Thursday, July 1, 2010

Week 4

Jilin is not a hot spot for Western, or really any non-Chinese, tourists. I’ve seen three non-Asian people since I arrived—two girls with matching braids and long skirts, and one guy in a hair salon getting a serious mullet. China may not be the fantasy travel destination for most American tourists, and I doubt that Jilin has made any “Top 10 Places to See Before You Die” lists. But during the past few weeks, I’ve been convinced that maybe that needs to change.

Here are a four reasons that Jilin should be your next vacation destination.

1. Family-style dining. Who hasn’t agonized over trying to select the perfect dish at a new restaurant? You know you’ve been torn between your old favorites and the delectable, innovative adventure described on the menu. Who hasn’t sat at a restaurant and envied a neighbor’s meal as you force down a subpar dish—that was more expensive than that close, yet so far gem. Here in China, you never have to make those choices. Every meal is eaten family-style—plates crowd the center of the table for a small group, and they spin around a lazy Susan for easy access for a larger party. You’re never committed to a single dish, and if you find something you love, you can take as much as your chopsticks can handle.

2. Fireworks. If you love firecrackers and cheap fireworks, this may be the place for you. Every new restaurant and shop announces its grand opening with a quick round—and you can hear them frequently throughout the day.( I’ll admit, that I was a little worried when I first heard them, but I was quickly reassured: “No, those aren’t gun shots.”)

3. Public Dancing. There’s a comedy group in the US that regularly organizes choreographed dances in public places just to bring a smile, and perhaps confuse, the people passing by the mall, train station, or other selected public space. (They’ve documented their work on YouTube—which you cannot access in China, but may be able to find if you are stateside). Here in Jilin, public dancing is no joke, and it’s definitely not out of the ordinary. Pick your flavor—line dancing or traditional Chinese dancing? Modern clothes or classic costumes? Ancient instruments or guitars, drums, and the occasional piano? Even though it’s not surprising any more, it still brings a smile to my face.

4. Dogs. I do not have a dog, and I do not want a dog. If you have a dog, I’m sure that I love it, and I want to pet it every time I come to your house, but I have to admit, that the dogs in my neighborhood in Little Rock have made me resent those furry friends more than ever. But Jilin is changing all of that. All of the dogs that I have seen are extremely well-behaved, and moreover, especially cute. Even though leashes are rare, I’ve never been barked at, chased, or otherwise harassed (as I am every time I walk by my neighbor’s monsters on Pine Street). And although I do like the look and potential usefulness of a large dog (see Disney’s “Iron Will” or Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”), I prefer to interact with smaller critters. I’ve seen one husky here, but most of the others may be pushing four or five pounds.

If you still aren’t convinced—just ask me directly, and I’ll give you a compelling reason to book Jilin for your next international experience. (Just make sure you fly into Changchun, since there’s not actually an airport here.)

Are you in Memphis? Come to Jilin—it’s much cooler in the summer.

Are you into locally grown foods? Come to Jilin—it’d be tough to eat any fruits or vegetables that are not grown in this country.

Are you an early riser? Come to Jilin—the sun is up and waiting for you by 4:00am.

Do you want to learn Mandarin? Come to Jilin—it’ll be tough to find many people that speak English, and you’ll be forced to work on your language skills.

Are you stressed and overloaded at work? Come to Jilin—there’s an hour for “resting” after lunch, and the work day ends at 4:00pm.

I’ll admit that these reasons may not all be unique to Jilin—other regions of China share similar features. But this is a good place, and I’m right where I want to be.