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So you are planning to intern in China, learn Chinese Language or travel for a summer exposure but tot sure what to expect of your trip to China? This article exhausts the cultural side of China which leaves you exploring the Ancient Chinese Culture. You’re in China, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, largest nations, with the most varied ethnic groups—so what should you do to get the most out of your trip? Experience the culture, of course! Although picking up some Chinese language helps in your day-to-day living, it’s not the only way to gain cultural understanding, and it certainly isn’t the only thing you should do while in China!
Here, we’ve listed ways for you to get the most out of your China trip so you’ll return home with no regrets!
Sure you could buy a ready-written poster of your name—you could even get it framed on the Great Wall, but how much more interesting would it be for you to take lessons with a calligraphy teacher? A good instructor can tell you about the history of calligraphy, explain its importance in modern day China, and even give you a Chinese name. You would be able to mix your own ink and try your hand at drawing delicate brush strokes with a Chinese brush. Best of all, when your friends see your unique Chinese name hung on the wall, you’ll be able to brag about how you penned it yourself!
At some point after arriving in China you’ll realize that city folks don’t dress that differently from you and me. Most Chinese do not walk around in qipaos and wear soft slippers like Jet Li in those kung fu movies you studied before coming. Before wallowing over what could’ve been awesome selfies, try playing dress up yourself! Almost every single major Chinese touristy spot has cool Chinese costumes for you to wear, complete with hats, furs, belts—all the works! The shopkeeper will take the photos for you with an SLR either against an ancient Chinese backdrop, or the natural scenery on site, and you just choose the photos you like. Photos are printed and laminated on the spot, so try on as many costumes as you want!
Chinese tea ceremony gives what we think of as just tea leaves and water a whole new element. Suddenly you’ve got bamboo trays, cute clay pots, and little clay statues that change color or spray water when heated. Of course there are rules and traditions associated with the ceremony as well, so it’s worthwhile to visit a tea house or at least a tea shop where you can try a variety of teas with a narration on what each tea is good for in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Why pay for lessons when you can just watch and copy a tai chi master for free in the park? Parks and squares gather a lot of people all day long, but to catch the best tai chi practitioners, visit the park early in the morning and follow the old man with the best moves. Dressing up for the part is optional.
Chinese shadow theater dolls are made of leather and usually depict a famous folktale or story. Shadow plays are traditionally for both adults and children, so don’t feel embarrassed about watching one. Unlike Chinese Opera, they’re not tourist-friendly, so bring a local with you to explain the storyline (think Karate Kid).
While today’s Lunar New Year decorations are industrially made, hand-cut decorations make better gifts. Not only will you challenge your fine motor skills as you practice cutting with a sharp paper knife, but you’ll also begin to understand just how much free time people had in the olden days. We admit that paper cutting takes patience, focus, and more time than the activity is worth, but being able to display it on the wall or window with your name on it? Priceless.
Watching Chinese opera on TV is not the same as visiting the opera house, so throw away all your preconceptions of what Chinese opera is like. First of all, there are several different types of Chinese opera, with the most well-known being Beijing Opera. Chinese opera is generally separated into northern and southern, but all together there are more than thirty varieties. How is that even possible, you ask? Well, not only might the songs be sung in their local dialect, but the instruments used, the costumes, the opera masks, the acrobatics, and the martial arts might be localized as well.
Sure Macao has become Asia’s Vegas, but you didn’t visit China just to play Baccarat or Pai Gow, did you? After all, you can play those in almost any major casino (with Chinese customers). The most common form of gambling is played with traditional mahjong tiles in a game where you collect tiles to get the perfect hand, much like in Texas Hold’em. Mahjong has a variety of ways to play, with the most commonly known version being from Hong Kong, but house rules differ as well. As it is one of the few games where your choice can affect who wins and how much they win, the object of the game is to either win big or lose small. Learning to play the game and playing with Chinese can provide insight to the culture.
Some would claim that Chinese Chess, or xiang qi, is the played board game in the world. The board is different from international chess (western chess) in that the river and palace sections of the board restrict the movements of certain pieces. Otherwise, it’s also a game between two armies with the object of gaining the opposite party’s king. Chinese chess can be found played in parks, on sidewalks, and at tea houses all over China. Haven’t seen them? Look for a bunch of old men huddled over other old men doing something—that something will likely be a game of chess.
If you haven’t heard of guangchang wu, the Chinese equivalent of square dancing, you need to visit a square, park, or any open space after sunset. A communist invention, Chinese square dancing is the layman’s exercise. Large open areas will often have five or more different groups, led by different teachers, dancing to a completely different type of music. Some have partners for ball dancing, some seem to be more about aerobics, some like Latin dance, and some younger dancers will play electronic or hip hop music. You’ll find retirees struggling to move speakers more than half their size in preparation, and that people of all ages participate, especially women. Chinese da ma have been in the news for dancing every evening, rain or shine, even when the lady with the speaker didn’t show up and they can only dance to the rhythm in their memories.
Why walk when you can get a ride in a rickshaw? Not only is it a Kodak moment, but it’s much faster to get around and through the crowds. Unfortunately rickshaws might not be available in every city or area, but tourist sites tend to have rickshaws prepared for the lazier of us. Some places even have the bicycle-less rickshaws that are pulled by men on foot—where else can you still experience the easy life of a noble?