I love exploring new places. I had never been to Asia, so over winter break I decided to take a trip to southern China and Hong Kong. I had lived in Germany and traveled throughout Europe as well as North America, but Asia was something completely new. I was excited. I booked a flight, got my visas and was ready to go. It was a great adventure and I learned a tremendous amount about both the region and myself. So without further adieu, here are three of the cities I visited, my experiences there and why you should make them part of your next trip.
Before 1839, Guangzhou–then called Canton–was the only port through which Westerners were allowed to trade with China. Although it’s not the sole center of commerce anymore, the city teems with life and commercial activity, with a population over 11 million. Just walking down the street one finds multi-story markets with hundreds of vendors selling clothing, electronic goods and nearly anything else you can imagine. At the same time, nature is just a short metro ride from the city center in the form of Baidu Mountain, a national park with beautiful overlooks of the city skyline. With a first class metro system that puts New York to shame, Guangzhou should definitely be on your list of cities to visit in China.
Young both historically and demographically, Shenzhen is a 30 minute ride by bullet train from Guangzhou. Together with its neighbor Dongguan, these two cities are commonly referred to as the factories of the world. Everything sold in Guangzhou’s markets is produced there. In fact, there is a high chance that something you are wearing today was manufactured in Shenzhen or Dongguan. If you find commerce, manufacturing and global trade at all interesting, Shenzhen is a must see. While there, I found a sportswear vendor called Alibaba and visited their factory. It was incredibly interesting to see a place so integrated into the global economy and speak with the people who operated it. I have never felt more connected to the world than during my time in Shenzhen and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a cool, less touristic experience.
If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Hong Kong is New York on steroids. A global center of finance and banking, Hong Kong occupies a unique position in the world. As part of the British Empire from 1842 to 1997, a distinct flare of British influence remains evident throughout the city. At the same time, over 90 percent of the population is ethnically Chinese, often speaking Cantonese, English and even Mandarin. This mix allows for a unique exchange of eastern and western culture that I have not found anywhere else in the world. Between amazing dim sum–spicy noodle soup with delicious, slow boiled meats–and national parks galore, Hong Kong is a must see for anyone looking to experience something new.
If you ever have the opportunity, I cannot recommend visiting this part of the world strongly enough. Beyond just experiencing a new place, it will open your eyes to the enormity of the global economy and the many ways in which commerce brings us all together through common interest. Why wait? Pick up a book on Mandarin and get going!
Jonathan Meier is a contributor to The Daily Campus Life section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.