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Preparing for Travel in China

Practical Ways to Enrich Your Trip

Chinese Fans and Tai Chi
Red fans accentuate the movements of a tai chi class in Chengdu, China.

Mah jongg lessons was only one way I prepared for my trip to China. I took Mandarin classes, practiced sumi-e ink painting, studied tai chi, and read nearly every book I could find about China. The following suggestions will help you plan your trip to China.

Locate classes in your community. Contact your community college and adult evening school, in addition to specialized centers such as fine art centers, martial arts schools, and language schools. Google your community and the class you'd like to take, such as "mah jongg Denver" or "tai chi Houston," if you are not sure what is available locally.

Take a Chinese language class. Take an introductory class that teaches both language and culture. Your local community college, adult evening school, or a specialized language school are good places to look for classes.

Enroll in an Asian art class. A painting background is not required to learn sumi-e, the art of ink painting. Look for classes at your park district or art center, or consider enrolling in the 3-day class offered in the beautiful setting of the Ox-Bow Summer School of Art in Saugatuck, Michigan (

Learn tai chi. This martial art form has gained popularity in the U.S., with classes offered at senior centers, park districts, and martial arts centers. From Hong Kong to Beijing, tai chi is omnipresent in China.

Enjoy the wealth of books about China. There is no better way to prepare for your China travels than to read histories, memoirs, and fictional accounts of contemporary and historical China. Here are four books I found particularly enlightening:

Jung Chang. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Anchor Books/Doubleday, 1991). A moving account of three generations of Chinese women, who grew up during three very different periods of Chinese history.

Peter Hassler. River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (Harper Collins, 2001). Hessler reflects upon his life as a Peace Corps volunteer working and living as the only westerner in the city of Fuling on the Yangtze River. His detailed account of people and places provides insight into contemporary Chinese society.

Nicole Mones. Lost in Translation (Random House, 1998). A young caucasian woman becomes the translator for a Chinese archaeologist and subsequently falls in love with a Chinese member of the research team. A thought-provoking look at the role of women in China.

Simon Winchester. The River at the Center of the World: A Journey up the Yangtze and Back in Chinese Time (Henry Holt Company, 1996). This memoir entwines the history of China with a vivid description of current geology and cultural geography as the author travels 3,900 miles from Shanghai to the origins of the Yangtze River on the Tibetan border.

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