The process began as I desperately clutched the seat in front of me, wondering whether I would even survive the ride into Taipei from the airport. No doubt the driver, my Chinese professor’s brother, found my fear quaint and amusing as he weaved nonchalantly through the crush of contending cars. Driving with a heedless brusqueness that would have evoked a string of one-finger salutes and perhaps a few acts of violence in most American cities, he aroused the ire of no one on that highway in Taiwan. Most of the other drivers were too busy doing exactly the same thing to even notice him. So it was with these stomach-churning observations that my process of disillusionment began, not one hour after I had first set foot in Asia.

Strange mannequins in a Shanghai shop window display
Strange mannequins in a Shanghai shop—one of many
interesting sights I’ve come across in China

As a white American who was double-majoring in philosophy and Mandarin, my first acquaintance with China and Chinese culture was primarily academic. I had an idealized impression of Chinese culture formed by the many hours I had spent analyzing the Analects of Confucius, stumbling through t’ai chi, meditating to Buddhist chants, struggling with the abstractions of Chinese poetry, listening intently to the feverish plinkety-plink of classical Chinese music while drinking green tea and inhaling incense smoke, and scratching out Chinese calligraphy that must have seemed to my Chinese friends like the scratchings of a second-grader – in other words, through an ivory-tower exploration of China’s vast cultural panorama. Although I had had a number of close Chinese friends for years, they were primarily well-educated, somewhat Westernized Chinese who were not at all representative of the typical citizen of China or Taiwan. So I guess it’s no surprise that some part of me always expected to find in the daily lives of the Chinese people a more elevated, culturally sophisticated lifestyle than I had observed in American society. In that sense, I’ve had some disappointing experiences in China: I’ve seen pollution, ignorance and backwardness, a dog-eat-dog business mentality, shallow popular culture, and, of course, harrowing city traffic (not to say, of course, that these same flaws and many more can’t be found in the United States). Fortunately, looking back on the last thirteen years of my travels there, I can say those experiences have been far outweighed by the many more pleasant surprises that China has given me, in addition to treasured friendships, soul-cleansing mountain hikes, touching encounters with earnest rural villagers, late-night strolls through the urban canyons of Shanghai, euphoric drunken karaoke binges, wide-eyed walks along ancient city walls, and meditative moments in temples and teahouses, all of which have made every day of my time there fresh and stimulating. China is a land rich with paradoxes and brimming with vitality.

Relaxing in a boat on West Lake in Hangzhou
Relaxing in a boat on Hangzhou’s West Lake

These are the things that I’ll be sharing with you in this blog, and these are the things that I hope our company will allow some of you to experience for yourselves. When you travel anywhere, life is more vivid, more intense, somehow more REAL than it is during the mundane routine of daily life. Nowhere has that been as true for me as it is in China. No matter what kind of life you’ve lived, traveling to China will be one of the best things you’ve ever done – especially with the extensive knowledge, practical experience, and thoughtful service that my Shanghainese wife and her Cantonese partner, along with our many connections in China, can provide. Our tours are a good place to start your own cultural journey.

Welcome, then, to the home of China International Travel CA, Inc. I hope you enjoy browsing our website and watching it grow. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you have.

(originally posted on our old blog on June 5, 2009)

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