Last year, I nestled into China for a whimsical two-and-a-half months, embarking on a quest to peel back the layers of this giant. With its sprawling economy and a tapestry of culture that stretches deep and wide, I was ashamed of my ignorance. My initial plan was a summer visit in 2020 for a breezy couple of weeks, but, well, the universe had other plans. Beijing became my hub, where I studied the language for three hours daily, juggling remote work with the zest of a circus performer. Weekends were my ticket to leapfrog across Beijing, from museums that whispered ancient secrets to historical sites that stood time's test. My curiosity took me on quick trips to Shanghai, Nanjing, Tianjin, and a spellbinding week in Inner Mongolia, each moment weaving a little into the fabric of my being, transforming my thoughts and perspectives in ways I'm still unraveling.
As the Chinese New Year rolls in, I'm swept up in a wave of nostalgia and a dash of whimsy, itching to share how China danced its way into my heart last year.
What did China do to my brain? It's a bit like unexplainable magic. There's something about plunging into a new world that jumbles up your insides and puts them back together in a pattern you never knew existed. China is a master at this game, with its enigmatic language that dances with symbolism, and a daily life so starkly different from what I knew. Day one threw me a curveball—my lifeline of apps turned into relics of the past, nudging me into China's embrace of alternative digital wonders. It gave me a crash course in adaptability, sparking a wildfire of change in my thinking and unlocking hidden chambers of potential I never knew I had.
The warmth and curiosity of the Chinese people wrapped around me like a cozy blanket. Despite our conversations being a tad basic due to my communication inabilities, their eagerness to connect, to share a slice of their world (and sometimes literally share slices of food), was heartwarming. In Beijing, I became an accidental celebrity, striking poses with over fifty tourists, while in Inner Mongolia, my unique looks drew smiles and stories from a mosaic of cultures. The friendships I forged were marked by kindness, respect, and generosity.
And oh, the sheer number of people! Saying China is populous is like noting the sky is big—it's an understatement that doesn't quite capture the feeling of being amidst a sea of humanity, each wave speaking in a different tongue, each crest reflecting a unique culture. The diversity in food is brilliant. The absence of a single dominating religion, yet the presence of a strong societal fabric woven with values and family ties was both initially bewildering and beautiful. It was a lesson in harmony and resilience that left me oddly inspired.
So, here's to China—thank you for painting my last year with strokes of wonder, for memories that cling like the scent of Beijing’s jasmine tea, and for the promise of adventures yet to come. Here's hoping our paths cross again, under the same wide sky but in new chapters yet unwritten. Happy year of the dragon!