With our departure date drawing near, our group begins to voice our longing for home. We are ready mentally to go home but we still had a rush of souvenir shopping, school work and the saddest of all, farewell dinners. The people we met in china greeted us liked honored guest and bid farewell as though we knew each other for years. Lots of gifts exchanged, meals shared, hugs for all and tears were shed in our last few days of china. The farewells made me realize how far china really is. Coming to china the distance was 14 hours on plane but leaving feels as though it is five worlds apart. No longer can I simply walk out my room and greet my ‘Chinese family’, who mostly aren’t Chinese, go out and have lunch and dinner with them almost everyday, experience the town together whether for shopping or just for fun. The family that grew as time went on from just a small group of people one from Japan, one from Mexico, one from USA and two from the Bahamas, into an extended family that contained people from around the world.
Coming to china I expected the size and development of the city unlike the other students a little village was far from what I imagined. I had never lived In a big city that had a dense population and heavy smog. So though I expected it I had not a clue how to handle it. Smog, although glum looking, wasn’t a major problem or hindrance and made us appreciate the blue sky a lot more. The sight of seeing a crowd of people in one busy area in the center of town focusing on one thing and being amazed and excited aroused our curiosity. So we investigated what could be the source of such a commotion. The whole crowd was looking up, so we tilted our heads to face the sky expecting aliens or superman. What we saw was a rainbow. A single small rainbow had appeared on a very rare blue sky day, to our group rainbows are a nice sight but we just faintly acknowledge the natural beauty and continue with our lives. Our lives are spoilt with the natural beauty of the world, we have seen such things countless times and have grown indifferent towards them. Compared to the people in our city who were so amazed stopped to take pictures and inquire on this beauty that was alien to them. Fortunes were showered on top of our heads since birth making us take for granted the blue sky, the clean(-ish) public restrooms, a home yard, fresh air, empty sidewalks during the day, late night businesses, foreigners and so on and so forth. China made me appreciate that I experience these things in my daily life.
Food was always a big topic in our group, it was the first and most important reason to get out of the dorms and wonder about town. We went to a lot of chinese food restaurants some were extravagantly decorated and served you with manners and skill while some were plain and slightly worn out and served with sincerity and fondness. The food didn’t differ much in taste or price just the surroundings. Of course the fancier ones were visited more often because it felt safer to eat, but the meager places had a charm of being very very very quick (so quick I think they knew what we wanted before we got there), and awkwardly funny because unlike the staff in the fancy place who knows little English, the staff here only know “hello”. The staff in most restaurants were either really good or really bad, no in-betweens. We have had a few very good ones that would inform you of bad choices and recommend something else. The not so good workers were nearly impossible to get attention from and you have to wait for a while while you awkwardly fail attempts of calling them. Most of the restaurants have this awkward time where the worker stands by the table waiting for the orders as soon as we get the menu, we often take very long making the worker contemplate staying or going. When Chinese food loses its appeal, usually because it’s the similar stuff everywhere, we look for the closest thing to western food that isn’t McDonalds or KFC. We found a few that tried but although some tasted really good it differed enough from western food we would still be craving real western flavors. Shanghai was the exception, all of the food tasted authentic and was really high quality, we took this opportunity to indulge ourselves in cultural food we can’t often find in our home towns. Pizza hut became the default eatery when we were to lazy to explore and though the pizza lacked marinara sauce we enjoyed it. When neither Chinese nor western food appealed to us we would have Korean which we found to be very delicious but only a handful of restaurants were good. Japanese food was rarely eaten because Moe refused to eat there and the few times we did she would comment ” this doesn’t taste like real Japanese food, it is weeeeiird”. I have yet to eat bad tasting Thai food ( although I’ve only had it in 2 places) so I assume they all have above average tasting food, the one we went to I our city was very delicious.
Our group watched as the other international students Chinese vocabulary expanded very fast while ours seemed to have been stuck on old. The others went to class every weekday for three hours and only studied Chinese. Us on the other hand had three our of class a week. Apart from the little we knew to get by and use in common situations we were far behind. Holding a friendly conversation in Chinese stopped at ” how are you?” for us and made it very difficult to have Chinese buddies. We mostly stuck to ourselves because we had tons of free time but only each other to spend it with because the others were busy. If I did this program again I would definitely tried harder to make more friends because the little we did became apart of our family. Chinese is a very hard language and one must study profusely along with the classes in order to learn it, being in China helps a lot. I will try to maintain what I’ve learnt and pick up on more later in life and hopefully make a ton of Chinese friends to talk to.
