Even though I no longer consider China a viable place to live for more than a few years, something about the country draws me back again and again, year after year. One month I’ll swear off China, yet the next I’m running back to it with open arms. It’s a love/hate relationship.
I’ve already clearly outlined what drives me away from the country, but what exactly is it about China that draws me to it like a moth to a flame? In this article I’ll outline China’s more savory side, but that’s assuming you can get past its shitty side first.
1. It Separates the Men from the Boys
If you want to see what you’re really made of, travel to China. Better yet, travel to any part of China beyond its first tier cities. It’s amazing how many people have traveled all throughout Asia, yet they skip over China, the juggernaut and epicenter of Asian culture and history. I personally don’t think you’ve really seen Asia until you’ve seen China. It’s a must-see country.
I think the real reason many people skip over China is because they simply don’t have what it takes. A massive language barrier, very few Western amenities, no Western social media, getting stared at 24/7 if you’re white, people with piss-poor manners and poor personal hygiene, and a lack of personal space are just a few of the things you’ll be dealing with on a daily basis if you go to China, and that scares most mainstream travelers away.
It’s definitely not a country for the faint-of-heart, nor does the country hold your hand the whole way through like Japan or Singapore. But if you can make it through the storm, you’ll come out the other side stronger than when you went in. That’s a very rewarding feeling. That you’ve conquered a great challenge. Other country’s problems will be a cakewalk after you’ve been through what China throws at you.
2. A Sense of Adventure
There’s no other place in this world that fills me more with a sense of adventure than China. A trip anywhere beyond the first tier cities is like taking a leap into the unknown. Google searches on Chinese cities populated with millions of people only bring up a few scraggly results that don’t tell you much. You ask other travelers what they think of China’s mega-cities like Chongqing, but they’ve never even heard of ‘em.
But that’s the joy of it all – trekking into the unknown and seeing what you find. Unlike so much of Southeast Asia which feels like everyone and their mother has already been there, China feels like the complete opposite. I’ve been to many places in China that I sincerely doubt many foreigners have ever stepped foot in. You can live in densely populated cities like Shenyang and go days without seeing another foreigner. Trekking into the unknown is an intimidating yet immensely rewarding thing to do, and China provides plenty of opportunities to do just that. But are you brave enough to do it?
3. Locals Genuinely Interested in Foreign People
Never have I been to another country where I’ve met so many locals who’re curious about foreigners, particularly Westerners. China’s relationship with foreigners is a love/hate kind of affair, but I’ve found the people who want to get to know you outnumber the ones who despise you. This is in stark contrast to countries like Thailand or Japan, where many locals couldn’t care less about foreigners. I’m not saying foreigners deserve special treatment, but it’s a nice bonus to know that you always have a social “in” in a country by merely being foreign. I was always interested in foreigners back in my hometown, so I can relate to their curiosity.
Often times I’ll just be minding my own business, having a meal by myself at a restaurant or simply walking down the street, and a random local will come up to me and fire up a conversation. I cannot count how many times I’ve had an impromptu meal, beer, or conversation in China with a total stranger for no other reason than I’m a foreigner. I understand that their interest in me is shallow and superficial, but I’d take that any day over being invisible everywhere I go.
4. Its Grand Scale
Much like the United States, Russia, and Brazil, China’s a massive country with lots to see. Its size dwarfs that of its fellow Asian neighbors. I’ve been traveling all over China for seven years now, and I’m still not even close to seeing at all. I usually travel to a different region each time I go to China, and each time it always feels like I’m in a unique little mini country. Sure, the entire country’s got that drab Chinese feel to it, but the country can really vary quite a bit based on where you’re at.
Xinjiang and Tibet in the west feel radically different than what you’d experience on the east coast. Shanghai feels a lot different than Beijing or Guangzhou. The natural landscape also varies a lot from region to region. Knowing that there’s always something totally new and different for me to see every time I return to China is exciting, and that’s part of the reason I don’t mind returning almost every year.
5. Its Awesome Parks
I was never much of a park person until I moved to China. Parks were always a place to play on the playground or to have a picnic. I immediately fell in love with Chinese parks from my very first visit, and now I have a newfound appreciation for them wherever I travel.
Chinese parks are a great place to see and experience Chinese culture first hand. If you’re into travel photography like me, Chinese parks are a can’t-miss. People painting Chinese calligraphy with water brushes. People playing card games and mahjong. People cracking whips. People browsing hanging personal ads from trees to find their adult children a spouse. So much is going on all around you.
Though many other places in the country are not, Chinese parks are actually very well taken care of. China’s pretty grimy even at the best of times, so it’s nice to see somewhere that’s spotlessly clean every once and while. Whenever I travel to new and old places all over China, seeing the local parks is always near the top of my priority list.
6. Learning Mandarin
No language has ever captivated me as much as Mandarin Chinese. I learned Spanish for years in high school, and then German for a few years in college, but Chinese is the only language I’ve learned outside of a classroom. It also happens to be the only foreign language I can speak well. I lived in Thailand for three years, and now I’m living in Japan, but neither Thai nor Japanese have ever piqued my interest. I haven’t lived in China for four years now, yet my Mandarin only gets better and better with each passing year, because I genuinely enjoying learning the language and communicating with Chinese people.
But what is it about Chinese that makes me actually want to learn it and put in the effort? My wife and in-laws are all Chinese, so that alone is motivating enough. But as I mentioned earlier, I actually feel like many Chinese people genuinely want to get to know me as a foreigner, and that pushes me to continue to learn. I never got that feeling in Thailand or here in Japan, so it’s hard to push myself to study.
