Before you go

By Mike Elias Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/22 17:23:39

What’s on your China bucket list?

A foreigner rides a bike on the street in Beijing. Photo: IC

It can be easy for expats to settle into a routine working and living in China. But when our time of departure draws near, everything we want to do before we leave bubbles up to the surface. Some of us take the most urgent of these and create a "China bucket list" - a list of places to visit and things to do that cannot be missed. Because we're not exactly tourists, our ideas for experiencing China can seem weird or obscure, but for some reason, they cling to our hearts.

Here are a few bucket list items and stories gathered from expats around Beijing.

The Great Wall at the beach (Mike E.)

Before leaving China, I knew I wanted to visit Shanhai Pass near Qingdao where the Great Wall runs into the sea. It's a mere two-hour trip by train from Beijing. I had the perfect opportunity to visit with some friends in May.

The wall extends across the beach and protrudes about 20 feet into the ocean. It was a Great Wall visit and a beach day all in one. The site features numerous historical artifacts, from old fortresses, military grounds and a "hedge maze" made out of concrete to a long pier with temples perched along it. We took some photos doing acroyoga (acrobatic yoga) on top of the wall, which mesmerized nearby Chinese tourists. They must have been thinking, "Look at the weird foreigners!"

Our friends and family back home were thrilled - few Americans seem to know about this place or that the Great Wall connects with the ocean at all. The combined beauty and history of the site makes it highly worthwhile.

Two foreigners do acroyoga at Shanhai Pass. Photo: Courtesy of Mike Elias

 The Sea of Clouds (Jonny W.)

 The Sea of Clouds on the Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province. It's a season and weather-dependent sight. That is, even if you go at the right time of year (in spring), it can be too cloudy, and you can't see anything at all. But when the conditions are right, it's a breathtaking view. It looks like the rocky peaks are bursting out from beneath the clouds. I know people who have been there three times and missed out on the view. I got very lucky my first time.

A group of foreigners in the Huangshan Mountain scenic area Photo: IC

Inner Mongolia Naadam Festival (Megan C.)

It's been going on since at least the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) and showcases Chinese groups we don't usually see.

Shipton's Arch (Bo B.)

Shipton's Arch is a natural arch close to the border with Tajikistan that is taller than the Empire State Building in the US. It's far off the beaten path. You have to travel one hour by road from Kashgar, one hour through the desert, and then another hour climbing up a ravine to see it.

Once you reach it, you can see the plains stretch all the way to Pakistan. I was in Kashgar when I overheard some people talking about it. I banded together with them, got a guide, and we made our way there.

We got hit up for a bribe by a sheepherder in the middle of the desert. I think he was in cahoots with the driver and our guide. They weren't speaking Chinese, so it's hard to know. He was very slick. He had a long needle and used it to inject sheep with some kind of medicine. He strategically placed the needle near my arm until we paid. I think we were driving through his land, technically. It's not every day that you get held up at needlepoint by a shepherd in the middle of the desert!

Eating cicadas in Shandong Province (Hilbert W.)

They were wet and crunchy. Like eating a roach. Super weird, but at least I did it.

A foreigner holds a fried scorpion. Photo: IC

Giulin (Sophia Z.)

There is an old saying, "Guilin shanshui jiatianxia," which means the scenery in Guilin is the top of the world.

Guilin has always been a dream place for my mum and myself. Sitting on a bamboo boat floating on Lijiang River, my mum and I enjoyed the sunshine and the breeze. It was very peaceful and joyful.

Some locals were selling flower crowns on the riverbanks. The best part was that the scenery looks exactly like the image you see every day on the 20 yuan note.

Suzhou and the Humble Administrator's Garden (Mike E.)

Before leaving China, I wanted to visit Suzhou and the Humble Administrator's Garden. I was traveling with friends in Shanghai when I got my chance. The town was quaint and beautiful. Little swoops of architecture lined the narrow hutong streets more delicately than in Beijing somehow. The canals filtering through Suzhou carried sleepy gondoliers, and tourists paid to take quiet gondola rides all the way up and down the canals, parallel to the main street. A gondola ride looked like an ideal setting to smoke a cigar, but we were running a bit late, so we didn't get the chance. In the dirt along one of the footpaths, I found some shards of porcelain that looked similar to those fine porcelain sold for top dollar at trendy antique stores.

We found the Humble Administrator's Garden, so named because it had been given to an administrator who had been faithful to his post, with only a couple of hours to spare. I remember being struck by the variety and lusciousness of landscapes that managed to coexist in a space that couldn't have been larger than a few football fields. Hills, boulders, footpaths, trees I had never seen before, creeks with bridges across them, grassy fields, calm pagodas, and lakes studded with ducks and geese all came together in a cozy nature stew. My friends and I spent the hours we had there strolling and lounging like cats on a prairie.

On our way back to the train station, we passed a store selling beautiful "silk" boxer shorts for only 10 yuan per pair. They even had a pocket in the back! My girlfriend told me I'd look like Muhammad Ali in them, so I bought five.

All in all, I found Suzhou to be a beautiful city that somehow felt like home. There was something peaceful about it, like returning to a small town after years in a big city.

A Beijing "social experiment" (Mike E.)

There's a new way to plow through the heavy pedestrian traffic on subway platforms. Since Beijingers are used to sharing streets with bicycles and many kinds of vehicles and moving out of the way when they hear someone approaching, they might instinctively get out of the way whenever they hear a bicycle bell. Weary of trudging through crowds after a long day of work, my girlfriend considered what would happen if she carried a bicycle bell with her through the subway station and rang it to make everyone get out of her way.

She made the "mistake" of mentioning this to me, and I couldn't resist. The idea reflected Pavlovian conditioning at its best. The premise is that if someone is used to reacting to a certain stimulus in a certain way, they tend to instinctively react to that same stimulus in the same way regardless of the situation.

I had to try it before leaving China. We bought a bicycle bell and carried it around with us for a couple of days, waiting for the perfect moment. One evening around rush hour, we were making a subway transfer. We were stuck in a long hallway packed with pedestrians - a perfect moment to take out the bell.

I held it in front of me as I walked, and rang it resolutely. The few people in front of me turned their heads to look back as they got out of the way. It worked! I kept the bicycle bell as a souvenir.


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