The trips we took as a group to different cities and historical sites were alright. The majority were too cold and the provided meals were usually bad. Food wise for school trips Beijing was he best and overall would’ve been the more interesting cities we visited but I was to concerned about hurrying through the tours so I could melt my frozen toes in the warm bus that always got stuck in traffic. The role of philosophy and scholars in ancient Chinese impressed me very much be ause I assumed, like most countries, emphasis was paced on war and strength. The school tours didn’t excite me when I learnt of them ,with the exception of the Taishan mountain, but were valuable experiences. The trips we took on our own were pretty nice. Shanghai was my favorite place to visit especially after being in china for so long. The culture mix in Shanghai was refreshing. Shijiazhuang began feeling like my second home, I was very comfortable there and life wasn’t ‘vacationing in china’ anymore it was just normal life now. On this plane I haven’t felt the impact of leaving china yet, it still feels like I will wake up and catch the bus to the center of town with my Chinese family and have brunch. I am very happy to see my real family again but I know I will deeply miss my life in china. We had grown accustomed to the crowd and the stares and other daily life things that only happened in china but some things we still couldn’t process as normal and made us livid. Like the Chinese who kicked up a fuss about the view of a rainbow, we become energetic and awestruck at the view of children pissing and pooping on the sidewalk like a dog. Though the Chinese would be indifferent to this we were dumbfounded, every time.
The stewardess on the plane placed moist towelettes on the trays of every passenger, looking across from Russell on the other side of the hall, an old Chinese man confused it as food and stuck it in his mouth. His female acquaintance, shocked, hurriedly removed it from his mouth, it is now covered in saliva that left a long string attached to his mouth before snapping. We were just as clueless as this man on the subject of china a few months ago and just as he did made assumptions that ended up hindering our experience. But with the help of others we were able to enjoy china for what it really is, we may gotten some drool on it but enjoyable none the less, plus we get an interesting story from it.
We arrived in Shanghai and immediately get a taxi to our accommodations which happen to be a fairly large house (huge in Chinese standards) in an amazing gated community. The house comes with all the amenities of a hotel but much cheaper and it comes with 3 separate rooms and 2 bathrooms as well as free breakfast. The host family, a dutch man and his Chinese wife, were very helpful and had a hand drawn map of the area highlighting areas of interest (i.e, metro, zoo, food). Travel was even made easier due to our place, all we had to do was pick up the phone and the guards will send a taxi to you. This trip was our vacation away from China without leaving China. All of the hoses in our area were western style and we didn’t have an ounce of Chinese food the whole time. We didn’t even have to speak Chinese in some places. We visited the zoo and had a fairly nice time although the panda (our reason of going) was deep asleep far away in a corner. We did other touristy things during our stay but what we really enjoy the most was the food. The diversity in the food was something we couldn’t find in our home towns so we indulged our selves with glee. We went to one of the best Indian cuisine stores in the city and I believe it was the best thing I ate this entire time in China. But the trip was short lived and we soon headed back to our city and told Moe of our time there.
Shortly after returning to Shijiazhuang we had several school trips we had to participate in. But before I talk about those, there are some trips from earlier this semester that I hadn’t mentioned. One of which was our trip to a ‘Plant Zoo’ in our city. We went with the Russians and each got our own two seated bicycle cart type vehicle that had a working and a dummy steering wheel. The most enjoyment was riding those carts and racing the children of our teacher and bus driver down the stone pathways. The scenery was beautiful with a variety of plants and a small lake as well as some green houses that held some exotic plants. There was even a little amusement park, but unfortunately it was closing up when we got there but we managed to stick in a ride on their mini roller coaster. We took a leisurely ride back to the entrance and headed back to campus.
Another trip we partook in was to a long lake in our province. We got into a little boat and road around the lake that was used for fishing and we stopped at different areas one of which had lotus flowers but it was off season so they were nearly dead but there was a huge statue and a building shaped like a turtle that were pleasurable to see. Plus the weather was quite nice on this day. At one point on our trip in the lake we stopped at an area that had different activities and performances, for the most part it was pretty empty or inactive but we watched the performances. We greatly disliked all of the performances especially the one that featured sun bears fighting each other, it totally killed our moods. The meal they provided was mostly fish from the lake, it was alright but not very appetizing.
