What I love about China (it’s not what you think)

It’s time to leave China
May 2, 2012
First Day in a New Country: Here’s What I do
May 4, 2012

What I love about China (it’s not what you think)

Live Karaoke in the park in Yichang

For a balanced view of China I’ve published this post simultaneously along with the more negative: Why it’s time to leave China

It’s not about the Great Wall. Not that I’ve got anything against the Great Wall or a Yangtze River Cruise or the Hong Kong Skyline. Those are some of the best places to visit in China. But the moments I really loved China (and there weren’t too many) occurred by chance as I was walking around the cities.

Walking, as I’ve stated before, is one of the best ways to experience place.

So that’s one thing I do anytime I arrive someplace new: I take a walk.

Dancing in the Park

One of the most beautiful aspects of contemporary Chinese society takes place every evening in the park or some other common area. I don’t know the history behind this or how long of a tradition it’s been or who organizes it. But someone brings a loud speaker and music and people just show up.

In China, you need something to distract you from the incessant screeching of urban traffic, and this community dancing is the perfect antidote. I’ve seen it in Kunming, I’ve seen it in Chengdu, in Zigong, Nanning, and in Yichang—every night of the week.

It’s usually women only, but occasionally couples are dancing, and sometime groups of women are practicing or rehearsing a routine. It happens in the center, it happens in the suburbs. Anyhow, it’s beautiful to observe (or take part in).

Live Karaoke

The first time I saw this I was in love. So many things about China were frustrating me and this cancelled them out.

What could be cuter than a bunch of old people in the park on Sunday afternoon enjoying “live karaoke”?

What is live karaoke? It’s when a band or mini-orchestra of traditional Chinese instruments assembles to play songs for a singer. The microphone is connected to a loudspeaker and this old-school karaoke goes on as does modern karaoke—it’s just in the park and uses live musicians!

The People

The Han Chinese are not going to win the award for my favorite nationality on earth. They annoy me in many respects—brash behavior, incessant smoking, and extremely loud talking. But most of the people I came in contact with on a one-to-one basis were civil with me and honest in financial dealings. That is important to me as an independent traveler.

More than once I’ve been treated to meal. In China, there is no such thing as going Dutch. Somebody will pay for everybody. That’s just the way it works. I’ve seen elderly people fighting over the bill in a simple dumpling shop. True, some are just trying to show off their wealth. But more often, I’d like to believe they were just being sincerely generous.

Young people I encountered showed such a curiosity and eagerness to learn about the west and to speak any amount of English they know. But more often than not, they were too shy to and intimidated to approach me. One of my best experiences was speaking to a class of university students in Chengdu about my travels throughout China.

Most individuals I met were kind to me and treated me special because I was foreigner. Random food vendors were welcoming towards me, some especially friendly, like Jianshui Dollar Guy, just liked the novelty of meeting a foreigner). And most people who I bought something from (the most common form of contact with locals when traveling) actually gave me honest prices the first time.

I also felt safe in China. I take common sense precautions wherever I travel, but in China I never worried about what time I was walking where, with what stuff. I was very rarely warned about pickpockets and my observation led me to believe most people in China are generally a non-violent bunch.

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Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the better part of 20 years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. He blogs at Bohemian Traveler and edits the independent travel magazine GoMadNomad.com. He most recently set up a tour company offering authentic, small group tours at Unquote Travel. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


  1. Vicky says:

    Definitely love the dancing in the parks!

  2. Stephen Bugno says:

    I know @Vicky! Isn’t it great?

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