I Choose China

This item appears on page 47 of the November 2013 issue.

The subject “I Choose China” brought in the most submissions of subscribers’ essays ever, but one essay was judged by ITN staff to be the clear winner, that of LAURIE FRIEDMAN of Davis, California, who has written in before. Laurie will receive two 50-dollar gift certificates from Magellan’s Travel Supplies (800/962-4943).

While we enjoyed all of the submissions (so many approaches to the topic!), four other essays scored higher than the rest, and their authors each will receive a 50-dollar gift certificate from Magellan’s Travel Supplies. All five essays are presented below.

The essay contest currently in play for ITN subscribers is titled “Roamin’ in Romania.” If you have been there, in no more than 300 words (note: 300 words), write on Romania and what you found interesting or alluring about it and send your essay to ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mail editor@intltravelnews.com. Include the address at which you receive ITN. The deadline is December 31, 2013, and a winner will be announced in the March 2014 issue.


I choose China because it’s like an adolescent growing up. If you miss a few years, you’ve missed a whole development process. 

My husband and I first visited China in 1985. We decided we needed to return soon because things were changing so fast. 

On our second tour, three years later, we were lucky enough to have people in our group who had been there one, five and ten years prior. We compared notes.

China had changed from a place where tourists were allowed to visit only government-selected sites to a place where you could walk around freely; from a place with propaganda blaring from loudspeakers to a place where people were running sidewalk-based businesses, and from a place with traditional markets and people all dressed alike to a fashion-conscious place where people drank Coca-Cola. 

I choose China because it’s as big and varied as the USA. Our first trip included Tibet; the second followed the Silk Road, and the third went to Yunnan Province in the south, where rice and tea were grown and harvested as they had been for centuries. We made two stops each in Beijing, Xi’an and Chengdu. We saw Guilin, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Each is a different experience. 

I choose China because you can still see a mixture of old and new. From its past, you can see the Imperial Palace, the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Army, Buddhist caves and, in Tibet, the Potala Palace. In some rural areas, you can still see life as it has been for centuries. 

In east coast cities, you can see the rapid development of industry. And the Chinese have a funny way of developing “tourist areas,” by massive rebuilding in one fell swoop, e.g., Shangri-La, formerly Zhongdian, in Yunnan. It’s definitely not Shangri-la. Visit now. 

Donna Pyle, Boulder, CO


China was the expected and the unexpected. My husband and I expected, and enjoyed, the ancient wonders of the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Forbidden City, but the modern architecture of Shanghai, the building projects everywhere we went, the engineering marvel of the Three Gorges Dam and bustling life in rural villages astounded us. 

The people were smiling, friendly, outgoing, interested in the greater world and wanting to get to know us. They dressed in up-to-date styles and shopped in major retail outlets, and most spoke English, many fluently.

We were on a 2012 Tauck tour visiting the highlights of China. Everyplace we went we were intrigued by the major developments under way to improve transportation, housing, agriculture and quality of life. People were able to engage in businesses, become entrepreneurs, own property, drive luxury cars and acquire goods from international brands. 

We expected a Communist country and to hear a defense of the Communist way of life, but no comparisons with the other political systems were made.

People we met were able to discuss world politics and had detailed knowledge of other countries and an understanding of the complex relationships of trade, economics and the political scene. We were free to visit anywhere with no feeling of being restricted.

Aspects of Chinese culture intrigued us: the large parks in each city, where people engaged in hundreds of communal activities, such as Tai Chi, Mahjong, playing musical instruments, flower arranging and much more; the close family units, and, especially, the love of children. In a culture where one-child families are the norm, parents and grandparents were thrilled when we smiled at or took photos of their offspring. Street markets and especially the Beijing food vendors were fascinating. 

Yes, China was much more than we ever imagined.

Ethel Brodie, Discovery Bay, CA


There are four reasons China is my choice country. 

