It has been said that China is one of the world's oldest continuous civilization and a country with the biggest population in the world. Before our trip, many people have taken great lengths to dissuade us of going to this vast and expansive country, their usual reasons: polluted, the Chinese are rude, it's dirty and probably so many other reasons which at that time only increased my worries and anxiety.
But spending four days in Beijing and seeing everything for the first time certainly removed whatever preconceived notions I have of the country. In my mind I had always thought that China would be like Manila, maybe a little better or something far worse. But on the first day, it was evident that Beijing and China wasn't the country that I expected it to be. It was full of surprises that even up to this day, a week after returning, I am still on a high with the experience of seeing this country.
Seeing the expansive roads, the way the metropolis was arranged and how many systems worked in unison, it was a far cry from what people have said about the country. The roads were very organized and systematic, the motorcycles that I saw were unlike the ones we have at home: dangerous, foolish and irritating. In China, there was order and discipline, cars did not cut without care and people respected everything, people respected everything: from the simplest signs to the sidewalks. It was a far cry from Manila's urban jungle, in fact Beijing felt like a Hong Kong in the making, it was sophisticated but still clung to its historical nature.
Visiting China was also an eye-opener, my most recent international trip was Hong Kong two years ago, my visit there was great and the experience unforgettable. But Hong Kong was just a small blip in China. Traveling from Beijing to Xian illustrated just how vast China is. Back home I dreaded sitting in a van or bus for 4-6 hours just to get to Baguio. In China, I found out that was the norm if you wanted to go to the famous Terracotta Warriors. Their Japanese-made bullet train was an indication that the country is rapidly modernizing and in an age when speed is key, the bullet train helps connect Beijing to the other provinces. Going back, normally a 6 hour trip would have landed me halfway across the Philippines, but taking the train and traveling that fast illustrated just how small our country is compared to China's sheer immensity. The experience and the scale of our travel was just mind boggling and up to now, I still can't get over it.
For the historians in all of us, Beijing is the great way to start one's education into the dynasties and emperors of the country. Seeing the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China and later on, the Terracotta Warriors was an unforgettable experience. Everything that the Chinese did two millenniums ago was mind-blowing. I felt that I had been thrust into the past and was living the life of a lowly peasant. I was humbled by the immensity of the structures, the grandeur of the palace and taken away by the warriors. Seeing structures older than many ancient civilizations gave me a sense of how far we have come, walking on historical places gave me a sense of how life was back in that time. More importantly, it was also the things I had learned from listening to our tour guides and just simply observing all of the places that I visited. Seeing those three historical places put me on a history high, since returning, I have found myself enthralled by the mysteries of the Terracotta warriors. Those warriors which I will never forget and was truly the highlight and most memorable part of the entire tour.
At the very least, I would have to say that my trip was truly memorable and I would have to reiterate time and time again that it was unforgettable. In many ways I grew to like China, I liked how their part of the world has remained the same and how much they value their history. It is seen in the way they take pride in showcasing to the world their history and their culture, they take pride in preserving structures that have remained despite decades of political and social upheaval. Despite their now superpower or first world status, China will remain in my memory as a land filled with awe, excitement and mystery. If I were given the opportunity to come back, I most certainly will come back.
My name is Alfonso your nerdy history teacher, bookworm and lover of all things cultural and exciting. You can find me in a weekend market, in a bookshop, or eating in Japanese restos during the weekends.