When you travel somewhere, I think you’re always limited in some way. You have less time than locals, so you just go to the most important, or most spectacular places in that city/area. How do you know which places to go to? Travel guides, tour companies, magazines all tell us the best places, and public transport makes it easy for us (non-locals) to access. If there’s a choice between the famous temple that’s on Line 2 of the subway, or the temple that you have to take three buses and a taxi to get to, I know which one most tourists will choose.
But if you’re a local, you have more time to explore your area than a tourist, you probably have access to a car and know from first-hand accounts what places are worth travelling to, rather than just what is mentioned in the guide books.
An example of this happened just yesterday. A local Jinhua family invited me to spend Dragon Boat Festival with them, and we went to Hengdian World Studios (China’s answer to Hollywood). It’s a bit out of the way, but it’s a really great place to visit if you’re living in the south and don’t have time to visit the ‘real versions’ in Beijing, Xi’an etc.
Yesterday, we went to the Old/New Summer Palace scenic area, and we also stayed to watch the night time show. In 1860, British and French troops destroyed the ancient Summer Palace in Beijing, but even though the buildings were gone, four types of special flowers remained. The night time show was about a dragon who fell in love with a pheonix, and this mythical couple travelled to go and find these four special flowers. Then they came back to see that some ‘demons’ had destroyed their home, but they built a bigger, better and more flourishing summer palace so it was a happy ending in the end.
Despite there being a couple of thousand people there, I think I was definitely the only foreigner there. I think not many foreigners will have had the chance to watch this show, so I felt very lucky to be able to watch it.
Looking over the lake, there were so many special effects I didn’t know where to look – fireballs, fountains, a huge LED screen, lit up buildings, fog… it was incredible.
The movie was projected onto three big screens of water, that splayed out like the wings of a peacock, so all the images were 3D. There were fighting dragons, a break dancing dragon, dancing moths and it was just crazy…I don’t know how much money went into producing it, but it just seemed to have everything.
So how can we get these ‘local’ experiences if we’re not locals ourselves? I think the best way is to just get on the streets and do as the locals do, eat with them in the local restaurants rather choosing a BigMac. When the waitress tells you ‘most foreigners like to eat …’, ask her what the local’s favourite is. Even just going to the park can give you a great insight into local life.
So I challenge you to live like a local!