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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

I went on a 17-day tour of China

For me, these past few summer vacations have been almost too much of a break from the stress of the academic year. The amount of idle time I’m left with typically leaves me to sit, pondering my life, thinking about what I’m doing with it and where it could go in the next year. By the time fall comes around, I’m always bordering on neurotic and more than happy to start classes and have something to occupy my mind again.

This summer was different in that there was no such downtime to slow down and reflect. The day after I finished my finals, I took off with my family to China for a 17-day tour of the cities of Beijing and Shanghai.

If anything brought my attention to what a basket case this summer turned me into, it was my trip to China. I left one crazy situation in Davis only to arrive in the gigantic city of Beijing, where the people were downright nuts.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved my trip and all the opportunities it gave me to run around with my mom, dad, uncle and brother in a completely foreign land. But it heightened my appreciation, to a ridiculous degree, for the calm.

People ran around the streets in dense quantities as if their lives depended on completing their errands in five minutes, pushing others out of their way and never stopping to apologize. Every day on the subway I took elbows to the ribs, and eventually had to get used to being squashed into each car like a sardine.

Even though the average person’s attire suggested they were only in the city to shop, the sense of urgency in the air at any given time was almost palpable.

Once I got over the insanity that ensued in the streets, however, I was able to see the myriad of things there were to appreciate about China.

We saw the gilded palaces and hallways of the Forbidden City, visited Tiananmen Square – emblazoned with a giant hammer and sickle sign, in case you might have forgotten where you were – ate upward of 50 dumplings and several pounds of noodles, and hiked the Great Wall all in the first three days. I met a friend in the city who took me to the bar district, packed with sweaty club-goers and street vendors serving kebabs of meat of a terrible quality, which I found out after I had eaten several.

Then we moved to Shanghai.

In hindsight, this would be the city to go back and visit again. The style of the place was incredible in itself – it had more skyscrapers than all the cities in the States combined, and had several fashion and art districts reminiscent of New York City.

The food was incredible. I will never look at a CoHo pizza dough ball the same way again when I know that there’s a guy in Shanghai who can pull the dough apart with just his fingers and turn it into a steaming bowl of delicious noodles in two minutes. There were places that I just wanted to stay to sit and look at. I’m still regretting not just perching by myself at the end of one of the seven bars on a single street that was featuring a live jazz band.

It would have taken a year without destinations, itineraries, deadlines or early morning wake-up calls to experience Shanghai alone. The never-ending fast pace of the Chinese seemed to mirror exactly what I’d been doing in Davis; while it maximizes efficiency, everyone needs to slow down once in awhile and appreciate the good things.

LANI CHAN can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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