I have visited over 35 countries so far. I am hoping to reach 100. With over 180 countries in the world, this is doable, assuming I keep traveling for work and pleasure.
In the past five years I grew my total count by over 30 percent and one of the most memorable country added was China. I must have visited China over 7 times in that timeframe.
With a 20 years visa that allows me to work and live there for 6 months (I think) at a time, I am sure to visit again. While it would have been easy for me to curate a list of pics after any one visit, I wanted to show a collection over multiple visits to do justice to this vast and amazing country and culture.
Most of my visits have been in Beijing which remains the political and cultural center of the country. The vast streets and complex subway system are to be experience. In a clear day, downtown feels like any European cities with the many tall buildings, fancy luxury stores and hotels.
The contrast of the rapid development with pockets of old style Chinese chanty town in the middle of the city constantly remind you that the amazing advancement of the second economy in the world is not necessarily touching all its citizen the same.
Regardless, in all my contacts with Chinese citizens, I have been impressed by their levels of optimism and kindness. First my colleagues have been nothing but genuine and super hosts. I believe it's part of the culture to make you feel like family. Nothing represents this aspect more than having a family-style meal with a group.
Two must visits in Beijing, depending on what time of the year are: The Great Wall and the Summer Palace. The Wall is everything you’d expect and more. During my first visit I was in great shape, having completed an Ironman few months before, so I zipped my way around the many visitors to walk over three towers. The round trip was about 5 km and just a fraction of the overall wall that spans 100s of kilometers in the horizon.
The summer palace in spring is the best to experience Chinese culture in the time of the Qing dynasty. The Imperial retreat is a huge park not far from downtown with plenty of colors from the gardens and ponds. A close second to that palace is the legendary forbidden city in the middle of downtown. Be ready for huge lines and lots of walk. On a clear day, visiting the hill behind the main north entrance is a treat with great views of the capital.
Shanghai is the financial capital of the country and in some way a cultural force as well. It’s China’s New York City. Densely populated with diverse groups and influence, you can find anything in Shanghai. The “bund” area is where you will get to experience the British colonial influence the most with parts giving you the best views of the city.
A few notable cities which by themselves deserve a post are Xi'an and perhaps my favorite city in the country: Hong Kong. First, Xi'an is famous for the Terracotta warriors. An extensive underground tomb of 1000s of soldier warriors sculptures buried as if ready to go to war. The emperor believed he needed his army to confront whatever he might encounter behind the great unknown.
While the warriors are incredible, the city of Xi'an has a lot to offer independently. The Muslim market is my favorite. A long hallway of colors, smells, food, people, and activity like you have never experienced. Tasting the street lamb “burger” as well as fresh pomegranate juice should make the trip memorable.
Hong Kong and its harbor is just magical. It’s the best of eastern and western cultures combined. You will find all the tastes and flavors of China while shopping for the latest electronics and window shopping the most luxurious accessories from Paris and Geneva. No other cities I have visited has more to offer per square meter than Hong Kong.
Visiting China is like being transported into the future while being reminded of the past constantly. Sure you will not easily be able to use your favorite social media tools or even Google, due to the great firewall that the government has imposed, however, alternatives for all exist in things like WeChat and Baidu.
And if you must, there are ways to circumvent the firewall... For me, the internet situation there is a great parable for how China sees itself and its future: controlled, yet innovative with local alternatives to the best the world has to offer.
View the complete collection of pictures from my visits to China taken mainly with my Leica Q and an old Nikon D5300.