I recently returned from a 18-day travel journey to Japan and China. Our family has been doing these year end getaways for a few years now. We benefit a lot from getting far away from our daily routines, jumping into new cultures, languages, seeing new sites and seeing how others go about their lives. I also enjoy observing political and economic events locally and hear what folks know and understand about the U.S. They seem to be far more knowledgeable about us than we know about them. Reading about how the China Daily views the recent trade dispute with the U.S. is an interesting example of that.
It takes me a few days to unplug, I get to re-bond w/my family members, read good books, reflect on the year that has passed and think about the new year ahead. Here’s some of the observations and experiences from this trip.
On the life enriching side, I’ve been coming to China since 1990 when I was a college student, later with high tech companies I was employed by and now for leisure with my spouse who’s from Beijing and who’s father still lives there. Some of the changes I’ve seen are just incredible while the long history of the place is always special. Here’s a few to recap:
– Precise and speedy bullet trains are everywhere and growing. We took several during our trip. Two thirds of the worlds bullet trains are in China. You get to see more of the countryside while traveling in smooth comfort at over 300 km per hour !
– Super efficient payment system is ubiquitous and engrained in everyone’s life here. Using your phone, barcodes are scanned on every product or service while payment comes out of your account instantly. ATM machines or cash seemed to be a rarity.
– Real estate continues to be on a tear. I could not believe the number of clustered skyscraper sized condos going up in cities like Beijing and Xian where I visited. I’m sure it’s like this in every major city in China. My wife has friends who 10 years ago bought a condo or two and simply are selling and retiring early or living off the income as prices have just gone bonkers.
– Crowds are few in key tourist areas in off season. We literally found a newer, more remote section of the Great Wall taking pictures of family and scenery w/no one around (captured my daughters in above picture as they enjoyed this rare luxury of open space in this country of one billion people ).
– The history is amazing of course with all the cultural relics of over 2,000 years of different dynasties. The terracotta underground life size soldiers with horses in Xi’an is a must see. Created over 2,000 years ago, it took 38 years and 720,000 people to construct this army as protection for Emperor Qin for the after life (see below pic).
On the flip side, all countries have those moments when you reflect back on your life in the states and appreciate what we take for granted.
– China government blocks access to Google / Chrome making it difficult to view key internet sites and run my business from abroad. Workarounds are available but you need to prepare for that in advance, not after you get here.
– Smog was troubling on some days that we went outside. Had a few days in Xi’an we ended up purchasing filter masks for a few days as we road bikes on top of the Ming wall there. Schools were even cancelled for the day. I could not live in many China cities long term for that reason.
– It was off season and downright cold on many days of our travel, especially Beijing which hovered at freezing daytime highs. Dressing warm helped but curtailed some activities of duration outdoors. It’s a trade-off and why its called off season.
– Squat toilets are still everywhere so get used to it and bring your own paper. This has changed little over 28 years of coming here.
– Japan as a relatively smaller geography made getting around super easy and productive. Our trip combed easily through Osaka, Nora (first capital), Kyota (longest tenured capital), Nagoya and finally Tokyo. We traveled mostly by bus, bullet train and boat.
– I enjoyed the politeness of Japan and its people and the organized state of things in general. It was a very clean country. Food is amazing especially if you like ramen noodles and sushi / sashimi. Surrounded by water, fresh seafood is available everywhere.
– Being tall is not a good thing in Japan. Everything seems to be built in miniature scale from size of seats and tables in restaurants to size of hotel rooms in general. I could not live here for that reason, I’m too big..ha. But since I mentioned this earlier, in sharp contrast with China, their toilet seats are the best in the world, usually padded and heated !
– I speak some mandarin but Japanese seems harder to me to learn. It took me several days to get comfortable with the multiple syllables of saying simple things like thank you “Arigatōgozaimashita”. The niceties are welcome but the length of the expressions tiresome..ha.
– The history is impressive here as well as we went from Shogun castles to various religious sites of significance. One highlight was staying at the base of Mt Fuji (see below pic taken from our hotel balcony) and getting that rare day we are told where you can see the entire mountain. We were told that only about 50 days a year it’s like that due to clouds.
When I left corporate America to start my own business over three years ago, one of the ideas was to create an extraordinary life – international travel was something that was part of our early experiences and one my wife and I valued and wanted to do more of.
I come back from these trips grateful for the enriching opportunities my real estate business enables for my family. Seeing awesome places together, meeting interesting people and learning about their cultures, gives all of us a clearer perspective on things.
We’ve learned that having only an American view is quite limiting and that as world citizens we have a lot to learn and share with each other. Taking the good, learning from the not so good, but enjoying the journey all the same.
We appreciate more what we take for granted here in the U.S. while also understanding that other societies have advanced in areas where we are limited. Best of all, time traveling gives us the opportunity to reflect on the year, have fun and get ourselves re-energized to tackle a new year ahead as a family.