It is a place of myths and magic, an eclectic mix of ancient and modern, a harmonious balance between yin and yang. It is a place where a wall stands firm for thousands of kilometers on mountain ridges and it is home to the legendary martial art of Kung Fu. It is here where the palate meets authenticity, where dumplings steam away into a cold winter’s night, where sweet meets sour and a shot of Baijiu have you gasping for air. It’s overpopulated, charmingly corrupted China and it is a beautiful mess.
Beijing, the large capital of China and former home of the Olympics, is swamped with tourists eagerly tackling the steep paths of the Great Wall, getting lost somewhere in the Forbidden City, learning about the significance of the Temple of Heaven and taking a cooling boat ride at the Summer Palace or a walk on the frozen lake in the winter. The history of Beijing is an insightful journey into the different dynasties of China and the ancient emperors’ hundreds of concubines, sealed off from the world. More than mere ancient artifacts, you have the chance to visit fresh water pearl farms, see the process of a jade carving, how they make the famous Chinese silk and a chance to visit an old pharmacy and return with some real traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Through the smog of Beijing you have to stand as firm as the wall – taxi drivers take you for a corruptive ride, street vendors increase their prices with a smile and tourist attractions are overcrowded with schemes. It’s Beijing – it’s the messy, congested cultural heart of China.
Shanghai is excitingly breathing diversity and the place where yin really meets yang. While strolling around the old architecture of the Yuyuan Gardens, modern skyscrapers tower majestically behind detailed curved Chinese rooftops. In the distance you hear the speed of the Maglev train, pacing 430km/h from the station to the airport. Conservatively clothed monks and fashionably dressed believers bow with incense bundles at the Jade Buddha Temple, fragrantly filling the air with their prayers. The Yuyuan Bazaar is filled with antiques, knock-offs and tea shops while one of the busiest streets, metropolitan Nanjing Road, attracts fashion-shoppers from all walks of life. The Bund, next to the Huangpu River, is lined with historical buildings and has a magnificent night view of all the modern buildings in the Pudong area. The lights of the Oriental Pearl Tower lure you closer and you hop on a quick ferry ride to stand next to the World Financial Centre, the second tallest building in the world at 492 meters. On the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower is Cloud 9, the highest bar in the world, offering expensive cocktails with a priceless experience. One of the lines of the busy Shanghai Metro takes you almost all the way to the ancient water town of Qibua where Gondola boats are floating under old bridges and the smell of roasting peking ducks aromatically fills the air. It’s Shanghai – it’s the vibrant, crowded Westernised heart of China.
It’s China, magnificent, magical and messy with many “Made in China” secrets to discover.