Or really, you can't do what you want to do, what you _would_ do at home. Especially when you don't know the language, but even when you do. Instead of doing what you want, you can pick from a narrow range of choices which you usually don't actually like.
Think about it: when did you last go sightseeing in your home town? (new residents don't count) It's not actually much fun.
Instead, you get to choose from a narrow range of things that the local culture has made available to you. Luckily, this almost always includes food. And looking at natural things; we can almost all look at things. Museums are just one notch less accessible: if they can afford a translator into your language, you can see those too. Sometimes sports, live music, other cultural things.
But what do you _like_ to do? I like doing a lot of nothing with friends. Riding bikes. Making art. Cooking. Playing board games and solving puzzles. None of those are in the above list. So we end up doing a lot of things that we don't like to do, when we travel, because it's the thing to do. And we often can't control most of that experience, especially if we don't know the language.
Case in point: I am just about to leave the god-forsaken hellhole called Erlangjian Scenic Area on Qinghai Lake. I ended up here due to a lot of things:
- internet guides failed to really explain how to get to Qinghai Lake, other than "share a car"
- I'm alone now, so renting a car and driver for the day would be $100
- I couldn't find other passengers to share the ride with me at the bus station
- there was another bus station I could have tried, but it was mismarked on OpenStreetMap and missing on Baidu
- plus, I was a little wary of drivers on this route anyway, given stories of trips to Qinghai Lake including long stops at jade and jewelry shops
- my guesthouse host told me it was "inconvenient" if you take the bus, not "terrible"
- I figured, ok, public bus to Qinghai Lake, at least it gets me there. Then I can rent a bike maybe, and if not, I can just walk along the lake. Plus, it was late morning, and if I'm going to go I better go.
- oops shit the "scenic area" is *entirely fenced in.* Like, fence going down into the lake. You can rent a bike or walk, but you can't leave this one-square-kilometer area.
I wanted to spend a little time alone looking at a big lake. Biking would have been a bonus. Instead, I got an hour and a half of a crummy crummy tourist trap.
Like, I can't explain in Chinese, "I want to go to the lake, but not the tourist holding pen on the lake." I didn't even know there _was_ a tourist holding pen. I can't explain "no really, I want a bike, and a ride to the trail where the annual race around Qinghai Lake goes, and then just leave me alone and I'll come back in 6 or 8 hours." That's not one of the options on the Xining Tourist Menu.
Eh, so it goes. More thoughts to come about having a purpose when you're traveling, but I'll save that for another post.