Two Week Study Trip (Part 3)

4. Lijiang

Lijiang was where we spent a great majority of our time.  Lijiang is known to be one of the most scenic destinations in China.  It is located in the province of Yunnan, which borders Burma, Laos, and Vietnam, and is home to over a dozen ethnic minority groups.

We stayed in a traditional-style hostel built on a mountain.  I frequently felt short of breath after walking for short distances in the high altitude village.  Our snacks also gathered a lot of air pressure!

I also had one of the most delicious meals in Yunnan.  I decided that I was a fan of the food here!  You can see that we really ravaged the food.

Another couple charms arrangement! 

Our stop was the famous scenic park in Lijiang.  A beautiful couple was taking wedding photos.  There were also many signs with silly English translations.

Jade Dragon Snow Mountain!!  We visited a Tibetan-Buddhist Temple that happened to there.  The two monks were very friendly and entertained our questions.  They subsisted on the rice the locals voluntarily brought to them.

After that, we assisted with a Global Village (an NGO) sustainability project involving the burying of old shoes, in the village of Shigu. Shigu was a stopping point during the Long March (a statue commemorates Red Army-villager cooperation and benevolence) and is also next to the first bend of the Yangtze River (one of the two main rivers in China).  It was nice to see local craftwork and artistry in the relatively insulated rural village.

 

 

 

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Two Week Study Trip (Part 2)

2. Chengdu

Chengdu is the famous capital city of Sichuan province.  Sichuan is one of the biggest provinces in China, both in terms of size and population.  Sichuanese cuisine is one of the most well-known and notoriously spicy cuisines to found in China (described in an early post on “Food”).  Modern Chengdu is also a bustling medium-sized city.  During a conversation with a taxi driver, we found out that Chengdu was developing a subway system, with four lines to be opened in the next few months.  From the long lines at the bus stops and fierce competition that we faced when trying to hail down a taxi, the subway system seemed to be much in need.

Jinli is a famous, old-style street in Chengdu.  It is a common destination for tourists and locals drinking tea.  Chengdu is known for its deference for a slower pace of life, where people enjoy long sessions of tea-drinking with their friends.

China is also dotted by these couple charm trees and lockets, whereby couples can lock their fate together by buying a charm and writing their names or other meaningful blessings on them.

There was also a cute mini temple worshipping the god and goddess of the earth.

Chengdu is also famous today for being home to the Panda Research Center!

3. Leshan Giant Buddha

The Leshan Giant Buddha is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world.  It is unique in that it is carved right on a mountain, with highly elaborate drainage systems.  It has become an iconic figure in Chinese pop culture.  It is also an important pilgrimage destination for practicing Buddhists in China.

 

Two Week Study Trip (Part 1)

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. 

1. Xi’an
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.

Spring Festival (a.k.a. Chinese New Year)

I got to spend Spring Festival with my family in Fuzhou, China.  I stayed with my grandfather and my aunt from my dad’s side.  I also visited my maternal grandparents and my cousin of fourteen years.  Because I bought my plane ticket really late, I actually arrived at my grandfather’s house right at midnight on the eve of New Years.  We got to see all the midnight fireworks fly into the air in our drive back from the airport.  We had a special dinner with assorted hotpot (mostly seafood), in our dimly lit kitchen.  My grandfather lives very simply and traditionally.  Even though his children bought him various technological gadgets such as an electric stovetop, he is more comfortable with his wood-burning stove.  He still resides in the rural village where my ancestors are from.  I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to spend time with him, especially the Spring Festival, which is such a family-oriented holiday.  We hiked together on the historic Buddhist mountain, where many emperors used to come and give their blessings, he taught me calligraphy, and we walked around town.  I enjoyed watching him chat away with his buddies that he’s know for life, literally.  I woke up at the crack of dawn every morning to the sound of firecrackers (supposedly it brings you good fortune to set off as many firecrackers as you can get your hands on). It felt indescribably beautiful.

 

Ancient sites in Beijing

1. Great Wall

There is a Chinese saying that essentially says you are not a real ‘man’ until you set foot on the Great Wall. 

2. Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City. 

It is tricky to find the perfect spot to take the perfect photo at Tiananmen Square with Mao’s portrait and the Chinese flag flying in the background, AND without other tourists in the background.  It was a feat that was accomplished from the pure determination of our Chinese laoshis (teachers).  Tiananmen Square even featured huge LCD screens featuring nature scenery from China.

3. Summer Palace

The Summer Palace was the summer resort of the Qing imperial family.  The palace exemplifies the Empress Dowager Cixi’s wasteful splurge while Qing China was fatally faltering.  She even fashioned herself a ship carved out of stone that was made to not be able to sail.  A great place for a romantic ferry ride!  There were also old men showcasing their water calligraphy skills on the slate ground.  Rock gardens are also a critical component of Qing palaces.

 

 

Shanghai

A few friends and I took a weekend trip to Shanghai via overnight train.  The train system in China is quite elaborate and hi-tech.  We were all a little disappointed that the bullet train between Beijing and Shanghai would not be finished until right after we were scheduled to depart.  The overnight train took 9 hours and the bullet train is designed to cut the time by at least half.  We bought tickets for “soft sleepers” at our school’s ticket office after much frustration on our behalf over the availability of tickets, the long lines, and the hours of operation of the office, etc.  The train terminal was as exquisite as an aiport terminal.  Our soft sleepers turned out to be reasonably comfortable, with four sleepers to a room.  I made conversation with a friendly old couple below me and we discussed good eats in Beijing.  They were surprised by our level of independence (travelling abroad to a foreign country, etc.). 

Shanghai was a breath of fresh air from Beijing.  Not only did it feel like a bigger and more genuine city, but it was also greener.  It was the first time that I had seen actual grass in months!

We stayed at a traditional style hostel close to city center.  They even had a friendly kitten and a rooftop cafe–where we all got egg, ham, tomato, and cucumber sandwiches.  The cafe had a very quaint and almost hippie feel that felt Western and familiar. 

In two days, we somehow managed to speed tour and see everything that we wanted to see in Shanghai, including the Bund, Nanjing Street (akin to a Times Square), the Shanghai Museum, Xintiandi (a modern, chic district), and the First Communist Museum (an unexpected find).

The subway trains in Shanghai are wider than in Beijing!  I wonder why Beijing did not do this, maybe this would help with the congestion.

Save my lungs!

Lung disease is a major cause of death in China.  One wonders why?  Among men, especially of the previous generation, it is uncommon for them to not smoke. Among the younger generation, smoking is especially prevalent among males in northern China.  Northern China has a reputation of having the tough and hardy northerners.  Aggravating the widespread smoking is that lack of enforcement of laws that forbid smoking in public places, such as restaurants.  Smokers wholesomely ignore the “no smoking” signs.  Once, when we asked a waitress to ask the smokers next to us to please stop smoking, she apologized helplessly and said that there was nothing that she could do, it was the culture there. 

In addition to the widespread smoking, Chinese cities are notorious for their smog.  Beijing is arguably the world’s smog capital.  The condescending purple-pinkish haze is visible in the atmosphere every night.  The gray smog is more visible some days than others.  SARS masks have become Smog Masks, featuring designs from Hello Kitty to Burberry.  It made me understand how it must have felt like during the industrial ages in the United States and Europe–the famous paintings of smog were not exaggerations!