I spent a week traveling through Sichuan province in China with my friends in August 2017.

I saw solar-powered Buddhist sound machines, leave-anywhere bike rentals, lots of tea (I love tea), and more.

Here are some of my favorite new and interesting things that caught my eye during my travels.

Park Anywhere Bike Shares

Bike sharing is very big in China right now. MobikeĀ is kind of similar to Citi Bike in NYC.

But there’s one big difference with these bike shares: you can leave the bikes anywhere. There are no docking stations.

My friend Jenny with one of the bikes.

The bikes look like this. The “brains” are on the box above the back tire: includes a wireless antenna to unlock it with your phone, and a locking mechanism. The front basket acts as a solar charging panel.

Here you can see them parked in a huddle on the street side. There are no docking stations, so people just leave the bikes anywhere.

Foreigners: Hardly Any!

We were often the only non-Chinese in the cities we visited, even at popular tourist attractions: Chengdu at the Panda Zoo, Emei Mountain, Leshan, and Chongqing.

Days would pass without seeing another “white person.”

Attractive gentleman with friendly domestic tourists in background

Here’s me standing in line for the cable car. Maybe 400 people and I’m the only Westerner!

On the entire hike up Mount Emei, from the base to the near-top with thousands of people, I counted only 4 other Westerners.

Compared to other places I’ve been in Asia like Thailand, Hong Kong, Bali, and even Beijing, this felt so different. The places we visited did not seem touristy at all. (Kudos to Michael for taking us off the beaten path!)

Sign in Beijing airport customs hall. We were often times the only non-Chinese.

It was special enough to see a foreigner that we’d often stop and say Hello.

People loved this medal that we awarded Michael for an arbitrary reason. They thought he won the Olympics.

Dogs not on leashes

I saw many people walking their dogs, and they were not on leashes.

A local told me, “Only small dogs can be free because big ones can get out of control and cause traffic jams!”

Popular Card Game

Card game that I saw being played a lot.

Solar Powered Monk Music Box

This device was sitting outside a monastery as we were hiking Mount Emei.

It plays, on repeat, what I assume was Buddhist music and chanting.

Solar-powered Buddhist sound machine. I want one!

Umbrellas to Block out the Sun

People with umbrellas to block the sun. Here I am fitting in like a local.

Stuff for free

I was very impressed at how nice and generous people were

I got so many things for free!

  • Barber shop trim, I wanted a simple “shape up,” they didn’t have a price for it, so I got it for free
  • Tea, restaurant gave me a huge handful of loose leaf tea I liked
  • Shoe shine
  • They don’t accept tips, I tried a few times and it was awkward, it is a different culture
  • Fruit wine near hotel, the alcohol vendor was happy to let our entire group have small tasting cups
  • Michael got some free dishes of food because he was a Westerner and they wanted a picture of him eating there for their website

Family Style Eating

This great family-style eating concept. Click for my dedicated article about it.

Food: BBQ Street Meat Skewers

Delicious snack. Not unique to China, but unique enough that I took a lot of pictures and enjoyed ordering it whenever I was hungry.

Delicious BBQ street meat skewers.

Floating Restaurants

Like this one, seen in Chongqing. We also went to a HUGE floating karaoke bar in Leshan.

Boiled Peanuts

After a friend mentioned to me that there were boiled peanuts in the province we were in, I started to see them everywhere.

Here is one of the more unique examples: it is a small packet of air sealed peanuts that have spicy green peppers mixed in. The cost was about $.35 (thirty five cents).

Boiled peanuts that are air sealed.

Tea Tea Tea

Tea is a huge part of Chinese culture. As a reformed coffee drinker who is now a tea addict, this deep tea culture made me very happy.

People carry their own hot water bottles and are constantly re-filling and re-steeping their leaves.

Hot water thermos left in my room at the monastery with two cups. Thankfully I brought my own tea.

Even the grocery stores have huge, extensive selections of loose leaf tea:

Selection of loose leaf tea at a Carrefour grocery store in Chongqing.

Refreshing cold bottled tea. This is an Oolong tea with no sugar added.

More Misc Observations

  • The speed of the subway train going over the bridge in Chongqing impressed me. So fast, compared to NYC!
  • Relentless construction
  • Phone brands advertised that I’ve never heard of
  • Wechat payments!! Everyone using this, not credit cards
  • Muddy muddy water. All the rivers we saw were a deep mud color
  • Shirtless men at restaurants, or many men with their shirts rolled up, bellies exposed, as a cooling technique to beat the heat. I participated in this local custom and enjoyed it. I don’t think it will be quick to catch on back home in NYC. Also, I was too shy to take pictures of dudes with their bellies exposed, but it was a very different and unique sight to see old men with basically halter-tops.
  • Different types of baby carriers than I’m used to seeing. Custom slings, even something like a cage.
  • Migrant labor
  • Nicely-dressed porters

Conclusion

China is a huge country, and I barely scratched the surface of it.

I was nervous before going on this trip: I don’t speak any of the language, and I don’t think I could place the Sichuan province on a map of the country.

Also, I didn’t think that I liked spicy food.

It turns out, I love Sichuan peppercorns and the mouth-numbing spicy!

I am ready to go back to China and explore even more.

Do you want to go? Maybe my friend Michael Alexis will lead another trip (he led this one, organized the group, set the agenda, and most importantly – got me a local SIM card so I had fast internet).

Sign up for my Friends Newsletter and I’ll send a note the next time we’re planning something like this.

Read my article + lots of yummy food pics from a typical family-style lunch in Leshan, China.

More travel diaries from this trip:

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