Posted by: David Stewart | July 11, 2010

A personal milestone – bittersweet, bizarre, boring and fascinating

This is a somewhat bittersweet personal milestone for me.

Today marks my 30th trip to China. This caused some reflection of the past 29 trips.

  • First trip to the Chinese mainland was late in the year 2001. I’m averaging about 4 trips every year, or about once a quarter.
  • Each trip averages about a week long. So I have spent a little more than half a year in China. This is half a year away from my family (except for the one trip that I took on vacation with my wife and daughters). That’s nothing to be proud or happy about, but I’m very grateful to have a good job that compensates me really well. And my family has supported me really well here.
  • I try to “optimize” wherever I can in travel. This includes trimming down what I pack, reducing costs and expenses, and reducing the aggravation and frustration level wherever possible. I now have packing down to a science, and can pack for a week-long trip in about 15 minutes. My wife is enormously helpful here in lining up stuff I need for the trip in advance.
  • These optimization steps mean I tend to be very boring to travel with. And probably very annoying. I don’t tend to check out new places to eat or visit in Shanghai. It’s just another day at work.
  • Besides my usual target of Shanghai, I have been to Beijing more than half of those 30 trips. I have also visited Nanjing, Chengdu, and Hangzhou (two visits each) and once each to Guangzhou, Sanya, Dalian and Shenyang. I would love to go back to any of these places.
  • There are places I have never visited in China because there was no business reason to go there. These include Xi’an (to see the terracotta warriors), Shenzhen (to see the gardens) and some place they call Shangri-La.
  • My social networking gets totally cut off when I am there. This includes Twitter, Facebook, WordPress and Flickr. This is like cutting off a limb.
  • News, as portrayed in the English-language media in China is utterly different than in western publications like the New York Times. Sometimes, reading coverage about the same event in China Daily and the New York Times online is so different, you wonder if it’s the same event. This is either hilarious or maddening or both.
  • The pace of change in Beijing and Shanghai is stunning. Returning every three months to these places shows continual change. Often this is in the demolition and building space. But often it is in changes (“improvements” I’m sure) in the procedures for traveling through airport security screening or boarding. This can be really annoying, particularly when I try to optimize my travel as much as I can.
  • With absolute certainty: Every single trip has something which surprises me, shocks me, amazes me or amuses me. Things which you would never see in America or likely any place else in the world.
  • The one thing I love the most about traveling to China has been getting into deeper connection with people. In particular, I like private off-hours discussions which build relationships. The most interesting conversations blend into the social, political, spiritual and family connections. I love the people I have gotten to know there, and always look forward to this aspect of China travel.
  • I really hate jet lag. But whatcha gonna do?


  1. I am fascinated by your observations, since you have them from firsthand experience.

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