We are learning many things on this crazy adventure but nothing more true than this: People are good.
It has been proven in every country we’ve visited so far but never more obvious than the 30 days we spent in China.
We landed in Beijing in August excited and nervous. We were going to China! A place with so much history and culture was bound to hold amazing adventures for us as a family. And it did.
But from the moment we arrived we realized we’d underestimated how tough it might be to breakthrough without the language. It’s doable but it’s exhausting.
My only contact in China was courtesy of a friend from home. Sara Chi (@infosara) had seen that we were planning a stop in China and suggested we reach out to her friend @raykwong – a writer based in the country. I did and Ray quickly put me in touch with Winser Zhao ( @winserzhao) who runs China Travel 2.0. And from the moment I reached out to him Winser made sure I was taken care of.
Understand that Winser doesn’t know me; he simply wanted to help and to make sure I saw some of the best that his country had to offer.
Pre-Winser ( a time I like to refer to as the dark ages) I had booked a hotel apartment in Beijing. I made all the mistakes and managed to book my non-Mandarin family into a hotel that I am still not convinced wasn’t meant for business men who needed a getaway while traveling.
It was depressing. We were in this amazing city and we wouldn’t truly enjoy it because of the language.
Then Winser’s email swooped in and saved the day. He introduced us to Laura who spent 2 days showing us Beijing acting as interpreter, tour guide and friend. We’ll never forget it. It changed everything.
When we moved on to Xian, Winser did it again. This time he introduced us to Bruce and Mary, tour guides who have such an innate sense of history that we were able to go beyond the terracotta warriors and explore some of the minority neighbourhoods including the Muslim Quarter where we ate the best dumplings yet.
Bruce also introduced us to a bit of the average Xian life. The boys got their hair cut at a Chinese salon – an experience that left me with enough laughs to tide me over for a long time. And he took us out in the evening to play basketball at a local court. It’s an experience that we could never have had without his guidance ( we wouldn’t have known where to go or how to ask).
In Chengdu, it was more of the same. Winser’s pal James (@cosbeta) helped to set us up with an interpreter for a day, made sure we got the plane tickets we needed to move on and was our friend in Chengdu for all of our inane questions.
And then there were the strangers who helped us at times when we didn’t even know we needed it.
On the train from Beijing to Xian we met Mr. Qiu Chun. He was in the first class car but happened to be walking through our soft sleeper car when Ethan mentioned he needed to use the washroom. (Washrooms are closed on the trains while the train is stopped at a station.) He volunteered his private washroom and as we chatted we learned that he is from Vancouver! By the time we arrived in Xian he had drawn us a map of places to go, things to see and the, when we hit a snag, accompanied us in a taxi to our hotel to make sure we weren’t taken advantage of! Who does that?
I’ll tell you who: Richard Ang.
The professor just happened to be walking by as we came off the overnight train from Xian to Chengdu. The train arrived at about 5 a.m. and it was still pitch black outside. As we walked towards the queue to catch a taxi we realized we’d forgotten to get our hotel name written out in Chinese before leaving the station. (note to you: ALWAYS do that!) No one spoke English and some of the people promising to get us where we needed to go looked shady.
Richard came over, spoke to us in English, spoke to them in Chinese, called our hotel, negotiated a price for the ride over and then came with us in the “cab” to make sure we got where we were going.
Think about this for a minute. Neither of these men simply put us in a cab. They got in with us. Chatted with us along the way. Helped to introduce us to their city and changed what could’ve been a negative into a positive experience.
When was the last time you helped a stranger in this way?
I’m sure you can understand how people this willing to go out of their way to help my family means a lot and how hard it is to ever repay them for thier kindness. We talked to the kids about all of them and used words like kind, lucky, blessed, karma.
We’ve told them how there are times you can’t pay people back and so instead you try to pay it forward.
And we’re trying to do exactly that.
The real lesson for us is that there are plenty of good people in this world. We were just lucky enough to meet quite a few of them in China.