Shia Shia, Bullshia

The most often repeated lesson we’ve learned while sailing around the world is that people are extremely nice to travelers. Sure, some of them are hoping you’ll be willing to pay for some of their wares, but even in those cases they seem to also enjoy the simple act of making you smile – even when you don’t buy anything. It’s really quite extraordinary. For that reason, the most important phrase you can learn in any foreign language is thank you. The language barrier in China was a little stronger than in the ports leading up to it, but thankfully, saying thank you in Mandarin is not too tough. You just say xie xie with a neutral tone. Clear? Maybe not. Here is how it was explained to us by Marco, our Great Wall guide:

Say shit shit, but drop the ‘t’ and extend the i a little so it sounds more like shia shia–more Snoop Dogg than Garth Brooks, mind you. That’s all there is to it. You’re welcome is similar. It’s búkèqi, but if you lay back, take another sip of gin-‘n-juice and say the word “bullshit” in your best gangsta drawl, you’ll be right on the money. Said properly, it should sound something like boo-shia.

In China we found plenty of opportunities to use our Mandarin linguistic skillz, as there was much that made us feel thankful.

The crazy pace of going around the world in 109 days sometimes causes people to forget to stop and celebrate the moment. Hong Kong malls reminded us. Shia shia.

The people in HK taught us that fashion really is king, especially when it comes to footwear. Shia shia.

On the mainland, we led a Semester at Sea hiking trip to the Great Wall with 68 students, faculty, staff, and lifelong learners. Standing atop the Wall and trying to take in the beauty and the history and the fact that we were in China on the opposite side of the world was a real “pinch me” sort of moment…not the first of the trip but definitely one of the most poignant. We learned from our guides that the story about being able to see the Great Wall with the naked eye from space is a complete falsehood, but learning that in no way diminishes the structure’s grandeur. It’s so big and so long that only 15 people have ever hiked it start to finish. When you consider that China is home to a couple billion people…well, more people have climbed Everest. Enough said.

Our second day of hiking was on a slightly more touristy part of the wall, and there were many vendors selling panda hats. Our ears were freezing, so we were more than happy to buy them. Shia shia for the warmth (and cuteness).

The actual hiking on the Wall did end up being pretty strenuous. Our guide, Marco, was worried that we would strain ourselves or sprain something, so he insisted that we join him in a round of group calisthenics every morning before we headed onto the wall. Shia shia for looking out for us, Comrade Marco.

Warming Up to Hike the Great Wall from Sam and Shannon Bloomquist on Vimeo.

The hotel where we stayed had extra blankets, a.k.a. “sheet covers” in the closet. Same same. Shia shia for the laugh.

After a few days of tough hiking, we spent a little time in the cities. The economic might of China is manifested in its skylines. If you’re reading this from the United States and have children, now would be a good time to enroll them in Mandarin classes. Enroll yourself too, while you’re at it. Shia shia for the wakeup call.

On our last day in China we took an elevator ride up to the top of the World Financial Center and looked out at Shanghai from the world’s tallest observation deck on the 110th floor. Shia shia for the magnificent view.

Shia shia, China, for welcoming us into your world and making it feel like our world, too.

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librarian, writer/editor, floundering guitarist, breakfast addict

mobile software developer, dog owner, hiker, adventure racer, enemy of bureaucracy
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