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The true gem of China

Honesty is something that is frequently underestimated. The honest pursuit of wealth, or rather the honest gain of material wealth, Whats-more, the more important things: Happiness. Health. How often have you neglected your body? How often have you said you would put it off. I’m guilty. Be honest. Be true to who you are, what you will become. Always grow. Growing as you breathe, you can then learn to be one with yourself. Meditation is a key to knowledge. In order to elevate yourself, you must lower yourself. Let the qi and blood course throughout your body. You are alive. Make sure you always remember: this life is a gift. It is a beautiful, precious, and fragile gift. Don’t live it like you are dying. Live it like you will live forever. Don’t drown your pain in alcohol or material possessions. At the end of your life, what will you have to draw from? One second by every second, slowly, slowly. Rome was not built in a day, or even in many years. People died. People suffered. Everything revolves around time. 


In China, honesty is a huge part of the culture. Rather than the pursuit of money and power, they have thousands of years of history to draw from. They are the world’s oldest civilization with a rich language that much of the Western world feels is a mystery. We know their symbols, their emblems, and the main idea of their culture. Honor your father and mother. Honor yourself. Honor your relationships. Honor is the root, but honesty and compassion tie hand in hand with that. Without true expression of emotions, you are simply a “human doing” not a “human being”. 


China has taught me valuable lessons about my life, but it is not the society itself or the complex language or any of those things that are the true gem of China. Chinese culture is the true beauty. Chinese medicine has been proven to work across thousands of years. Why now, in the west, we consider it quackery is a bigger mystery than the traditional script itself. 


In the West we honor the Asian society but we know nothing of its wonder and beauty. There is so much left untouched, so much more left to be explored. Don’t get my meaning confused.. China is not a utopia. There is ignorance that runs in families even.. just as frequently as the United States. It’s a deeper wound than we thought in the world. We all bleed the same red blood. We are one, but so drastically apart from one another that some bleed to forget it. 


I won’t pretend to have knowledge of anything I am not capable of having knowledge of. When I came to China, I could barely form correct English sentences due to my physical and mental exhaustion prior to my arrival. I am still very damaged and I will revel in and embrace the brokenness of both myself and society for as long as I live. But I will improve my body. I will improve my mind. I will train to control my mental and physical health. I have the capability to be the master of myself.  


The basics of Chinese medicine are still very new to me, as I am an Amateur in every since of the word spanning across hundreds of different subjects, much more than I had ever realized. I am weak in ways that I never thought imaginable, but yet capable of much higher-level thought and power. Releasing yourself of the fear of failure. Releasing and being free. Flying higher.


In Chinese traditional thought, the yin and yang is seen as two opposing forces that contrast and compliment one another. The word for nutrition in Chinese is actually “yin yang”. In the West we say, “You are what you eat” 


Think about it. Consider the impact you have on other people, but more importantly yourself. Another phrase, “You can’t help others unless you help yourself!”  


And thus, begins the process. I will clean my body and mind over the next couple of months and years. 

More updates to be coming soon.  

Living in China: Authentic Urban Life, Travel Galore, and Lifelong Friendships

Allison S. taught in Hangzhou in 2011, then moved to Shanghai for two years to polish her language skills and help Chinese students study abroad in the United States. Read about her three years abroad here.   

Authentic City Living 

When I first moved to China in 2011, I was continuously asked, “Why China?” My immediate answer was, “Why not?” After living there for three years, I could go on and on listing reasons why China is now a second home to me. One is the incredible city life in China that most travelers don’t get to experience. From marathons and music festivals on the Great Wall in Beijing to lying by a pool on a hot summer day in Shanghai, there is something for everyone in China’s amazing cities.

Living in Shanghai for two years gave me the opportunity to really understand the city and experience the many social activities expats and locals alike take part in throughout the year. It’s such a thrill to walk down a little alley, pick up a bowl of noodles or dumplings from a street vendor for lunch, speak with locals, and watch them play an afternoon game of cards or mahjong. Around the corner, there’s an Italian restaurant, a Starbucks, and European parentsteaching their son how to ride a bike. 

Access to Amazing Sites and Destinations

One of the greatest aspects of living in a foreign country is the convenience of traveling to a new destination every chance you get. When I lived in Shanghai, planning a weekend trip to Beijing, Nanjing, or Hangzhou meant deciding to go on a Friday morning and hopping on a train that afternoon. Even after three years in China, I had barely begun to explore all of its amazing sights.

Beijing is an obvious destination for travelers around the world, and for good reason. The first time I went to the Great Wall, I couldn’t help but think how remarkable is was to walk on a piece of history like so many have done before me. Plus, it’s another Wonder of the World I can cross off my must-see list!

In addition to well-known destinations in Beijing, China offers many other can’t-miss sites. The Chinese say (loosely translated): “If there is a heaven on Earth, it is Hangzhou in China.” One of the most unique memories I have of China is spending a spring afternoon learning a traditional Chinese dance near West Lake in Hangzhou.

