In May/June of 2010 I travelled to the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Changsha. One of the most striking aspects of life in this country is the level of openness that people have between each other. It seems they are far less concerned by the opinions of others than we are in the West. From ballroom dance lessons to poetry recital and even the bathing of children, it all plays out in public space. It's almost as though people don't like to be inside and I admire their ability to break out of their shell and be themselves. In any case I find it at such odds with the extreme secrecy and guarded nature of the nation's government.
For much of the time it was impossible to be fully aware of what was going on around you. It's utter chaos but somehow it all works. It's a country of stark contrasts; you have incredible skyscrapers and jaw dropping architecture within a stone's throw of some of the most derelict streets and buildings I've seen. The air pollution is so bad that you can feel it in the back of your throat and yet a short train ride out of the city takes you into some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes on the planet.
The people have certain quirks which would be extremely rude in the West but after awhile here you begin to understand their cultural context. My experiences were vastly different from the way this country is perceived back home in Australia so if you've never been and intend to visit, don't let the initial culture shock stop you from enjoying this incredible place.