Our study abroad program (the China Studies Institute) tastefully concluded our program with a choice of four different study trips. I orginally wanted to participate in the trip to Tibet, however, we were not able to receive permission from the Chinese government in time. Tibet is now conveniently accessible by train. However, non-Chinese citizens need to acquire official governmental permission in order to visit. I have heard that it is paritcularly difficult for journalists to be permitted. My Modern Chinese History professor, who co-founded the study abroad program, decided to lead a new trip to replace it. He decided to materialize his dream of leading a group of American students on an emulation of Chairman Mao’s Long March. Even though the route would only be maybe a tenth of the actual Long March because of our two-week time constraint, he made sure that the students would endure physical hardship and be able to have a more immersive experience with rural China. Although I was tempted to take the Long March challege, I decided that I was physically inequipped.
Instead, I took the trip themed, “Ethnic Minorities in China”. We visited Xi’an, Chengdu, Leshan, and the province of Yunan.
We began our journey at Xi’an, the longtime ancient capital of many Chinese dynasties. Being an important metropolis and destination on the Silk Road for centuries, Xi’an has been a center for goods and multicultural exchange. We received an orientation session presented by a Chinese professor of Chinese Muslim Studies, who was himself, a Uigyur and practicing Muslim. (My Chinese teacher surprised me, by asking me to conduct simultaneous interpretation for the session. I am gald to have had some basic knowledge of Islam to be able to translate most of the concepts that he described.) He gave us a brieif historical overview of Islam in China (and particularly, the roots of the Muslim community in Xi’an).
We visited the Great Mosque in Xi’an, which is unique for using Oriental architectural styles. We were even lucky enough to catch a prayer in session.
Every city in China has public square areas, for public consumption. When the sun begins to set, dance lines form, whereby women (mostly middle aged or older) perform their dance routines in the name of communal entertainment and physical health. Some of us even joined in! (The routines were quite elaborate, and we were all panting after two songs.)
At the same public square, I convinced my classmates to fly a kite together. Our Chinese teacher guided us in our first kite flying experience in China (it was our first experience in general, for many of us). We probably provided some fresh entertainment for the locals.
At night, we visited the famous nighttime food street in Xi’an, and found ourselves all sorts of delicious food, from bean cakes to quail egg skewers.
Xi’an is enclosed by a city wall around its perimeter, built during the ancient days. The walkway on the wall was much wider than the Great Wall. Today, Xi’an is a bustling medium-sized city. The development was evidenced by the prevalent construction cranes, and shining new buildings.