How a culinary tour around China helped one man rediscover his zest for life

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 11:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 March, 2017, 12:18pm

An increasing number of Chinese people are taking a career break to travel and broaden their experiences and horizons. Li Song, 34, from Beijing is among them. Fed up with a routine job and the high pressure lifestyle in the capital, he resigned last August and began his “Eat around China” trip, which he says has helped him rediscover himself. He spoke to Kristin Huang.

How did you come up with the idea to “Eat around China”?

I love delicious food and all my previous working experiences are related to food. Whenever I watch documentaries like A Bite of China, I feel excited and wish very much to sample more special food in the undiscovered nooks and crannies of China. Plus, from the bottom of my heart, I’ve longed to have a carefree lifestyle. My enthusiasm, passion and sense of achievement doesn’t last long if I start my own business or work for others.

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Last July, I travelled to Yulshul Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Southwestern Qinghai province, such a beautiful place that I didn’t want to leave. So I quit my job after my return and started my “Eat around China” tour in August.

Did you tell your family about your “Eat around China” plan?

No. And actually I didn’t have a specific plan. I just had a vague idea to travel around China, meet new people, make more friends and eat the food I’d never tried. At first, my parents thought I was on a business trip and later when they found out the truth from my cousin, I was already miles away.

They objected because they are conventional Chinese parents. They think a man like me in his 30s should have a family and a stable and decent job. A traveller like me in their eyes is a vagrant.

How do you deal with transportation and accommodation?

I left home with 7,000 yuan (US$1,000). Since I didn’t know when I was going to end my trip, I had to be thrifty in every way. I mainly took trains and buses, not the expensive high-speed railways or planes. Sometimes, I took a free ride if I met someone heading in the same direction. And for accommodation, I lived mostly in friends’ houses or in cheap hostels. Looking back, I was fortunate enough to always find a friend for help no matter where I was, which lowered my costs to a large extent.

How did you choose where to go if you had no formal plan?

Before starting, I decided to link my travel with food. I only choose Yulshul as my first stop because I have friends there who could provide me with accommodation.

My next destinations were only decided on the way, depending on what I saw and felt on the previous stop. So it was pretty casual for me to decide where to go next. After Yulshul, I went to Qinghai’s capital Xining, Golmud in western Qinghai, China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and then down to Shaanxi, Hunan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Taiwan. After spending several weeks in the south of Taiwan, I flew directly to Beijing before the Lunar New Year to reunite with my family.

Which place and which food did you enjoy most?

It’s very hard for me to answer because every place has its own special and delicious foods whose unique flavours cannot be replicated in other regions. I’ve savoured oysters in Zhuhai, dry fruits in Xinjiang, dim sum in Guangzhou, beef and mutton in Qinghai, yoghurt made from yak’s milk in Yulshul, oranges just picked from the trees in Hunan and many other foods. I like them all!

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If I must choose one, it would be the fresh, tender and juicy oysters I tasted in Zhuhai. These were completely different compared to the ones I ate in Beijing. For people living in dry places in northern China like me, it’s a culinary delight.

What was your most unforgettable experience along the way?

When I visited Golmud, I lived with a Mr Ye and his family. He is over 50 and has three children of similar age to me. He owns acres of land planting black medlar trees. I lived with them for weeks, teaching them how to advertise products on new digital media platforms. Ye’s family are all Muslims. This was the first time I have been able to watch closely and experience the Muslim way of life.

What’s more, I felt I was integrated into Ye’s family as if I was another of his sons because I joined them cooking for the whole family, greeting guests and attending the mosque. This kind of experience was so special and I’ll certainly remember it all my life.

Anything unexpected happen on your journey?

I never expected I would be able to earn money from the trip. Whenever I went to a new place, I would search for some local special foods in the markets and then advertise them through my social media network. Amazingly, lots of people wanted to buy from me.

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After my friends put in orders, I handed them to local retailers and charged commission. After five months’ advertising all the way through the trip, I not only covered all my expenses, but also earned about 13,000 yuan.

What has been your biggest gain and loss from your trip?

The “Eat around China” trip has helped me know myself better and prompted me to find a more suitable way of life in the future. The loss is I made my parents very worried. I didn’t fulfil my duty as a son to take care of my own parents.

Will you continue your travels?

Definitely. I will visit more places in China this year. And if money is not a problem, I plan to travel around Asia in two to three years’ time.

What is your message to others after finishing this trip?

Life is short. Young people need to make full use of their precious youth to explore more of the world, which can help you rediscover yourself and find a more comfortable lifestyle to cope with the world.