The Chinese also tell foreigners, “If you haven’t been to Xi’an, you haven’t been to China.” After hearing this, I traveled to Xi’an and realized the Terracotta warriors – a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of the first Emperor of China – were one of the most amazing sights I’ll ever see in my lifetime.

The more I traveled through China, the more I was astonished by what its society is capable of.  I was continually impressed by the consistency of Chinese culture and history in each city, yet every place I visited was completely different from the last. My interest in China will never end because there will always be something more to learn – which is why I love to travel in the first place.

Relationships You’ll Never Forget

If you’ve traveled, you know the bonds you form when traveling are unlike any others. In a country like China, relationships, or guanxi (关系), are very important to all aspects of life. One of the best guanxi I had in China was with my ayi – the equivalent to an American aunt. These Chinese women typically take care of your home. My ayi became a part of my family in China. She helped me with learning Chinese, made me warm ginger tea crammed with sugar when I was sick, and invited me to her home for Chinese holidays. Without living in China, it’s unlikely that I would have formed a bond with a Chinese lady 20 years older than me, who didn’t speak a word of English! While she never owed me anything, she was like a mother to me when my own family was more than 7,000 miles away. That is a person not easily forgotten.

The friends I made while traveling and living in foreign places are unlike any others. Traveling can be a bit of a roller coaster. While my time in China had some bumps, those are not the memories I look back on (unless I am laughing at them!). I’ll always remember the people I met and their indelible influence on my life.

Now, if someone asks me, “Why China?” I tell them that it’s the unexpected city life, the opportunities for incredible travel, and the lifelong relationships that you’ll gain that should make you choose this amazing country.

中国欢迎你-Zhongguo Huanying Ni – China welcomes you!


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雷雨 (Thunderstorm)

If I had one word to describe Chongqing's weather, it'd be HOT. If I had two words, the second would be thunderstorms. The only redeeming thing about the weather in this city is that it has great thunderstorms.

I'm from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and we definitely don't get storms like this. Last night, a huge storm rolled over the city and knocked out the power. People had trouble driving on the roads. The thunder rattled my windows. And the lightening lit up the entire sky every few seconds. It was incredible to sit on my bed and watch out the windows of my 28th floor apartment because I have a great view of the entire city. I managed to get a video of the storm. I apologise in advance for my excitement. I also got two videos from Alexis that I'll include too. Enjoy!




洪崖洞 (Hongyadong)

One of the most beautiful places in Chongqing, in my opinion, is Hongyadong. It's a small area in Jiefangbei district full of shops, restaurants, and bars. By day, it's a beautiful little spot with old-style buildings that look like they belong on a postcard:

At night, though, Hongyadong lights up and it's absolutely incredible:

My favorite part of Hongyadong is the food. There are countless shops along the main street on the 4th level. You can buy grilled meats on sticks, bowls of spicy soup, milk tea, beef noodles, and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also some foreign restaurants such as Cactus, which serves delicious (although expensive) TexMex food. There are also a number of bars scattered throughout the village and it's a fun place to explore at night.

Look for a small imports shop in the back corner on the 5th floor behind the souvenir stalls. There are two wonderful ladies there who immediately sat me down for a cup of fresh tea when I wandered into their store. 



It's also the first place where I found a Subway here in China. Let me tell you, sandwiches are definitely an American thing because this was the first place in all of China where I was able to buy a sandwich. Of course, like all foreign food, it was a little expensive, but it was definitely worth it.

Hongyadong is a great place to hang out day or night. During the day, there are plenty of tea shops and restaurants with wifi and outdoor seating. At night it's a bustling center for snacks and bars. It is definitely worth checking out here in Chongqing.

火锅 (Hotpot)

This post is long overdue because one of the most iconic things here in Chongqing is its cuisine. Among its many local dishes, the one that most natives will say represents their city is Chongqing hotpot. 

The picture above gives a great idea of what most hotpot meals are like. In the center is the boiling pot of broth and spices that give hotpot it's unique flavor and name. Like most Chongqing food, hotpot is very spicy and the longer the pot boil, the spicier it gets. You can order it non-spicy, but where's the fun in that? The locals say that the spicy food helps them sweat in the summer heat and stay cool. I've even heard Chongqing people say that they must eat hot pot at least once a week in order to survive the summer.

When you order hotpot, you get a giant menu full of different vegetables and meats. When the food arrives, it's uncooked and separated onto different plates. You then choose whatever uncooked food you want, and you put it into the boiling broth to cook it. 

I've noticed that the locals always start by eating all the meat. They won't touch the vegetables until all the meat is done, even going so far as to bring the vegetables home, rather than waste space in their stomach. And the meat is not what you would expect in the United States. They do have strips of beef and slices of chicken and even hot dogs. But they also order duck intestines, cow stomach, chicken feet, coagulated blood, and a variety of other organs. If you keep an open mind and aren't too concerned with texture, I've found that the organs are actually my favorite part of hotpot. Plus, you only cook them for a few seconds and basically eat them raw. If anything, it's a very unique dining experience.

