My jaw dropped and all I could say was, "Wow," after 36 hours traveling from my hometown, Ahuachapan, 100 kilometers west of El Salvador's capital, San Salvador.
Although I am used to long distance traveling, this was my first visit to an Asian country, China, and I was in Shanghai. I was impressed by all the skyscrapers above me, the city's modern well-signaled highways (many in English) and the crowds of people walking and touring along the Bund.
For me, it was like an epiphany. Even though the US and Europe have always impressed me with their progress and development compared with other countries (especially developing countries like mine), this encounter made me realize there is a large part of the world I had no idea about at all.
After graduating from college, my kid had been working here for a year as a teacher and I intended to find out if all her stories – and what the internet says – are true.
After two days in Shanghai, visiting places like the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Financial District shopping at the famous Nanjing Road, we started our trip to where my daughter lives, Hangzhou.
When we arrived, she led us to her apartment, just across the street from the Zhejiang University of Technology. Although it was not as developed as Shanghai in 2016 – no English street signs, only Chinese characters – the people were so friendly they immediately made me feel welcome and appreciated.
Everyone we met was respectful to my daughter and to me by extension: I was her baba and in China, that counts for a lot! Even though I was 55 at the time, according to Western standards not that old, elders are treated with a kind of special respect here. I appreciated that, and in return I would provide the same treatment to whomever we met.
Although there were the expected cultural differences, I learned that family is of great importance in China, as in Latin America, particularly El Salvador. All this made me feel very comfortable and safe about my daughter living here. She could teach a lot, but possibly learn even more from Chinese people than we ever imagined.
Little did I know that this was going to be the city in China with which I would fall deeply fall in love.
I was amazed the first time I saw the West Lake of Hangzhou. Every story I'd heard about it didn't come even close to describing the beauty of its calm waters and its relaxing walking trails, well-kept gardens and surrounding pagodas. The city almost encircles it, so it's like an oasis in the middle of a frantic and continuously growing city.
Visited by thousands every day, all year long, I would undoubtedly nominate it as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. A breathtaking view from the fifth level of the beautiful Leifeng Pagoda gave me confirmation of this.
Afterwards, to relax a little and grab a bite, we visited the famous Long Jing Village, one of the finest green tea plantations in China. Coming from an intensive quality-coffee growing country, it was an all-new but somehow familiar experience that really delighted me because of the similarities between our two highly regarded drinks.
After a six-hour ride on a high-speed train covering the 1,200 kilometers to Beijing, sometimes at 330 kilometers per hour, and a car drive a little way up north, I was facing the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. The world's largest man-made structure built many centuries ago was more than I could ask for.
Using the state-of-the-art funicular to climb to the top, it was inspiring to walk by and absorb the beauty of the landscape. All these experiences moved me to make myself the promise to return to China and learn from its noble people and their ancient culture, only that time I would learn to speak some Chinese. Xi?xie piàoliang Zhōngguó!
J. Roberto Munguia, from El Salvador, Central America, is a College Admission Consultant.
来自中美洲萨尔瓦多的J. Roberto Munguia是一名大学招生顾问。
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.