Brandon Ferdig is a Minnesotan with an interest in understanding people; he came to China in search of Answers (with a capital "A"). His blogs, VPN or proxy in China) and its little sister Zhuhai, Guangdong and his thoughts on life. >>> China Travel: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in China. Brandon: I'm a writer from Minnesota, U.S.A. Though I always prided myself a good surveyor of humans' actions and motivations, I didn't realize my knack for words until I wrote "thank you" cards following my college graduation. After that, I took writing more seriously, penned a blog and started a local TV show interviewing people in the community. For me, it's all about discovery and the understanding of humanity—that with a better grasp on things we can let our guards down and get along better. Change and differences between people and situations can make us tense, so I try to write objectively about humanity to help others see the world (and themselves) clearer. Travel has obviously been important for this goal—but it wasn't enough. I knew I had to live in another part of the world. So I took an English teaching job in Zhuhai, Guangdong. And from the vantage point of China, I let the discoveries commence. China Travel: Did you write a blog back home or was it something you started here? Brandon: I wrote one back in Minneapolis, Minnesota that corresponded with my TV show. I posted clips from the show, wrote commentaries about local happenings, and linked other material that I thought was profound. My blog here in China stemmed from this format: to help people reach "New Plateaus" of understanding. Some posts are about the day-to-day, some have been about novel experiences (walking in a parade, interviewing a disabled beggar, hosting a Chinese New Year celebration), and others are educational/travel related. Whichever the motivation, the idea is similar: to provide a fresh take and see the unique lessons learned from each situation. China Travel: You're currently on a 3-week trip across China. How did you choose your itinerary, and what's been your best experience so far? Brandon: It's no surprise that it was hard to decide where to go. Thankfully, one lesson I've learned this last year is to listen to what Life is telling you. Circumstances and suggestions from others helped shape my trip, as well as previous experiences. I knew I had to see Beijing. So that was Henan province with the old, bound feet—xiǎo jiǎo (小脚). So after Beijing, I went south to see her. After that, it's been as much improv as planning. I decided to check out the origins of tai chi in Hubei Province which has been my best experience so far. Maybe because I'm involved rather than an observer. Plus, it's been so enlightening to challenging my racing, Western mind with the quiet, kinetic, bodily art of tai chi. China Travel: And your worst? Brandon: I'd have to say the crowded train travel. It came as a surprise, too, because I took a brand-new train from Zhuhai to Guangzhou which was pristine. The train from Beijing to Henan, though, was tough to ride overnight. Sitting down, I could only manage an hour of sleep here and there. China Travel:You've been living and teaching in Zhuhai, what are your top 5 recommendations for a first time visitor to get a real feel for the city? Brandon: If you want to get to know a city, I'll favor the neighborhoods over, say, landmarks or museums. I like to think of Zhuhai in three, maybe four parts. First, there's Xiangzhou (Xiāngzhōu Qū, 香洲区). It's the old downtown of Zhuhai and feels like it—little shops and restaurants, the docks and boats, and a nice-sized fish market that had me going back a couple times to take in all the energy, commerce, and sea creatures, reptiles, and mammals for sale. Xiangzhou can be dirty, but I like the realness of it as oppose to the sterility of other areas. So you should definitely wander it. Next check out the new town centers on the southern end. After Macau starting blowing up and the SEZ effect took off, a shift has taken place, setting Macau—great shopping, too. Third, I enjoy heading out west of town because this is where you can really see a wonderful illustration of the rise of China. Rural lands are becoming urban right before your eyes with a grove of cranes erecting modern China. It's green; it's clean; and it's fun to see. Finally, Doumen (Dǒumén Qū, 斗门区) is an area in the Zhuhai territory way out west and is like another city by itself. This one, as oppose to Zhuhai, is more old-school Guangdong. Zhuhai has a real mix of inter-provincial (and some international) people. Doumen, though is pure Canton. China Travel: What is the one thing you wish you'd known about China before arriving? Brandon: I got a lot of pieces of advice about living in China, but until I saw how they applied in context, they didn't really sink in. I have to be familiar with an area to see how I fit in and what things to do/avoid. So I wish had familiarized myself with China urban life beforehand with movies/documentaries or other research. China Travel: What do you miss most from home? Brandon: I miss being able to take for granted my ability to communicate with strangers. I also like diet, caffeine-free soda, and I've yet to find one in China! China Travel: What would you miss most in China if you were to leave tomorrow? Brandon: People in China are more outside and social. Kids walk up and down the streets playing, adults congregate outside stores and restaurants. Americans are more shut-in and to themselves. Things in China are more convenient, too. If I want a meal, it's so simple to walk a few meters and get a cheap lunch. In America, I have to get in a car. It's more of an ordeal. Most of all, I'll miss the energy of growth in China. America is stagnant these days while the Middle Kingdom is expanding. China Travel: What three words sum up your China experience? Brandon: Lively, eye-opening, unkempt. If you've enjoyed meeting Brandon and would like to read more, head over and say hi at his China blog, Minnesotan in China.