You have to be careful though. This dining experience can be a little rough on foreigners at first. Not only do the exotic food choices throw your body out of whack, but the spiciness alone is enough to upset your stomach. I suggest easing into this dish so that you can learn to enjoy it. You also must be sure to eat with a local who can show you the best dishes! I've only recently gotten to the point where I can go to a hotpot restaurant by myself and order, but it's become my favorite dining experience here in China! Happy eating!

Chongqing Heat


If there's one thing that I'll never enjoy about Chongqing, it's the weather. This isn't just because I'm a foreigner though; the locals complain about the weather on a daily basis! But it's particularly bad this time of year: the summer.

For example, yesterday it was 116F and there was 60-70% humidity. In this kind of weather, you really don't want to do anything. I wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off at 7:00am because by that time, it's already too hot to sleep. I take a cold shower and spend the rest of the morning in front of my fan keeping cool before I head to work around 8:00am. By that time it's already in the mid-eighties. 

Luckily, most buildings have air condition. Unfortunately, Chinese people think it's unhealthy to keep the windows closed, so there is a constant struggle between the outside heat and the indoor AC. I close the windows every opportunity I get though.

After work, the walk home is brutal. It feels like there is a hole in the ozone layer that insists on following me around everywhere I go. I get home, immediately change out of sweaty clothes, and sit in front of my fan again waiting for nightfall so I can venture out and explore. 

There are tricks to staying cool. For example, I've found that buying clothes here in China rather than bringing them from the US was helpful. The clothes they sell here is made for hot weather so it dries easily and is very breatheable. You also HAVE TO find a friend with a pool. Many apartment complexes have them and I can't tell you how nice it's been to go swimming on a hot day, even if the pools are unbelievably crowded.

All in all, I have to admit that I'm adjusting somewhat. I still hide inside every chance I get, but every day I spend more and more time outside with the locals, suffering through the heat and griping about our city's weather. It gives you a sense of solidarity and acclamation to put up with the heat like a local.

The Skylines of Chongqing


Longest Escalator in Asia and Graffiti Central

I rode the longest escalator in Asia with my friend and other fellow CIEE participant Eric. It was crazy! It is so long! 


After the zoo we went to a part of Chongqing not far from where we were, where all the buildings have graffiti on them. It was pretty cool. It’s the Huangjueping Graffiti Street 黄桷坪涂鸦街 and is said to be the largest graffiti art region in China and the world.










Trip to the Chongqing Zoo


A few months ago I went to the zoo with my friend and fellow CIEE participant Derrick. We had a blast. Who knew the zoo could be so much fun? Although the animals don’t have big cages and don’t seem to be taken care of as good as in the USA, they weren’t in bad shape. I could go on and on about the zoo and the animals we saw but I think it’s better to let the pictures do the work. And yes I did feed a giraffe and a hippo :D


My Apartment


My apartment… What to say about it? It’s small but not so small that I cant have people over.Well maybe it’s best to use pictures.


This is my apartment building. I’m on the 8th floor.

My hallway

This is my hallway. To the right is my kitchen and to the left is my bathroom.

my bathroom


This is my bathroom. This is a squat toilet for all you who have never heard of or seen one.That was me when I got here. It was a little bit of an adjustment, but they really aren’t that bad. My bathroom floor gets dirty quicker than humanly possible. I clean my floor before I take a shower seeing as my shower is above my toilet. Interesting right? It was a shock and I wasn’t sure how to work that one out, but the water goes pretty far so I stand on the corner and it’s all good. Most of my friends do actually have a regular Western toilet so I wouldn't worry about. 

 This is my kitchen. This is the counter, the sink and the door that opens up to my little porch with my washer on it.


 These are my gas burners and my fridge. I don’t cook as much as I should but I’m cooking more and more.


 This is my little balcony and my tiny washer. It works really well. It’s all in Chinese and I figured it out. I’m getting pretty good at that.


 This is my dining area of my living room. As you can see I have 2 chairs and 2 little stools. I also  have a nice 2 layered glass table. My table is like a catch all. I don’t have storage and I don’t have many places to put my stuff.


 This is my couch. It is actually pretty comfortable and it can be a second bed if needed. It also is a catch all. I have all my bags and backpacks and coats on it. I try to keep it clean but I don’t use it anyway. I have a tv that doesn’t work because I don’t have cable.


I have a bedroom that is separated from my living room by sliding glass doors that you can only kind of see through.

This is my bed. It’s actually 2 beds on top of each other. It’s not super comfortable but it's not that bad. I think the first night I really slept on a rock. I had to buy a “mattress pad” or should I say another comforter. It is a big bed though which is nice. I have space to sprawl out! On the right I have a closet and a little stand. I also have a night stand next to my bed.


View from my bedroom

View from my bedroom

So that is all I have. My apartment isn’t that big but it’s perfect for what I need. I like my neighborhood, the little store downstairs with the people that I’m getting to know, the small supermarket down the street, how close I am to work, the fact that Jared lives 20 floors above me, and that I’m super close to all modes of transportation. This is my humble abode that I will be leaving in 11 days.