I usually fall in love instantly, and maybe also fall out of love just as fast. With travelling, I’m passionate. I get off a train/bus/plane in a country, take a deep breath and the spirit of adventure pierces me, hits me right in the guts, and it’s the same old story again. Another place to breathe, to taste, to feel, to fall for. I’m loving the love of loving. The ride, the ups and downs, the struggles and the flow. And then came China. This giant of a country, of a culture, this mass of potential opportunities to fall head over heals again. But this time, the deep breath of fresh life infusing my blood cells just didn’t energised me the way it usually does, the way I expected, the way I wanted it to do. Instead it cooled me down, chilled my blood, made me loose my pace. In China, maybe more than anywhere else, it was so obvious I didn’t belong to this culture. So obvious I was an outsider that it felt like I wasn’t even visible. The idea of being one of one billion is as mind boggling as it is depressing. I’m rather one of one million, giving my ego a larger part of the cake.
I blamed the Chinese culture for being excluding towards foreigners, I blamed the Chinese language for being incomprehensible and the symbols for being too complicated to even try to recognise their differences. I blamed the huge amount of people for being too compliant, and I blamed the massive cities for simply being too bloody big. I blamed the people for being shy and then I blamed them for being too personal. After two months the closest to a positive judgment of China I could give was that I’m ”conflicted”.
When I came to Beijing I had just had one of the biggest adventures of my life, overlanding from Sweden all the way there. Even a lazy ass traveller can get fatigued, and this fatigue struck me hard arriving in this megacity. I took a long, big break from travelling, creating a safe haven at my brother’s house. I came to confuse China with my personal energy dip, but deep down I knew the one way to refill that energy. For what is energy? – Movement, I think someone smart once concluded (like in Quantum physics and all that). So, I more or less forced myself to get out to explore more, no matter how comfy I was huddled up in the couch at my brother’s. Back on the trains and buses, in taxis, on bicycles and on foot. Endless hours of movement, accompanied by the melody of foreign language. And for every kilometre the corner of my lips would start to twist a little, first nervously every time I tried to ask for help, then slightly more genuine at the response my nervous smile would get. The huge amount of people suddenly turned into individuals and I realised quite quickly that I needed to meet the people living in China, not the one billion population of China. Trying to put a label on ”Chinese” people proved to be impossible when I actually took time to get to know more and more Chinese people personally. No wonder I couldn’t fall in love – I hadn’t met the true China yet!
After strolling along the mountains of Yunnan, having endless tea sessions in shaded gardens, sharing massive amounts of food (of which I avoided the most suspicious looking) and singing karaoke on the top of my lungs with people I had just met, I started forming bonds faster than usual. China is not a country that will open up and lay bare its heart for you to devour. China, like an elegant lady, has self respect, and is not gonna come running after you. China gives you a hand of cards and invites you to a game with what might seem to be very complicated rules. It demands you to show courage, to accept the challenge, and to play with high stakes. And if you do, it might just be one of the most interesting, educating and life changing games you ever played. China won’t give anything to you for free, but the effort you put in will be greatly rewarded. Here I am after 65 countries and still learning as if it was the first time I ever travelled.