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A Girl Abroad: Welcome to China

Words by: Shirley Yeung


As I sit on this second flight for the day that has already been 2 hours too long, I dream of nothing more than a breath of fresh air; stretching out my limbs; and having the feeling of my ass return. The destination is Beijing, the capital of China. Immediately my first thoughts of this country is its rich history of communism and the state of poverty its people face. This country isn’t my birthplace, but it makes up part of my ethnicity and in every way possible I feel disconnected to it like your friend’s pup who won’t love you. The only thing that has kept me excited so far is its historic sights, the thousands of temples and the street food that I will soon gloriously be indulging in.

With no surprise at all (and I say this with the most utterly unimpressed expression), immigration is a nightmare to get through and baggage collection as usual takes forever. As soon as the doors that keep what was outside and what little sanity I have left opened, I step out, I become a part of this city. Immediately the coldness of the air covers me whole, the pollution is so thick to the point you can’t even see any further than two arms length out. The traffic as usual is heavy and crowded. The people of this republic drive like there are no rules associated between their vehicles and the road, as long as there is room to fit – JUST GET IN THERE!

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After a few days of adjusting to the weather, I make my way (still freezing and losing feeling of my fingers on a regular basis, which now seems very normal) to Tiananmen Square. I’m given a brief explanation of what this place represents, but I find myself reminded of rather what was more controversial and saddening… the riots and the ‘alleged’ massacre of hundreds and possibly thousands of students and union workers in the 1970/80’s that was largely covered up by their own government and even today, you probably won’t find a book in China that contains the context of those happenings.

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Moments later I am standing in front of this massive concrete slab of a building, coloured in redness and heavily guarded out front and on all sides, with thousands of tourists going through. The large (probably an understatement to be honest, perhaps gigantic, enormous, big as fuck?) mural of Chairman Mao stands before me, almost certain he’s staring into my soul. I make my way through the thick walls and pass Chairman Mao while respectively giving him an internal ‘fuck you’ thought, I realise i have now entered into The Forbidden City – a place where China’s greatest rulers once lived. This not-so-hidden-anymore city has every reason to be one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. In my explorations through doors after doors of templed roofed houses and places to pay respects to, there were still hundreds of rooms and houses that weren’t opened to the public. The freezing weather of -15c degrees didn’t keep people away; I was among thousands and thousands of visitors today.

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It might sound weird… crazy almost, but as I stood inside this magnificent and astounding Forbidden City today, for the first time I felt connected to this country – like I understood some part of their history that I could identify myself with. It’s a nice inner peace feeling, one that resonates happiness and understanding, and perhaps even acceptance.

If you ever decide to visit this tourist spot:

  1. Do not congregate in a big group, because apparently it could be mistaken as a planning scheme
  2. DO NOT EVER mention (not even whisper) the riots and the massacre
  3. Don’t look like someone who hates Chairman Mao
  4. Probably best to avoid eye contact with anyone
  5. Don’t look shady, aka don’t be a fuccboi
  6. If asked to see your ID, don’t hesitate for a second to show them
  7. Bring lots of hand sanitiser and tissues (this applies for anywhere in China to be honest)