Suzhou, China — From March 3 to 17, I was more than 7,000 miles away from Michigan, visiting my parents in Suzhou, China. 

I went with my sister, Rebecca, her fiancé, John, and our uncle, Paul. What an adventure.

Here’s what’s different and here’s what’s similar.

Most Asians have dark, straight hair. If you have blonde, curly hair like me, people will stare at you and ask to take photos with you. There was a language barrier, but a lot of people know some English, which goes a long way when complemented with hand motions and Google translate.

Their cashiers get to sit while working, which is much better than America. Their subway systems, especially in Suzhou, are super clean.

There’s a huge focus on plants and trees. The Chinese love flowers, especially in the cities. You’ll see rows and rows of beautiful flowers and trees separating lanes in the road, or on the sidewalks or on walkways above busy intersections.

There were security guards everywhere. Suzhou is a very low-crime area, and our Chinese guide in Beijing said most cities in China are pretty safe.

It’s the most populated country in the world, and wow, did I notice that in Beijing. There are way too many people in Beijing with an estimated 22 million population. For reference, about 8 million live in New York City. We went for three days, mainly to hike The Great Wall, which was spectacular. It bends and curves, and the many of the stone steps are uneven. I have no idea how those soldiers navigated that thing when it was icy or wet, because I almost tripped a few times when it was dry.

Shanghai was wonderful, especially Pudong and the Bund at night. They’re on the Huangpu River. The lights on the tall buildings make for a breathtaking sight.

Pollution is a major issue. The air quality index wasn’t bad in Suzhou when we were there, but on our last day in Beijing, the air quality was described as “very unhealthy” on their weather report. I had a headache all day. Many people wear masks when the air gets bad.

This is partly why my parents are there. My dad is an engineer for Umicore, and he helps to reduce automotive emissions.

One of the best things about China is the markets. At these markets, look at the price tag and offer less than half. Walk away at least once and then they’ll give you a great deal. I bought scarves for my friends for 80 RMB (which is about $12 USD) each, when they were originally marked at 475 RMB each. “Made in China” has a much different ring when you’re shopping in China.

The food is far healthier than American food. They don’t eat a lot of bread, to my dismay, but they do like rice. Most traditional Chinese meals focus on meats, vegetables and maybe some mushrooms. Duck is popular, and any meat that’s considered to be high quality comes with bones in it. Sharing is a huge thing also. For most meals, everyone at the table shares multiple dishes. By the way, I have mastered the art of chopsticks.

Liquor is cheaper than wine and beer. The Chinese love baiju, which is 53 proof. Be careful with baiju. The Chinese word for “beer” is “pijiu,” which we used a lot.  

The toilets, or more commonly known as “squatty potties,” are toilets that are in the ground. Many people say they’re just a hole in the ground, but that’s not accurate. It’s a toilet in the ground that you squat over, do your business, and then flush. It’s a great leg workout and a lot more sanitary than sitting down on a seat. However, their sewer systems cannot handle paper very well, so all toilet paper is thrown in the trash.

I learned about how the government is developing apartment buildings and then pushing people into cities. I asked about their taxes and social customs and so much more, but it’s impossible to fit everything in a short article.

Please feel free to email me with any questions.

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