Why Travel In China Is Like Being the Protagonist In A Fantasy Novel

Andrea just sent me a bunch of fantasy books and I’ve noticed a certain similarity between my reading matter and my life. Some of the reasons overlap with Sinoplice’s brilliant “Why China Is Like An RPG”. Travel in China, like fantasy books, offers an escape from a monotonous life. Money is counted in “pieces” and dragons are real.

1) The way is fraught with peril. There’s no quick travel, the path from point A to Point B is always full of adventures. Come on, Frodo couldn’t just hop on the next plane to Mordor!

2) Dire predictions of doom. In fantasy stories, the protagonists are constantly warned about their destination, just like in China. “I heard of a foreign traveler who tried to reach Penglai by bus. We never saw him again.” or “You seek to visit Beijing? In October? Turn back while you still can!”

3) Searching for rare artifacts. The quester can’t just walk into the blacksmith’s and say “Good morning, I’d like to purchase the ancient, elf-made enchanted sword of the shadowlands, please.” and expect to get what he wants. Where’s the challenge there? Where’s the character development? In China, I can’t just walk into a shop and say “Good morning, I’d like to purchase some deoderant, please.”

4) Adventurers form a traveling party, using their disparate skills to work for a common goal. In my travels, Fresca can read pin yin, Dave can bargain, Will knows everyone in Yantai… (I guess I can make bardic knowledge checks, once in a while? Wait, I’m the protagonist! I don’t have to be useful!)

5) And finally, everyone speaks Common (Pu Tong Hua). Except me, my attempt at Chinese is more like a bad Renn faire accent.

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0 Responses to Why Travel In China Is Like Being the Protagonist In A Fantasy Novel

  1. gonnafly says:


    always take it the fun way, u’ll find it more enjoyable in China:)avoid public holidays when travelling, guess it is true for everywhere:)

    btw,if u dont want to speak pu tong hua, head south to canton, however they dont have much historic places but a good place for nice food.

  2. John says:

    Haha, nice!

    I wish I could add some to your list, but I just realized it’s been way too long since I’ve read a fantasy novel and I can’t think of anything…

  3. Katharine says:

    yeah, that’s true, strangely enough. anyways, found your blog on the BoB site, so just saying hi and wondering where in Yantai you are. i taught in muping district last summer, so that’s why i’m curious. i’m in a different part of china now, but it’s good to come across the name of a familiar place!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey Meg,
    I thought you might enjoy travelling to some exciting spots in China, without leaving your apartment! How? By video, of course. Check out the travel videos I found on http://www.chinaontv.com, a new web site. For mainland travel, click on ‘Travel’ on the home page video channels. The series is called “Getaway”, hosted by a Mandarin-speaking black American guy. For Taiwan travel click on ‘Enjoy Taiwan’. The trips are very enlightening and sometimes funny, at least to me, a flatlander American (Texan). Good luck with your teaching!

  5. Ian Monroe says:

    So if you can’t speak common, does that make you an Orc or something similar? 🙂

    I came across this blog I-don’t-remember-how and have been reading it for the past half hour. Its rather entertaining. Probably some its wish fulfillment, as I want to get out of Missouri. Anyways, Thanks!

  6. Gerry says:

    Visiting a new place is always an adventure and therefore you should take it in a sporting manner.These contents from the fantasy novels actually add to the fun.Try to enjoy it and you’ll have a hell of a time.

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  10. Elke says:

    Makes me want to go there even more 🙂

  11. Meg says:

    Traveling in China really is something special — as long as you aren’t in a hurry to reach your destination, it’s a fantastic experience to travel by bus and train around the country.

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