On Being a Tourist in China: A Confession


“All three make journeys, but the explorer seeks the undiscovered, the traveler that which has been discovered by the mind working in history, the tourist that which has been discovered by entrepreneurship and prepared for him by the arts of mass publicity.”

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When I read Paul Fussel’s description of explorers, travelers, and tourists, I immediately knew how to classify our recent trip to China. I offer no excuses, and would even admit that I enjoyed every moment of it. Not even if you slap me with your truth: “You experienced China in a box – ribbons and all”.

We were tourists even before we boarded the plane. The general mindset of the group was: If they approve our visa, good; if not, there’s always a next time (maybe i’m saying this only in hindsight. haha). We didn’t worry about the average daily balance of our bank account because we had a letter of invitation from a Chinese travel agency (otherwise, 100K adb for the last 6 months is recommended). But all 7 of us worried over how cold Beijing could get in November! Our preparation –from visa application, down to the choice of clothes to wear – reeks both of child-like anticipation, and indifference.

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As if wanting to prove a point, we even branded ourselves.

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Whoever said that a ‘tourist box’ could not be fun?

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We will  fondly remember the China we came to know in 4 days: How we made a ‘dance video’ at the Great Wall (Carly Jepsen’s Good Time was perfect!); how some of us joined the local  night exercise; how we dared each other to eat ice cream at 0-5 deg. celsius temperature; how we first touched snow and lay flat on yellow-orange maple leaves; how we ‘warmed’ each others heart over a few cans of Tsingtao exchanging insider jokes like – “I like Beijing because it’s the only place I’ve been to where the temperature outside is comparable to how I feel (within)” and other ’emo’ quotes.

We are usually ‘crazy’ when we’re together. We doubled that ‘craziness’ on Chinese soil. It must have been the tofu, the vegetables, the scorpions on stick (not!), the ladies on bike, the pee pee boy, or the persuasive vendors. Maybe even the multi-layered clothing, the scarves, and gloves. Who knows? Not even our tourist egos cared.
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We just took everything in – the tea variants, cold November air, the kung fu master, the ‘fakes’, the very strict airport personnel (reminds me of Singapore). Everything…except for one: our wallet. But that’s a relatively ‘affordable price’ to pay for being a tourist in modern China.

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We went home realizing that our travel experience will never be cheapened by modern tourism and its ‘template’ offerings (discovered by entrepreneurship, as Fussel pointed out). No matter how our destination bombards us with touristy choices, our desire to have fun and to enjoy the company of good friends, will always prevail.

We could be explorers (hopefully) and travelers (again) in the future. For now, being tourists in China is enough to make us smile while sitting on our airplane seats, singing along Carly Jepsen  ” Woah-oh-oh-oh. We don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time.”

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