I also love that Mandarin is a language that actually crosses borders. It’s no lingua franca like English, Spanish, Russian, or Arabic, but you can certainly use it in multiple countries, particularly in Asia. You’ve got mainland China of course, but then there’s also Taiwan, Singapore, the overseas Chinese communities in Malaysia and Indonesia, and also the tens of millions of ethnic Chinese scattered all over the globe. Anywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve always managed to stumble across some Chinese, even in my hometown of Little Rock, and I always enjoy having a chat with them in Mandarin.
7. Chinese Women
They’re my favorite women in the world. That’s why I married one! I remember during my first couple of months of living in Dalian I was completely blown away by the local women. I had never seen so many good-looking women in one place my whole life, so my eyes were always busy checking out the eye candy all around me. And on top of that, the women were actually pleasant to engage with. Back in America I keep my contact with the opposite sex to a minimum to avoid a headache, yet in China I actually enjoy befriending and hanging out with the local chicks. Going out with my wife and a few of her Chinese female friends is something I actually enjoy doing, but back in America I’d just stay home.
I also appreciate their natural beauty and feminine characteristics. In Thailand and Japan, I see so many women overdoing their appearance to the point that it becomes a turn-off. They cake on the make-up, dye their beautiful black hair unnatural colors, wear colored contact lenses, and overdress. They’d honestly look better if they just kept it more simple and natural. I’m attracted to their distinctly Asian features after all. I’m not saying Chinese women never do any of that, but they definitely embrace their natural beauty more.
Chinese women are also more loyal and less promiscuous than some of their Asian sisters. Due to the strict culture and heavy social pressure, Chinese women are often very marriage and family-oriented. This is great if you’re a guy who actually wants to find a serious partner, but it’ll be tough if you just want to bang your way across the country. If you’re a decent guy who’s got his life together, knows how to take care of a woman, and knows how to handle her emotions, chances are you’ve got a loyal companion for life if you choose a Chinese woman. Just make sure you know how to pick the right woman from the get go, as bad women can be found in any country, and that certainly includes China.
And finally, Chinese female personalities tend to complement my own quite well. We have way more chemistry and just get along better. It seems like they actually understand me, and that’s refreshing. Chinese women attract me, both physically and mentally, in a way that no other women on Earth have ever been able to replicate. They certainly aren’t for everybody, but they’re just right for me. Introverted guys like me can thrive.
8. You Never Know What You’ll See Next
Walking through the streets of China or reading the latest news about China is entertaining. There’s just so many wacky things going on, that you have to see them with your own eyes to believe them. These are not always positive things, but they’re interesting nonetheless. This phenomenon is true for many developing countries in Asia, but China has a tendency to take everything to the extreme. Living in an unpredictable environment always keeps things fresh.
One day (or damn near every day) I might see a heated brawl on the sidewalk with a crowd of 100 rubberneckers watching and doing absolutely nothing to intervene, and the next day I might hear about how there was a scandal involving cardboard being sold as meat.The next day I might even see a bunch of women wearing “facekinis” at the beach. You just can’t make this stuff up, and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but it’s fun and entertaining to say the least. You just never know what you’re gonna see next in China. It’s a wild ride!
9. A Bond with Fellow China Expats
Whenever I meet fellow foreigners in Asia who’ve lived in China for a year or more, I feel a special bond between me and them. It’s a similar feeling that veterans who fought in the same war feel towards one another. We’ve both done our time in China and came out the other side in one piece, and we wear that badge with pride and honor.
China separates the strong from the weak, and meeting a fellow foreigner who was strong enough to make it through to the other side makes me respect them just that much more. It’s always fun swapping China
experiences war stories with fellow expats. Even China expat forum boards are so much more fun than Thai and Japanese ones. Like they say, nothing in life worth doing is easy, so meeting someone who also took the more difficult path as I did creates somewhat of an alliance between us.
10. Watching the Country Grow First-hand
You’ve probably heard how fast China is growing and changing. One month you’re enjoying a nice meal in your favorite restaurant, yet the next month the building is bulldozed to the ground. Sometimes those changes are for the better, but they’re also often for the worse. But one thing is for sure – watching a country grow and change so rapidly right before your eyes is fascinating. Lots of developing Asian countries are growing fast, but nowhere is it more profound and in your face as China.
I go to Dalian almost every year, and every time I go back the changes I see are immense. Many of my favorite eating places don’t even exist anymore, while others have changed hands countless times. There’s always many new buildings and structures that I don’t remember seeing on the previous visit. The China I first saw way back in 2009 is quite a bit different than the China I see nowadays. Some things in China may never change, but its cities will always be changing and growing for the foreseeable future. Sit back and enjoy the show.
Whether I like it or not, my connection with China is a lifelong one. Sometimes the country pisses me off, but it never takes me long to rekindle our relationship. Even though I don’t think I ever want to live there again long-term, I still very much enjoy my annual trips to the country. Chinese people’s draw towards foreigners, the country’s magnificent size and landscape, the amazing and beautiful relationship-oriented women, and the sense of adventure the country instills in me are all just too hard to resist for long.
China always manages to pull me back in for a month or two, year after year, and I’m just fine with that relationship. Any time I think I hate China, I realize that I actually love it like a battered woman secretly loves her abuser. I could never permanently say goodbye to the Middle Kingdom. China will live with me forever.