“She liked my white hair – she kept patting it and I patted hers back.”
That was Madame Chen, 83 years old, and owner of a pickle factory in Weishan, Yunnan. We sat and chatted (with our guide interpreting) for over an hour, readily listening to the many stories about her life, her struggles through political turmoil, and her challenges with her family and business. Her achievements are impressive. On a Chinese adventure of such epic proportions, it was these intimate moments that marked us the most.
Nicknamed the Middle Kingdom, China is a country so diverse in every sense of the word. With distinct landscapes, customs and peoples, our trip could not possibly cover everything – but we gave it a good shot. Armed with some prior background reading and an army of expert guides, we called in on all of China’s ‘greatest hits’, soaking up centuries of imperial history in Beijing and admiring the impressive Terracotta Warriors of Xi’an. Thanks to WildChina’s insider connections, Beijing’s contemporary art scene was brought to life with Chris Che, giving us an insight into modern Chinese culture.
Ken taking in Hangzhou’s tea plantations
Venturing out into China’s wild expanses, we explored Yunnan, a verdant province in the south of China. Bordering Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and Tibet, this region is as diverse as they come, boasting stunning natural scenery and a vibrant mix of ethnic minorities. The people we encountered were the defining features of this experience, making us feel at home despite our differences.
Street Food in Yunnan | Photo by WildChina Traveller Cathy
A visit to Stone Dragon Village was one such occasion. Home to the Folk Music King himself, we were serenaded by the sounds of his three-stringed, American bluegrass-esque music. A short moment later, his wife stood up to sing and dance along. As we stepped outside onto the veranda, a throng of local women from the village joined in the festive singing and dancing. The spectacle of husband and wife performing this traditional folk music made for an intimate experience, and one that was certainly off the beaten track. We spent the rest of our time in Yunnan appreciating the warm hospitality of its people, welcoming us into their homes and sharing with us their distinct cultures and customs.
True to China’s extreme diversity, we were soon transported to a whole other world: Shanghai. Arriving at night, the bright lights of this sprawling metropolis were somewhat bewildering but offered only a sign of what was to come.
The Shanghai Skyline at Night | Photo by WildChina Traveller Cathy
“I have a very nice room for you,” said the desk clerk at the Peninsula Hotel. His words were somewhat of an understatement. Walking into our room, we were greeted by the entirety of Shanghai through an infinite wall of glass. It was out of a movie. With sweeping panoramas over the city’s famous Oriental Pearl Tower and Observatory, we were gobsmacked by the beauty of this modernist city – with the Huangpu river twisting far down below us reminding us of its immensity. Blending swanky rooftop bars, glitzy malls and rich colonial history, our time in Shanghai was as diverse and exciting as the rest of our China trip, both surprising and sensational – and all set upon a backdrop of incredible views.
We left with smiles, photos, and pickles.