Linhai’s wall felt like some sort of fairy tale wonderland.
The wall in Linhai
The wall is probably your best reason for visiting Linhai. It’s not exactly The Great Wall of China, but it is a great wall in China. A pretty good wall, anyway. It was built around the same time as the actual Great Wall and supposedly shared an engineer. If you’re the dishonest type, you could probably just post pictures of Linhai’s wall on Instagram and your family and friends back home likely wouldn’t know the difference.
Humanity piled on top of humanity. Stacks of human beings in concrete towers, some of which look like they’re on the verge of collapse.
There is a bright and shiny Hong Kong. This is the Hong Kong that most people think of. Glitzy glass towers where billions of dollars are traded back and forth in English and Mandarin. There are so many guys in suits there. Expensive suits with expensive women tugging the sleeves.
Ah, Suzhou, the Venice of the East. Or maybe that’s a bit Eurocentric? For all we know, Venice is the Suzhou of the West. Either way, Suzhou is only a half an hour away from Shanghai and makes a pleasant weekend getaway.