Most of my Chinese lessons so far have included at least one Chinese idiom. Personally, I love learning how to say things like 萝卜青菜各有所爱 which has roughly the same meaning as "to each his own", but literally translates to "some people like radishes, some people like cabbage, but both have their place". Not only are they useful for understanding some more of the cultural background of the language, being able to recognize them and drop them into everyday speech is also extremely beneficial. While traveling to ChengDu and JiuZhaiGou during China's National Week I was reminded of some English idioms that also proved to be true so I thought I'd illustrate them with some of the lessons learned during my travels... 1. The early bird gets the worm. This first one was proved true before the trip even started. If you're ever planning to travel during National Week, decide where you want to go early and then book everything as soon as you can. It took us hours to find hostels in ChengDu and JiuZhaiGou that had enough beds for the four of us and even though we managed to find places two weeks ahead of time, one of our hostels emailed us saying they overbooked a night before we were going to stay there. We had to spend an entire morning searching for another place which cut into our other travel plans for the day. Even if you're going to a less crowded place for the week, booking early will also reduce the price for big-ticket items like plane and bus tickets. 2. Expect the Unexpected. I know I just stressed planning, but it's important to remember that no matter how much you plan, everything is always subject to change (i.e. our hostel telling us they didn't have space a day before). When things don't go as planned it's important to get over it and adjust as quickly as possible, especially when it comes to traveling. On our bus ride to JiuZhaiGou (which was supposed to be eight hours) we found out there had been an avalanche that caused one of the roads into the town to close and bumped our ride's time up to ten hours. It ended up being 14 hours because of a traffic jam (we stopped and turned off the bus for two hours before we started inching back up the mountain). If there's one thing I learned form this trip it's that you can't predict traffic in China and that it's best to bring a book (or two or three), music or something else to do in case you're stuck in one of these traffic jams. 3. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. ... Or in China do as the Chinese do. The concept of lines in China barely exists. If you try to wait in line to board a bus or get a taxi at the airport, you're going to be waiting a long time. Strange as it seemed to me, elbowing my way through crowds at JiuZhaiGou was the only way to get on the bus without wasting time. The same rule applies for lots of other cultural phenomenon: practicing your 蹲-ing (Dun-ing, or squat-sitting on your heels), using chopsticks etc. I'm not saying you need to conform to every thing you see, but at the very least getting used to different cultural practices will make your travels much more enjoyable. 4. Two Heads are better than one. Especially if one of those heads is fluent in Chinese. My roommate was an incredible resource throughout both the planning and the entire duration of our travels. I know we would have managed with our own Chinese skills, but her negotiation abilities and fluency in the language really made a lot of our minor mishaps much easier to deal with. Better yet, I also got learn how to say things like "we have a reservation" and "waterfall" while we traveled. Even though she was asked multiple times if she was our translator or tour guide, she never failed to pull through when the rest of us had a hard time understanding someone's accent or superfast speaking. Aside from my roommate, my other two friends from IES also contributed their own problem-solving tactics or ideas when we had to make a decision. Fortunately, we all listened to each other well and our cooperation made our trip incredible. 5. A Picture is worth a thousand words. So instead of writing about how beautiful JiuZhaiGou was, I'll just let you look at some of the (hundreds) of pictures I took. Even they pale in comparison to the real thing. 6. Where there's a will there's a way. After our experience getting to JiuZhaiGou was less than spectacular, we started to worry about making it back to ChengDu in time for our flight to Beijing. Our plane left at 8:30pm and when we were planning we had expected that leaving at 7am would give us enough time to take the bus back, grab a bite to eat and make it to the airport. Obviously, the avalanche and our prior dealings with the traffic caused us to reconsider. After discovering that we couldn't change our flight to a later time and hearing from the bus station that the roads were still closed, we decided to play it safe and hire a driver to get us back to ChengDu in time. We even managed to sell off two of our bus tickets. Even though it still cost us each about an extra $60 USD, leaving an hour early and not missing our flight was well worth it. That was the biggest example of this lesson, but our entire trip also proves this one true. Our goals for the trip were to see pandas, try the famous Sichuan hot pot, see the LeShan Buddha and hike all of JiuZhaiGou's sites in two days and we accomplished all of those things and more. Sometimes it required waking up early (we were out of the hostel by 5:30 most mornings), but it was well worth it. 7. All good things must come to an end. Sadly, this one is true too. Once we made it back to the airport in ChengDu (early, not late), the combination of exhaustion and the realization that we would be starting class in less then 48-hours made us quiet for the plane ride back. We were welcomed back to Beijing with the highest AQI we've had so far (it peaked at 403, but came down to 319 by the time our plane landed), backpacks full of dirty laundry, and new textbooks with the vocab list for our next tingxie. Our week of eating spicy food and sauntering through scenic places was over and it was time to get back into our routines. Traveling in China and having a week off from school did more than prove some old words of wisdom true; it gave me the chance to reflect on my experience so far and consider how some of my new knowledge, both about China and myself, could help me in the future. In addition, I got to know my travel companions better and I'd like to think I made some new life-long friendships. I know there's more I could write about our day-to-day adventures, but my vacation is over and it's about time I got back to studying for my quiz.
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<p>My name is Kelly Cunningham and I am a Chinese Studies and English major at DePaul University. I love everything about languages-reading them, writing with them, speaking them, etc. I'm studying abroad to improve my Chinese and learn more about the culture.</p>