My China / by Rachel Banfield

I didn't know much about China before I left. The China I had heard about before my trip wasn't always a good one. I'd heard from a few that it was an interesting place yes, but I'd also heard endless stories about scams, eye-watering pollution, hot crowded cities, unfriendly people, stomach cramping food, human rights abuses... the list goes on. That certainly wasn't the China I experienced.

My China was one where middle aged women danced in the streets at dusk.

Where I was given endless cups of tea,

And where I went 24 hours without being allowed to pay for one meal.

My China was one where the cities were crowded, yes,

But outside of the city, there was plenty of space to go around.

I never want to see 'dan chow fan' (egg fried rice), the only meal I could order without any difficulty, again in my life. But otherwise, my China was one where the food was as diverse as it was delicious,

Although considerable effort went into avoiding certain things,

Like too much of this,

Or intestines,

Trotters,

Dog,

And, my own, um, creations.

My China was one where not a day went by without at least one thumbs up as I went by, and more often than not, numerous "Go Go!"

My China was one where I met lots of cyclists,

All Chinese and every single one either heading to or returning from Lhasa.

My China was polluted in parts, yes,

But most of what I saw,

Thanks, I suppose, to the almost daily rain I experienced,

Was green,

With the occasional treat of a beautiful blue sky.

My China is one where I often sat down for a rest and some morning tea, looking out at views like this,

Just sitting and thinking.

My China was one where motorcyclists wore balaclavas,

Women wore traditional dress,

And I wore everything I owned.

My China was one where I visited countless bike shops,

Where both Rafiki and I were, at every single one, welcomed warmly.

My China was one where the roads were often atrocious, but never boring.

One where roads were full of obstacles,

Some more visible,

Than others...

My China was one where there were gates for tools,

One where prayer notes were thrown from windows.

My China was one where, despite the sneaky police tactics,

The overtaking on blind corners was cringe-worthy,

And there were a few accidents to be seen,

But overall, I felt far safer than in cyclist-hating Auckland.

My China was one where I got insanely itchy itchy bites, calloused hands and ridiculous tan lines.

My China was one with hills so brutal,

That many a cyclist cheated,

But one with wonderful characters to be met over ever hill,

Around each corner,

And every bend of the road.

My China was one with horses,

Cows,

Cats,

Massive yaks,

And fluffy little yaklets,

My China was one where I was welcomed into homes,

One where I stayed in some beautiful places.

But mostly in places with 'o'clock' rooms,

Not so clean windows,

And places where I learned not to look under the furniture.

My China was one of parades,

Temples,

Prayer wheels,

And monks.

My China was one where I learned what switchbacks were,

Over,

And over

And over again.

My China was one where I stopped often for yak yoghurt,

To be eaten with honey bought a cheerful woman in a roadside yurt.

My China was one where the roadside was lined with prayer flags,

Waterfalls,

Sheep shearing,

Brick making,

And yaks, oh wonderful yaks.

My China was where my bike breaking resulted in being adopted by a Tibetan family in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

My China was one where even my attempted rebellion, when I tried to sneak onto an expressway, resulted in a wonderful meeting,

As well as being allowed on to the most beautiful road. Cheers to that!

My China was one where I climbed mountains by bike,

And on foot.

My China was one where monks checked out the view along the way,

But, given the scenery, who could blame them?

My China was often exasperating,

One which occasionally reduced me to tears,

And sometimes drove me crazy.

But mostly my China was fascinating,

Full of incredible people and wonderful experiences.

My China, I have to say, was awesome.