‘Trip of a lifetime’: Local man returns from two-month stay in China

Holly Viers • Jul 2, 2017 at 12:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Johnny Elliott is no stranger to traveling on the job.

Though he has traveled all over the country for his career, he expanded his horizons internationally earlier this year, when he embarked on a two-month business trip to China.

“It was just a trip of a lifetime,” Elliott said. “I feel so blessed to have had that opportunity.”

Elliott, an engineer with a local food processing company, said he visited China to train engineers who work for his company’s Chinese plant. Starting in Shanghai, Elliott traveled to several cities, including the country’s capital, Beijing.

While he wasn’t on the job, Elliott learned about Chinese culture and visited several well-known attractions, including the Great Wall of China, Summer Palace, the Forbidden City and the Terracotta Army.

He also noticed several cultural differences between China and the U.S., which changed his worldview.

“They’re not even allowed to see a lot of the stuff that we have over here, the freedoms that we have, the stuff that we take for granted every day,” Elliott said. “It opened my eyes to that.”


With a population of around 1.4 billion, according to the World Bank, China is the most populous country in the world.

Elliott said Shanghai is home to 24 million people, and Beijing is close behind with 21 million. That compares to the population of the entire state of Texas, which is estimated to be around 27 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Elliott said that while China used to enforce a one-child limit per family, that limit has since been raised to two children because of the country’s declining population.


Elliott said some of the biggest differences he noticed between China and the U.S. related to food. At restaurants, Elliott said guests were seated at round tables, with smaller spinning tables in the center of each table. The food was placed on the smaller tables, and as guests spun the table around, they could pick off what they wanted using chopsticks.

The food itself was also different, Elliott said. Most of the locals he observed ate mainly meat and greens, with little to no carbs in their diets. They also ate foods that are not commonly consumed in the U.S., such as donkey meat.

“It’s like the Atkins diet; that’s why they stay so skinny,” Elliott said. “They eat no carbs, but they eat all the time.”


Elliott said that although there are traffic lights lining the city streets, many Chinese drivers do not obey them and consider them optional.

“They drive and just push each other out of the way,” Elliott said. “Nobody looks. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Chinese citizens who live in a city such as Shanghai or Beijing often travel by foot, car or bike, Elliott said. Bus travel is also common for many of the factory workers.

“They have these huge factories, and they bus these people from home to the factories,” Elliott said. “That’s their life. That’s all they do is work and go home.”


Once he arrived in Shanghai, Elliott said he was struck by the thick smog and unpleasant smell that surpassed anything he had ever experienced in the U.S.

“It had a different funny smell to it, like it had chemicals in it or something,” Elliott said. “It was really odd, and a lot of people wore masks.”

Elliott added that the experience helped him gain a new appreciation for environmental regulations in the U.S.

“When I went over there, I was so thankful we have the EPA in this country,” Elliott said. “This is heaven over here compared to over there, as far as pollution.”


Elliott said that while the U.S. supports free-thinking, the Chinese government controls what its citizens have access to when it comes to information. While he was in China, Elliott said he was unable to use Google or Facebook, which made it difficult to keep up with current events.

To communicate with each other, Elliott said many Chinese citizens use WeChat, a cell phone app for messaging, calling and paying for items.

“It’s how they connect with each other,” he said. “Everything goes through WeChat.”


Elliott said that whereas the U.S. went through a significant expansion period after World War II, China is going through its expansion phase now, constructing new roads, buildings, factories and other structures.

“Their building capabilities and how far advanced they are in their factories (was the most surprising thing to me),” Elliott said. “I was expecting to go into a country that had small facilities, but these facilities were huge.”

Not only are the Chinese expanding, but Elliott said they are doing so in an impressive way.

“If America thinks it is more advanced than China, it is wrong,” Elliott said. “That’s scary.”

In spite of the differing culture and crowded cities, Elliott said he was never afraid during his trip.

“I had a colleague who asked me, ‘Were you afraid over there?’ Elliott said. “I said no, because I know God is with me at all times.”

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