Bohemian Traveler: a discussion with Stephen Bugno

Culture | by China Travel
Posted: April 30th, 2012 | Updated: May 2nd, 2012 | Comments
travel in China_life in China_china blogs_china travel China travel blogs The editorial team has been known to browse a travel blog or two (or a few thousand, I'm not sure). One of our favorite things about the China-travel blogosphere is how very diverse it is, and how many people love to write about living and traversing this vast country. Stephen Bugno, of Bohemian Traveler and GoMad Nomad Travel Mag, joined the ranks as he criss-crossed China and splattered his thoughts all over the Internet. He was gracious enough to answer a few of our questions about how he felt about coming to China, writing and blogging full time. Tell us a little about yourself and what it is about travel that so interests you. I'm from the United States. I grew up in Pennsylvania. I think I was born interested in travel. As a young boy I remember looking at maps a lot and wondering always: "What's it like there?" I think this what's-it-like-there? curiosity has always been the driving force of my travels. I've always been interested in seeing how people live: their culture, food, architecture, art. I've also been fascinated with the fact that people in different places do things in a different way to accomplish the same thing. I think subconsciously I've always been seeking out the best way to live my life. More on Stephen and his travels in China after the jump....
Yunnan travel How did you get into travel writing? Have you always blogged, or is it a new thing? What drives you to write?
I tried to break into freelance travel writing about five years ago and had minimal success—enough to keep at it, but not enough to go at it full time. I've worked contracts over the years as an English teacher in different countries—but I most wanted to break out of the work-and-save-up-to-travel cycle. My passion was to become location independent—to earn a living from anywhere in the world that I traveled. Blogging was one way I could achieve that. So about two years ago I started Bohemian Traveler, my travel blog which focuses on independent travel, destinations, and cultures. I also wanted to bring readers through my journey towards location independence. A year prior to that, I started the GoMad Nomad Travel Mag, an online magazine for independent travelers. The reason I started that was simple. At that point I had volunteered, worked, and traveled abroad for the better part of a decade and felt I had accumulated a great deal of knowledge and advice and simply had no way to share all this with people that were interested in doing similar things. So GoMad Nomad was born. But all in all, the transition into full-time writing/blogging took 2-3 years, and it was more than one year and a lot of work before I earned anything from blogging. What was it that brought you to China? I always remember having some kind of fascination with China—probably the same thing that interests others from the West—the ancient history of their culture, the exoticism of the written language, the incredible landscape, their feats of engineering. But more than that I was interested in the many other ethnic groups that live within the borders of modern China. It's hard to believe I haven't traveled within China before this point. I think what finally pushed me to go was the fact that China is changing so rapidly and I wanted to see it before it became completely modernized and more expensive. We're getting blasted with media in the States that China is rising so fast and furious, as if they're going to take over the world at some point in the near future. Yangshuo travel So I guess it goes back to my initial reason to travel: I was just curious to see it with my own eyes I and experience it firsthand. What is your impression of China so far? Where have you been? In what ways were your expectations about what China was like correct or incorrect?
China is as huge and diverse as I was expecting it to be, and I've only been to Hong Kong, Macau, Guangxi and Yunnan so far. I've heard a lot of frustrations from travelers in the past who traveled through China. They were annoyed by certain characteristics of the Chinese and about certain policies of the government. And it's true, I have gotten annoyed by people smoking anywhere and everywhere and the visa restrictions are frustrating. I think China is even more developed infrastructurally than I had imagined. But there is still a huge difference between life in the countryside and life in the city. That I was expecting. But the overall theme I'm seeing emerge as I travel through southern/southwest China is that the people haven't quite caught up with the rapid modernization and development. In Kunming, for example, they have extremely good roads and traffic patterns but drivers and pedestrians just don't know how to use them properly. Overall China is still a fascinating place and I'm excited to explore more. But I'm slowly coming to the realization that what I really want to see is the China of twenty or thirty years ago. Chongqing travel stories Give us one snapshot of your trip so far.  We were in the small city of Jianshui (Jiànshuǐ, 建水), a few hours south of Kunming in Yunnan Province. It was supper time and as we were searching for a place to eat we stumbled upon the outdoor cooked food market. We settled on a small wooden stool at a low table and ordered a bowl of noodles. As we finished and tried to pay, the cook wouldn't accept our payment. He was trying to tell us something. After a few minutes of trying to pay him in beer or snacks we put together the "Mei Guo" and "kuai" (USA and money) and realized he wanted to be paid with one US dollar. I didn't have any dollars and told him we would be back the next night. This guy was typical of the friendly people we met in Jianshui—a town with a few sights, but very few tourists. Here foreigners were still an anomaly and locals welcomed us by smiling and working hard to communicate with us with means beyond language—something we hadn't experience up until this point. My travel partner wrote a nice account of the encounter with "Jianshui Dollar Guy" on her blog. Where in China will the rest of this trip take you? Any post-China plans?  We spent a few weeks in Sichuan—stopping in Chengdu to see the Pandas, Zigong for dinosaur bones and teahouses, Leshan for the Giant Buddha, and a hike up sacred Emei Shan. Then we traveled to Chongqing to enjoy a Yangtze River Cruise. Following that we will make our way to Vietnam and spend a month there before flying back to the United States. Describe your China experience in three words.
That's hard, but I'll give it a try: Challenging—this is a tough place to travel without knowing Chinese. Additionally there are lots of annoyances like smoking in enclosed areas and heavily polluted air. And much of modern, urban China I just didn't find inspiring at all. Urban—We even made a strong effort to avoid big cities and try to see more of the countryside, but the reality of China is what you are expecting to be a town or small city turns out to be a huge city every time. Grand—in every aspect of the word. It seems like everything in China is bigger and more spectacular—the most populous country, the 3rd biggest in land area, the grandest engineering projects. Tiger Leaping Gorge super-impressive, Emei Shan awe-inspiring, and the Three Gorges beautiful.

 Thanks for taking the time, Stephen! Sounds like it's been an interesting trip. Keep on blogging!

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