China Blogger Spotlight: Looking beyond the statistics with Seeing Red in China

Travel, Culture | by Aimee Groom
Posted: May 9th, 2011 | Updated: May 9th, 2011 | Comments
Guangxi market_Seeing Red in China Bringing a little perspective to the big picture of China, Nanjing, author Tom takes some time out to share his thoughts and experiences on life and travel in China. >>> China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in China? Tom: I've been interested in China since high school, and I rushed through university to get here faster. I arrived in 2007 as a volunteer in a rural teacher's college with a Chinese Christian charity. My original contract was for only one year, but I enjoyed life here so much that it has now been almost four years. China Travel: Did you write a blog back home or was it something you started here? Tom: I actually started blogging just a few months ago. I felt like that there were a large number of people back in the US who were discussing China based only on facts and statistics, but were missing the context. So I started the blog mostly as a way to present the bigger picture. I like to think of it as my attempt at creating a complete guide to China, which is why I try to keep up by writing six substantive posts each week. It's become more work than I expected, but it's been an enriching experience for me too. So far the feedback has been very positive, and several people have told me that my blog has created an interest in China that they never had before. China Travel: Do you think studying East Asian Studies back in the US helped prepare you for life in China? Tom: I think coming to China with a little Chinese was very helpful, but to be honest, I think there are maybe only 20 phrases you need to learn to survive here. The far more valuable part of my studies, were the classes focused on Chinese culture and recent history. I've found that Chinese people are generally quite pleased to find out that you have a genuine interest in their country, and that leads to great conversations. Longzhou_Guangxi_Seeing Red in China China Travel: You've lived in villages, towns and cities over your time here, which have you preferred and why? Tom: I really loved my time in rural Guangxi. It was tough at first being more than three hours away from a McDonald's, but it gave me a deeper insight to what life is like for a large percentage of China's population. Helping develop China's rural areas was my initial reason for coming to China, and is something I'm still very passionate about. It seems like in the US we hear a lot about China's cities, and how quickly those have developed, but it's important to remember that China still has millions of people living in mud brick homes living off of a few hundred dollars a year. China Travel: Have you had the chance to travel very much in China? Tell us about your best experience so far. [pullquote]It felt like something out of a history book, and I would recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in Genghis Khan.[/pullquote]Tom: I've done a bunch of traveling in China, my last count was that I had visited more than 30 cities. Some of those trips were just for fun and others were with the Chinese Charity I work with. If I had to pick one place though, I would say Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. I visited there last Genghis Khan. China Travel: And your worst? Tom: My worst trip was to Zhangjiajie, which is actually a pretty beautiful place. The trip was poorly planned and we weren't ready for the crowds of Chinese tourists, so we ended up staying in a family's home. Their food gave two of my friends terrible food poisoning, and we ended up spending the whole second day at the hospital. China Travel: You're currently based in Nanjing. What are your top recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for the city? Tom: I really enjoy Chinese history, and a lot of China's recent history took place in Nanjing. If you want to get a better understanding of modern China there are several sites here worth a visit.
  • Nanjing Massacre Memorial—Visiting the memorial is an unforgettable experience, and learning more about one of the darkest moments in China's history is important for understanding the national psyche. Today there is still a great deal of anger in China directed at Japan because of what happened here during WWII. If you don't have much time John Rabe's house highlights some of the actions of the members of the Nanjing International Safety Zone.
  • Presidential Palace—Visiting the Presidential Palace let's you check two things off of your list, since it was both a Ming Palace and served as the Capitol in the early 1900's. If you aren't so interested in history, nearby 1912 street is a Nationalist period style hangout. It has a variety of restaurants and bars making it one of the best places in Nanjing to catch some of the night life.
  • Sun Yatsen's Mausoleum—This is kind of an obligatory stop for most Chinese tourists to Nanjing. Sun Yatsen was the founder of modern China, and this massive memorial is still an important part of the story of China. It does require a good amount of stair climbing, so consider this a poor choice for hot Nanjing summers. The Ming Tomb's are also nearby, which don't have any stairs. Fun fact—virtually all of the trees on the mountain were planted in the last 100 years.
  • Shitoucheng Park—I wouldn't call it a must, but if you're growing tired of museums and tourist traps it's a nice change of pace. The park is between a branch of the Yangtze and the old city wall. It's a nice place to take a walk in the afternoon and watch Chinese parents chase after their children. I think it's a good place to catch a glimpse of what life is like for many people in the city.
Ming Tombs nanjing_Seeing Red in China China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving? Tom: I wish I had realized how cold Southern China can be in the winter. South of the Yangtze River, there is no heating in the smaller schools, and staying warm becomes a challenge. I remember giving a final exam to students while wearing two sweaters and a jacket, along with a few layers of pants and socks and still being freezing cold. It's like the cement buildings radiate the cold in a whole new way. China Travel: What do you miss most from home? Tom: The first 3 years here I would have said food, BBQ pulled pork sandwiches to be exact, but now that my sister has had a wonderful little girl, I really miss my family the most. In some ways with Skype I'm in contact with my family now more often than I was when I was living in the States. China Travel: What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow? Tom: I would miss my friends and co-workers the most. Even though I have moved several times over the four years here, I've kept in touch with many of those friends around China. I've met so many great people, and it's a little hard to accept that leaving China means being 10,000 miles away from those friends. China Travel: What three words sum up your China experience? Tom: Opportunities, Misadventures, and Friendship. For more China musings, thoughts and experiences from Tom, head to his blog Seeing Red in China. China Blogger Spotlight is a regular column highlighting great China blogs that we think you should know about. If you know of a blog that's got good things to share with other China travelers, be it your own or an RSS essential, let us know by emailing:

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