Talk about a culture shock. Feeling foreign and out of my comfort zone is one of my favorite feelings in this world; and boy did China do that for me. From casually walking by people eating scorpions on a stick; meeting others whom were mesmerized by my light hair; to toboggan sledding down from the Great Wall of China, this was in fact the coolest, most life changing experience of my life.
Two words: Night. Market.
I went into this thinking it was to be full of sweet treats and Beijing’s culinary delights. Little did I know it was code for ‘hotspot for daring foodies only’. And I mean daring. We’re talking about not only fried scorpions, but also, centipedes; seahorses; silkworms; and black king spiders the size of my face. Now, don’t get me wrong, the noodles being cooked smelled great, but the dog meat sitting next to it turned my stomach a bit. I had stopped a man that was mid bite on a nice long centipede. He had just come from work for a midnight snack. I asked him how it tasted and he gave me the biggest grin and let me know how good it was. He kindly pushed it towards me and I yelped so loud that I scared him. I can’t help but think I must be missing out on some secret nutritious benefits, but I passed on the offer and stuck to my year old expired snickers that I had purchased the day before. Makes sense, I know. Payback for not completely immersing myself in their culture. Can I get a redo?
Traveling further away from the more touristy parts of Beijing was incredibly humbling. Meeting locals who have never seen such light hair before was an eye opening experience. I had many people gently grab my hair and pet my head. Something I’ve never had happen in my twenty-two years. Some would form into a circle around and just stare. Others would snap picture after picture. The language barrier was tough and often at times, comical, because of the many hand gestures we would have to resort to. Yet everyone was just so nice and gave me such a warm welcoming. It wasn’t until the end of my trip that I was able to understand and experience this reaction a little better. I caught myself staring at this cute little Chinese girl who was holding hands with both her parents. She had the lightest blue eyes and light hair. I grabbed my camera and tried to discretely snap a shot and in that moment, it all made sense. Seeing something you’re not used to seeing is so exciting, you can’t help but look.
When traveling, I HAVE to do the thing you’re supposed to do, in the place you’re supposed to do it in. It’s called FOMO (fear of missing out) and it has actually completely taken over my life. You bet I had Chinese food in China, green tea in the tea gardens, sat in a Buddhist Temple among some Buddhist Monks, explored a silk factory in the silk capital of the world, and did just about everything any Buzzfeed article on China would tell you to do. Although I didn’t try that bite of a local’s centipede on a stick… looks like I’ll be making a trip back.
Until next time, Beijing.