A Tourist

Imagine this – You are a Chinese person traveling to Kansas City from Beijing to see the sites in beautiful Kansas City, Missouri.  All you know how to say is hello and thank you in English and you lack all ability to read English.   You do not have any friends in the city – all you have is a map to your hotel, hope that you will get around and a lot of excitement to be going to such an awesome city for vacation.

Seriously think about that.

How hard would that be?  There are no signs or announcements in Chinese, only English.  Very few people speak Mandarain and getting into a cab, it is highly unlikely there is a Mandarin speaking cab driver ready to take you to the downtown Marriott.  You at least have the directions you printed… So you speak the only language you know, you smile, give thumbs up or a shake of the head when you think it makes sense.  In your own tongue, you apologize for being an idiot and say how much you would appreciate it if you could take me to the Marriott.

Welcome to travel in China.

In all honesty though, it is probably going to be harder for a Chinese person to vist America.  In my travels, most Chinese I met knew a touch of English and really did work very hard to help me find my way or get me something delicious to eat. Not that I could read signs but some of the important ones seemed to have an english line at the bottom. 99% of the people I met and interacted with were geuniely wonderful people who seemed to want me have a nice time in their cities.  In my world, kindness abounded. My friend Kirby, who has lived in Beijing for five years and may be a bit more cynical, says this is because I pay white foreigner prices and cannot argue due to my lack of language skills.  Since we tourists are easier to deal with and are more profitable, of course everyone is nice.

I’m sure there would be a few Chinese tourists who would get ripped off a touch and a cab driver or two who may over charge – which I think aligns with my stats in China – but I really believe that most Americas would go out of their way to help a person who just wants to go see the WWI memorial in Kansas City, no matter what language they’re speaking.


 Yes, I am a naively positive traveler/person and intend to stay that way.


I spent almost 3 weeks in China.  In that time I hugged a Panda Bear in Chengdu, trekked the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan, visitied the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi’an and travel geeked-out in Beijing with all of the sites and on the great wall.  It was tough at times and rewarding at others – I loved it.

I loved being real touristy.  I have always wanted to see the sights around Beijing and the Terra Cotta Warriors.  The food was simply amazing and the natural beauty, where it abounds in places like Yunnan, was a true highlight.  Seeing the vastness of the cities and sheer amount of construction was shocking.  Leanring how many of these new buildings are empty, not used and just kind of “there” was even more surprising.


 The tough parts were few. Seeing an older woman lose her life to an oncoming train was more shocking than tough.  Selecting the wrong cab driver in Xi’an and almost getting in a fight was frustrating BUT – that was due to poor decision making and lack of preparation on my end.  A good travel lesson learned and traveler ego check on my part. I’m nothing if not a diplomat however. Fight avoided and compromise reached even though we did not have a common language and he was PISSED. Short version of the story was he did not know where he was going. I gave him over an hour to figure it out and I eventually got out of the car with my luggage…so he was upset…drove on the sidewalk to cut me off, got all up in my face etc…the usual upset cabbie routine. I took a deep breath, spoke, gestured and in the end he walked with 40 of the agreed to 115 Yuan fare and I ducked into a pedestrian only park for a couple of hours to ensure he was long gone.

The only really tough part, isolation.  Which I think would be the hardest part for a Chinese tourist in Kansas City as well.

It is amazing in China that you can be surrounded by people – all of the time – it’s the most populous country in the world and people are everywhere, but you feel isolated.  In my case, the days I did not speak to anyone in a language that makes sense to both parties out numbered those I got all chatty Cathy with someone at the hostel or hotel.

It’s a fascinating feeling. I’ve traveled many countries solo and have never felt like I did in China. Isolation. The only word I know to describe how it felt even though I was constantly surrounded by other people. (As a side note, I think Russia may be harder after spending a couple of days here…I have one more week to make that determination however.)

It is worth experiencing isolation for this country.  I mean, really, where else can you hug a panda bear?  (For a 200 dollar “donation” – which I believe is worth it as the Panda Base is doing awesome work with this beautiful creature.)

*For more Pictures – click here to view a Photo Essay of China*

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4 Responses to “A Tourist”

  1. mom
    November 23, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    You have done an amazing job getting around in these cities. Your beautiful smile and kind heart.is your language! Love mom :)

  2. Rob Swenson
    November 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Did you ever read about the American business traveller who verbally bought plane tickets and ended up in rural China in a town with only a red light hotel? I think he had a horrible trip even though he got to stay in a “fun house “.

  3. November 23, 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    Top blogging Grant! Pretty sure people in Peckham wouldn’t be so welcoming – but I’m working on my naive positivity after reading this!

    • November 26, 2012 at 6:22 pm #

      Thanks Dom! I appreciate the compliment as there is plenty of competition out there – I’ve been reading this excellent blog, “A Yam Between Two Boulders” and am pretty impressed too, http://domcourage.blogspot.com/ . Positive naiveté is not a bad way to travel. Cheers!

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