My friend, Mario is an openly gay US soldier currently living in Brooklyn, New York. He recently just got back from his three week stay in China and I asked him to share his experience by answering some of my questions.
What was the purpose of this trip?
The real reason was to do kung fu! I know it sounds silly for a traveler but here in Brooklyn I have an amazing instructor who is from the ancestral home of a style called Choy Lee Fut. It was a privilege to go with some of my kung fu brothers and sisters to do CLF, see our brethren in China practice it, and learn traditional lion dancing as well. We topped it off by partaking in the Chinese New Year’s Celebrations in towns and villages throughout the area.
Which city/province was your favorite?
Xin Hui town was where I spent most of my time, there are lots of gems of good GOOD food to be found, though you really need a native speaker to help, there’s just no help if you can’t speak. I got to spend a few days in Hong Kong but nothing beats the small town, local feel, and friendships earned from an extended stay in one area.
Which was your least favorite?
Least favorite place might have to be some of the villages in Taishan. As a traveler there really isn’t much there, maybe 500 households per village. We went there to perform. The food was fair, and the folks came out to watch in droves. It was nice to see chickens running through the streets and someone plucking a dead one on the porch, that might have been the lunch we had.
What was the best experience you had during your whole trip?
There were many good moments in this trip but day one was the best personally. I met a Japanese traveler the same day I landed in Hong Kong, we met at a Starbucks. I had no plan for the day except the willingness to make the best of it. My new friend seemed to have the same idea. We partnered up for a long day of sightseeing and ended up at a bar where we candidly revealed a lot of our personal lives. It seems the friendly rapport and fact that we live worlds apart helped us to be open about ourselves. We then went on the last train of the night to a spa where we could unwind after a long day.
Did you have any high expectations about a place that left you disappointed?
I have to say no. Maybe it’s my luck but I managed to meet amazing people at every turn that I hope I stay in touch with for a very long time. Nick from Foshan, Eric from LA, Shohei from Tokyo, Adolf from Hong Kong even bonded with my teammates a lot.
Which place pleasantly surprised you the most?
Xinhui! I expected that small town to be devoid of venues and people to meet as it’s not a big place like Shanghai or Beijing. People there are very friendly, beautiful, and generous,
Did you meet anybody cool during your trip that you still keep in touch with?
Absolutely, the people I met were the best part of my trip. Shohei was really a travelling brother, we were very kindred by the end of our one-day journey together. Nick was a true good natured sweetheart. Eric surprised me with easy going his willingness to get to know each other. Adolf (yeah he picked that name before realizing it) is a gentle and kind soul, I was grateful for his company in Hong Kong.
Favorite food you ate?
Leaky sand bun was amazing. And I had some stellar congee (rice porridge) in Xin Hui. Tim Ho Wan dim sum is worth the hype if you order the right things. And in Xinhui, when you ask for chicken, they serve you a chicken (head to toe, all chopped up and edible).
Favorite place you slept in?
Xinhui. The hotel was about 30 USD a night and had all the amenities you’d expect. Was even cleaner and bigger/brighter than overpriced Hong Kong, then again I went cheap on HK but not too cheap.
Favorite thing you bought?
My jacket from G2000 bought in Causeway Bay area. It fits great. Did cost 999 HKD ouch, but don’t regret it. Wish I had time to explore and shop more in that area.
One thing you learned about China that you didn’t know before?
A late night thing to do is not diners or bars, its go to the tea house. Every table has its own hot water and tea sets (BYOT bring your own tea or buy it there). It’s got small bites, desserts, and you’re welcome to bring your own booze or buy it there as well. The tea house is open LATE and is always loud and packed at all hours by people of all ages. Families, high school kids, college kids, friends young and old, like senior old. Just could be annoying if you don’t like smokers. Everyone smokes, a lot, like chimneys, indoors, especially there.
Which area could you see yourself living in and why?
I would probably like Xinhui or nearby Jianmen (it’s a bigger city). Hong Kong seemed too transient and business oriented. Even the locals I met there were not native and only planning to stay a short while. The real locals I did meet seemed very much invested in the finance world. Xinhui/Jiangmen has the vibe of a fully realized community. There’s kung fu, vibrant business, the bustle a city guy likes, and the tight bonds typical of people who lived together generations.
Which other cities did you want to visit but didn’t get to?
Guangzhou and Macau
One thing you like about your home country that you can’t experience in China?
Does Facebook and Google count?
Any tips or recommendations for anybody visiting China in the future?
Gosh, this is tough. You really have to have some command of the language, I have some mandarin to get by and local friends plus US companions who spoke Cantonese. I can’t stress enough, you have to breach the language barrier. Be brave with food, acquire the food. I leaned up because I ate GOOD, was rarely hungry.
Also, get a data sim card at the airport you land in. In HK, you can buy them at 7eleven. That way you phone can use data, and you can text or voice text on wechat.