Oh, how you have changed my world. The summation of my first encounter with your continent is too grandiose for words. But—the thing I most want to remember is this: I was so wrong about you.
When you grow up in America (and probably other Western countries) you have an idea of what China IS. When I say China, I am basically referring to the entire Asian culture/geographic location because that is the assumption from an early age—that if you dug a hole deep enough you would eventually end up in China. Not Japan. Not Malaysia. Just China.
This trip was nearly a year in the making. Emails. Visas. Travel arrangements. Schedules. Preparing for hours upon hours of classes. Looking back, I can’t believe it actually all happened. The months leading up to my visit to China and then following immediately after, teaching in Singapore, were somewhat stressful. You could say I had anxieties and worries that didn’t dissipate even after I was en route to my destination. I had anxieties about meeting new people and being in an extremely foreign place. I worried about if I could communicate with my students or if they would like what I had to offer them. 99% of the time I carry these fears with me until the moment my class begins and my body starts moving (future blog post to come on the phenomena that is “Imposter Syndrome”). That very moment when I start carrying out visual and verbal instructions to a group of gleamy-eyed and excited aerialists, fear disappears. For me, teaching others all looks the same and it all feels the same—regardless of how many times I do it or what country I’m standing in. It feels like what I’m supposed to be doing.
Not only did I have fears about teaching, but I plain as a day had a fear of China. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but let’s just say I didn’t know anything at all about this country I was about to visit (I still have lots to learn). The unknown can be so scary and intimidating which is why China has always seemed so inaccessible and therefore, misunderstood. I didn’t know if the culture would be accepting of me as an American, if the food would be outrageously weird or make me sick or if I would even enjoy being on the continent. None of those things were even remotely true.
I taught at TT Fly Station with Ken and Tiffany as my wonderful hosts. They put me in a fabulous hotel, took me to dinner every night to try new, delicious food—but, more importantly, they cared to spend time with me and get to know me. I enjoyed my time with them not only because I was experiencing something new, but because they were truly nice and good people. We had some seriously good laughs and when my visit came to an end I was sad to leave. We developed a close friendship—which is more than you can hope for when you are spending so much time with strangers from a completely different world. The studio was stunning and I taught 44 students in four days, six hours each day. It was mentally and physically exhausting and I felt like I had literally just done a workshop marathon. Although tiring, It was extremely rewarding to spend so much time with each group of students and share everything I could with them in those four days.
Shenzhen was beautiful and I was pleased with how clean it was. Every home and private establishment you entered you immediately removed your shoes (and sometimes offered a pair of slippers or house shoes). This reminded me of Hawaiian culture (my husband and I honeymooned in Maui) and it made me wish that this was a more widely accepted Western concept. The Chinese are very respectful people and take great care and consideration towards others and their property. Again, an idea I think might be missing in the Americas (at least enough for me to notice a difference). I also love that every meal shared together was “family style.” We had Japanese sushi, Chinese hot pot (twice) and many other meals where the food was shared in the center of the table. You served others first before serving yourself and I learned quickly to eat in much smaller portions so that I could try EVERYTHING. Often many different foods were ordered and the table looked like a feast for kings. I also learned it is considered rude to stick your chopsticks into your food or point with them—you lay them flat on your plate or onto the table.
After an exhausting (and completely rewarding) week teaching in Shenzhen I was about ready to drop dead. My mom (a.k.a. my travel assistant) and her partner, John, were able to join me on this China adventure. I don’t know what I would have done without her. She booked the hotel, transportation, excursions in Beijing, researched things to go see and do and even did my laundry while we were in Shenzhen. I was so grateful she was able to experience China with me for the first time. I would have been so lonely and even more anxious/stressed than I already was.
In Beijing we stayed at the swanky, Intercontinental Hotel—it was ah-freaking-mazing. We had one full day in the city before I headed to Singapore and before they flew back home to San Diego. We were able to visit the Great Wall of China and the Summer Palace! It was an incredible experience to finally stand in a place you had only read about or seen through pictures for nearly three decades. Our last night in Beijing I took my mom to pre-Mother’s Day dinner and we finally had famous Peking Duck! It was incredibly delicious (apologies to my vegetarian friends out there) but I definitely enjoyed it. It was wonderful to do some sightseeing and eat more delicious food, but, I felt as if three days in Beijing was enough for me. The air pollution made it difficult to see the true beauty of the city and my throat became a little bit sore from inhaling the air. There were also a TON of people. 21.7 million on to be exact. Overall, I’m glad we were able to visit this time around—I would probably never go back though.
China, you showed me that your country is not a scary, unknown world and it’s not just a place where everything in the U.S. is made, on the other side of the planet. It’s a place of great beauty, food, culture and people. I look forward to visiting again in May 2019 (to teach more hammock AND pole!).
Stay tuned for my next blog post on visiting beautiful Singapore!
If you would like to discuss hosting workshops during my 2019 visit to Asia, please send me an email so we can get started with planning! Hol.firstname.lastname@example.org
Asia Tour April/May 2019:
China - Thailand - Malaysia - Singapore - and where else?!