The first reason is the way the Chinese people give massages. Each Friday night I would look forward to going to my favorite shop to enjoy expert fingers and hands manipulating my head, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet and toes… all while drinking a cup of hot tea. There is nothing like it. After an hour or so, I would come away ready to enjoy the weekend and another work week. Cares and worries seemed to just fade away.

The second reason China is my choice country is its history. Going to museums to actually see centuries-old artifacts and hear about their importance to the country and its people was marvelous, enlightening and extremely educational.

The third reason I choose China is because of the family structure. Generations of family members live together. The grandparents watch over the grandchildren while the adult children work. The one-child-per-family policy allows that child to be treated like a little prince or princess.

The fourth and last reason I choose China is the food. Chinese food in China is totally different than Chinese food in America. Sometimes I would ask what the English name was and sometimes I wouldn’t. It would all depend on how brave I was. Seriously, I never got sick and I learned to love many new foods. I even learned to use chopsticks but always had my fork with me for emergency use.

China was and is an exciting country to visit, and I am fortunate that I was able to make several trips and stay for long periods of time in the last few years. If you haven’t been there yet you might consider going soon before the new completely destroys the old.

Sandi Pollitt, Portland, OR


Writing why I choose China is easy. Doing it in 300 words is hard.

Our first visit to China involved homestays. We were apprehensive, but our “families” made us feel comfortable. (Okay, we sometimes wondered what was on our chopsticks.) 

We stayed with a single mother and her teen daughter in their Shanghai apartment. They spoke little English but exuded friendship. We spent days sightseeing, while evenings were devoted to community activities with our hostesses.

Next we stayed with a family in a farm village outside Beijing. No one spoke any English, but we were both assigned high school students as interpreters. Days were, again, devoted to sightseeing, but dinners and evenings were with the family. We taught them a card game; soon it took over the village. The event of the evening was our trip to the community shower, where we enjoyed a trickle of hot water before walking the dirt streets home.

Our second trip was a private tour of western China. We asked to visit a school. After teaching one English class, we were invited to teach more. The teacher then wrote a note to explain what we did. At each new city, we presented her note to a school. An English teacher would appear and invite us to teach.

My last trip was to Kunming. The university had invited local English teachers for two weeks’ intensive instruction. Another volunteer and I taught 16 teachers — work but fun. 

On weekends I went to the park with a sign in Chinese: “Free English Lessons.” Soon I had a group of dozens. One invited me to lunch and another to his home.

This experience sure beats temples.

I now realize I could have written this essay with one word: PEOPLE!

Ted Mullett, Lake Toxaway, NC


Choose China, but the question is ‘Where to start?’ Almost as large as the United States, it takes many trips to see the highlights, just as it would to see the US. I have visited different parts of China on five different trips, and there is still more to see. China has different cultures, thousands of years of historical sites and an incredible variety of natural wonders.

One could start with the usual tourist sampler, starting in Beijing to see the Forbidden Palace and the Great Wall, continuing on to Xi’an for the Terra Cotta Warriors and, finally, Guilin for the otherworldly karst peaks along the Li River. A good start!

I suggest returning to wander the historical, lovely water towns below Shanghai, cumulatively called the “Venice of the East.” My first trip to China started with the sampler above, then we biked 10 miles daily from Nanking out to the coast. It was a wonderful rural experience and great for being able to take photos, though I hope they’ve improved their derailleurs! 

But what about the many minority groups in southwest China, bordering Vietnam, with their beautiful costumes and customs so different from the majority Han culture? They deserve a visit, too.

As I returned on photography trips, I realized that China has natural wonders that are as magnificent as ours. We have the Grand Canyon and Yosemite, among other sights, but they have the Yellow Mountains, used by early Chinese painters as inspiration, with their craggy peaks above swirling fog. 

Later we stood on the crest of a valley looking down at 1,000-year-old rice terraces cascading down the mountain, with the water in the terraces silver in the reflected light, and I was speechless in wonder.

Choose China. Choose it all! 

Laurie Friedman, Davis, CA