By Justin Humphries
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of travelling to another country by yourself. When I was a few minutes away from landing in China this past summer, it felt so surreal. The visible landscape outside the tiny plane window already looked so different from Canada. I was nervous, yet uncontrollably excited.
Before I knew it, the trip was over. I was on a return flight from Beijing to Toronto and I had experienced a lot. For me, nothing compared to visiting another country. It was the most humbling, eye-opening and rewarding experience of my life.
I think I was prepared for most of the culture shock. Since I grew up in a town called Campbellford, which is rural Ontario, I was pretty used to the people spitting all over the place. I also got used to having no personal space pretty quickly. I tried not to apply my Canadian standards to everything and really take advantage of not being polite for once.
I think the most humbling thing to me was seeing how the homeless people lived. My Chinese-born girlfriend, who I travelled with me on my trip, assured me most of them were trying to scam people. Everything from blind girls to mentally-handicapped people would beg in the middle of the beautifully built Beijing subway, but nothing really got to me. I had already convinced myself everything was a scam no matter how bad it seemed.
Near the end of my trip I saw a homeless kid with a homeless baby in a small city. It was probably a scam as well, as it seemed too sad and upsetting to be true. Sometimes I needed to remind myself that even though China has the second largest economy in the world and millions have been pulled out of poverty, there are still millions left behind as the gap between the rich and the poor grows wider. It’s one thing to hear about these problems in the news, but seeing it in person is like night and day.
The staring and pollution are extremely jarring. It’s not as bad as people say in Beijing, at least not in the time I stayed there. When I got off a train in a small city called Taiyuan my eyes began to burn from the pollution. I felt sick just being there for a few minutes. It’s the first time I ever considered missing home since my stay there.
I was also greeted by illegal taxi drivers trying to speak to me in English and simultaneously trying to rip me off since they believed I had money. The staring so was unbearable, I probably would have caused a car accident if I stayed any longer.
I wouldn’t have traded any of my experiences except for maybe more time in China. I learned more about myself in two weeks in China than I have in 20 years of my life. Travelling taught me more than any textbook, classroom or teacher could.
Experience will always be more valuable than knowledge you learn from staying at home, so get out there and see the world with your own eyes.