As the Chinese proverb goes: The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. This is exactly what viewers can expect to see in the new travel show, China Diaries, on SABC3.
The show features actress, presenter and model, Leera Mthethwa and her travel sister, model and fitness bunny Khabonina Shabangu. The pair spend 40 days traveling the length and breadth of China, visiting an array of eclectic destinations and showcasing both the best side of travel, and the little hurdles along the way.
With just few episodes in and the two already seem to have experienced a culture-shock. But that doesn’t stop these to wondrous women from exploring the mystery and magic of the world’s most populous country.
We caught up with Shabangu to find out more about her journey so far and what to expect.
Do you enjoy traveling and how are you enjoying China?
"I love travelling. I have previously travelled to Seychelles and Madagascar and now exploring so much of China. The China experience is nothing like I expected. You hear and read so much on social media and media in general about ‘how things are’ in a country but unless you willing to make up your own mind, you’ll never really know. And the only real way to do that is to buy a ticket and get out there."
Director denies being poached for 'Being Bonang'
What has been the best and worst experience so far?
"The worst: There’s only so much of something you can have before you’ve had enough. I certainly didn’t expect the extent that the food is deep fried here. While I’m experimental with my food and willing to give things a go before I bash them; I’m also conscious about what I eat, often preferring the healthier options.
"The best experience is that China has really expanded my horizons in a way I never imagined. The Chinese are so deeply rooted in their culture and history that it’s made me more drawn to my own. South Africa is very westernized and it’s easy to get caught up 'going with the flow' only to find yourself losing or forgetting essential aspects of your roots."
What would you say is the best part of traveling?
"The best part of travelling is learning and then immersing oneself in the culture of the country you’ve travelled to the way of the land. Travelling offers such an incredible learning opportunity and yet you often hear of people who travel to places but spend most of their time in their hotel rooms (travelling is exhausting). Get out there! See as much as you can, ask questions, take a train, ride a bike, visit historical places, and yes, eat the food. There’s so much to see and do, it’s about getting out and doing it. Because that is what living is.
Khabonina Shabangu and Leera Mthethwa. Picture: Supplied
You and Leera are always on the move - how are you coping?
"You need someone who is going to make this fun. If it’s not fun it’s not worth it and Leera makes it so worth it. She's hilarious, genuine and lovely to be around. The language barrier is tough for both of us because we trying to get from A to B and in asking the locals how to get to B; if the response is not a staring contest between us, the locals get their phones out and start taking pictures of us.
"It's evident the Chinese aren’t used to seeing black people and they get very excited. It can be quite invasive sometimes (paparazzi vibes) which is frustrating because like I said we are trying to get somewhere or find something but we need the help of the very same people who are on some #whoopwhoopmyfirstafrican. In the evenings we unpack the events of the day and end up laughing about our challenges and encountered."
What is different about this travel show?
"Firstly, what China Diaries shows is that two black females can take to the world. It is not beyond reach and it is affordable. There are places out there where your safety is not an issue particularly for women. Here are two girls, travelling a foreign land and we know that we are safe-it’s a great feeling I realise I haven’t felt in a long time in SA.
"The guys need to watch this to gain insight and the girls need to watch to see it can be done. Packing is always a big part of traveling- what are the essentials that you made sure you pack?
"Firstly I am OCD about personal hygiene-essential. Secondly technology essentials. Bank cards (take more than one so you're covered). Research the country you going to, what you are going to be doing-pack accordingly. Make sure you know the climate during the season you're travelling. In saying that don’t compromise on looking fabulous and being comfortable. Oh and if you can pack light and take an extra empty suitcase so you can do some shopping- do that."
40 days visiting another country is a long time, would you do it again?
"It is a long time but I'd definitely do it again. Travelling is addictive and makes you curious about the unknown. It somehow gives me answers to questions I didn’t even know I had.
What are some of the highlights viewers can look forward to on China Diaries?
"Leera and I had only just met when we left for China so while we're getting to know each other expect a lot of unpredictable dynamics between us. We tiff and we have misunderstandings but are all each other has in this foreign land. China is an ancient civilisation and they're extremely proud of their history. At the same time it's a progressive nation and their systems just work. The transport system is incredible, the cities are a combination of conservative and advanced. You learn of what western influences are totally banned or unknown to them and which are allowed! We get to see world heritage sites, Wonders of the World and you get to see it through our eyes."
What is the aim of this travel show?
"To excite and ignite a flame in every single one of you to travel a country and really start unpacking the layers the county and the people have to offer. Without allowing differences to get in the way as you discover there can be plenty. To tour the world but not always being a tourist. When you visit a place, there are those touristy things to do but also those things that aren’t put on tourists agenda that make travelling so much more interesting. We show you these."
Khabonina Shabangu and Leera Mthethwa. Picture: Supplied
What advice will you offer time travels?
"From the time you do your planning for travelling just do some research. The laws around travelling change so quickly. If you know someone who travels frequently or has travelled to where you want to go, speak to them about these things. Also budget accordingly: it’s important to know your currency exchange rate versus where you are going so you can plan how you going to spend your money. Don’t spend your time in your hotel, go out and see the place you are visiting.
It makes it so worthwhile. Catch up on sleep in transit or save it all up for when you return. Lastly travel with an open mind, not everything you may have heard is true.
*Catch China Diaries every Wednesday at 20:30 on SABC3.