China (and the world) the first time with Paul Robinson

Travel, Culture | by James Weir
Posted: July 18th, 2012 | Updated: July 19th, 2012 | Comments

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Jinshanling Great Wall The world travels of Brit blogger Paul Robinson have brought him to the Middle Kingdom, specifically, the capital city of Shandong Province, Jinan. He shares his experiences from his new China hometown and from his travels around the rest of China on his blog, VPN or proxy in China to get around the Great Firewall).>>> Chinatravel.net: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in China? Paul Robinson: I'm originally from the bright lights of Oldham in northern England. I was lucky enough to spend six months working as a Planning Consultant in the Middle East and I returned home with a massive traveling itch. I did my best to cure it, but nothing did the trick. After weighing up my options I decided to ditch the job, study for a TEFL qualification and relocate to China. CT.net: Did you write a blog back home or was it something you started here? Paul: I started my first blog when I moved to the Middle East. Essentially, it was born out of laziness. I was repeating the same stories over and over again to my family and I was spending too much time stuck in glitchy Skype conversations. The blog was just my way of spending a bit more time exploring the city I was in. Eventually, I realized I found it much easier to express myself with the written word. I also began to receive positive feedback from readers who weren't even related to me. It was nice to know people enjoyed reading my rambling. My old blog was a bit of a mind-dump, whilst my current blog focuses primarily on my travels. More from Paul after the jump.... CT.net: Have you had the chance to travel very much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far. Paul: I have been in China for three months now and I have had some great experiences. The two headline trips have been the Great Wall in Jinshanling and to the West Lake in Hangzhou. However, my favorite experience so far was spending three nights in a Buddhist temple in Zhejiang. I'm not religious but I was keen to experience all shades of Chinese culture. I joined in with the ceremonies at 4am, meditated during the day and ate nothing but rice and vegetables. Well, apart from the chocolate I smuggled in. I had spent the past few months studying teaching, planning my big move, starting a new job and learning a new language. Then suddenly, at the temple, there was nothing to do. It was a bizarre feeling but I quickly settled into the peace and quiet. I don't want to sound like a big hippie, but it was amazing to sit back, enjoy the sunrise and listen to the birdsong. Even the squat toilets and rock hard bed couldn't dampen my spirits. I sound like a proper hippie, don't I? China travel stories CT.net: And your worst? Paul: Without a doubt, my worst night was my first in China. It was dark and it was cold in the depths of a Shandong winter. English teachers are usually provided with free accommodation and it is safe to say the standard of living can vary. Some of my friends have huge flats filled with Western comforts. My flat had four concrete walls, an absence of hot water plumbing and the most depressing bathroom you can imagine. On the plus side, the arrangement of the bathroom meant I could use the toilet and mess around with the plug sockets whilst I had my ice cold shower. I spent the first night fully dressed, wrapped in a blanket eating a packet of Oreos (the only food I could find). All I could think was, "What the hell am I doing here?" CT.net: You're currently based in Jinan. What are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for the city? Paul: It would be fair to describe Jinan as 'real China.' It's a little bit rough around the edges and pretty damn polluted, too—but exciting. It's the type of city where if you look Western and stand still for too long, people will want a picture with you. Jinan is known for its springs and Baotu Spring is definitely worth a visit. There are other numerous springs dotted around the city. To the south of the city you will find Thousand Buddha Mountain, which offers great views of the urban sprawl. On the outskirts of the city you can visit the Four Gates Pagoda, the oldest single-story, stone pagoda in China and you can also visit the picturesque village of Zhujiayu (Zhūjiāyù, 朱家峪). China travel stories However my foremost recommendation would be to ditch the guide book and head to the bustling night markets around Jinger Lu (Jīngèr Lù, 经二路), in the west of the city. The narrow tree-lined streets are bustling with life. You can buy everything you need from cleaning products to all your fake designer gear. Neon signs blaze and barbeque smoke swirls into the night. CT.net: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving? Paul: If I had known how gregarious the Chinese people were, I wouldn't have spent so much time weighing up alternative job offers from Korea and Japan. CT.net: What do you miss most from home? Paul: Apart from my family, it's the little things I miss the most. I miss salt and vinegar crisps and I miss eating yogurt out of a pot instead of a plastic sack. CT.net: What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow? Paul: Again, I'd miss the little things. I'd miss the excitement of seeing blue sky for a change and I'd miss the buzz of noticing a Chinese character I actually recognize. No, scrap that. I'd miss the great friends I've made. CT.net: What three words sum up your China experience? Paul: You eat that?!

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