Fast forward to right after coming from Shanghai, we are on a plane to Xian. The weather is getting colder and colder time goes on and we are now wearing our winter clothes. In Xian like most of our school trips we visit historical sites like the terracotta warriors which were astounding because of the number and detail of the statues. The city was very interesting because the government limited the height of all the building to make the bell tower stand out as well as making the roof designs on the building more ancient looking to appeal to the tourist. It was quite odd to see a fancy modern style building with an old style roof (looked like a funny hat). We also visited the city wall which enclosed some of the city. We were excited to get on our double seated bikes and head off to ride around the whole wall but later realized this is a very hard task. We quickly tire out but still push on, clumsily pushing off on our awkward bikes. It took a very long time so night hit before we could finish. Night time on the wall is a very beautiful sight, the sides are decorated with Chinese lanterns that brighten your path way. Besides our hotel was a famous area called the Muslim quarter that featured Chinese Muslim shops and souvenir shops. The food and objects in that area were very very nice and different and the streets go on and on. But we managed to make the most of it, often times getting separated but it was fun. Xian was one of the more pleasurable trips we went to except the food the tour provided was the worst.
Shortly after Xian we went to Pingyao which was an ancient city mostly made of stone. When we got there the town was freezing! Even with our winter clothes the cold penetrated and chilled us down to our bones. Standing outside was a very painful task but as usual all of our activities were outdoors. Unfortunately for me I had food poisoning so I only got to see an old bank and a mansion with many many rooms before I couldn’t handle anymore and stayed in my hotel room bathroom clutching my stomach. We managed to squeeze in a performance with our dinner then the next day we left. It was a pity because the area was very interesting with food and shops that appeal to tourists but it was too cold to enjoy any of it.
Another trip awaited several days after our return, but this was the final trip. The trip was to Beijing and we set off early in the morning on our bus for 4 hours. When we arrive we immediately have things to do. Due to the fact its mid November it was very very cold so we had to bare with it. First stop after lunch was Tienanmen square which we already visited and was still a giant square, the only difference was far less people (because whose spending time outside in this cold?) we then went across the street to the forbidden palace which was sectioned off into 2 because special guests were expected to come so the rest of us commoners cluttered in one half. Due to the heavy traffic in Beijing we constantly had to just stand in the freezing cold waiting on our bus. The next day we went to summer palace(again) and we just sped through it and didn’t get the opportunity to see the inside of the actual summer palace(again). We also visited the temple of heaven which was also located in a park. It was enjoyable seeing the elderly dance and play, and for that minute it felt warmer. The food we got on this trip was the best out of all (though the competition was quite weak) I actually enjoyed the meals one of which was Peking Duck!
With that was the end of our trips that foreshadowed the end of our whole trip to China. But before that I have essays to write and an exam to study for! After all this time of slacking off I don’t think my brain works so good anymore.
After the mountain climb we were all proud to have accomplished we returned to our city of Shijiazhuang and life returned to normal. So much time has past that this polluted, crowded, smelly city of ours feels like home. We have become accustomed to the stares and “lao wai” comments to the point we don’t even notice anymore. We have frequented places so much some people recognize us.
Though we finally feel we fit in, we grow more and more home sick. Russell goes on and on about hot sauce and Erin(like the rest of us) misses her family. From reading the past students blogs, we got an idea of what we would be missing and what we should bring along on the trip. The only thing we really lacked was the western food we would sometimes crave, but most of the time it was satisfied by western style restaurants. Our craving for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal weren’t so easily satisfied and led us on a chase for these rare goods. We usually just found jelly and no peanut butter but our wonderful teacher Ma Lili led us to one near the school. Cereal was only found once and was very pricey especially for China. We were more than pleased with our PB&J sandwiches due to the freshly made bread which we got from one of the many bakeries in town. However, I quest for good tasting chips and non-soft served icecream (except for ridiculously priced Haagen-Dasz) still haven’t been fulfilled.
After a long and just a slightly troublesome time we finally made a bank account for the best shopping experience yet. “Where?” You may ask, Taobao.com! This wonderful sight is like a Chinese eBay and amazon combined. If anyone is staying in China for a long time I highly recommend making an account. To show it’s true Chinese colors you can even bargain down the price on the sight (though we never did it). Any translator add-on will give a rough translation of the site into English so using the sit is possible but not easy even when you can read little Chinese Rough is a bit weak in describing the nonsense which appears on the page and dears call itself “English”. But you can get by and have a laugh at all the bad English especially the most common and most hilarious “baby” translation. Basically the word for baby and treasure is the same, and the site uses this word ALOT. So phrases like “Search for Baby” and “Types of Baby” are quite frequent. After purchasing the babies on the site you can track them and wait patiently for the delivery man. Most delivery men don’t deliver to the building, instead they call you or send a text telling you to come to a specified gate to get your package. So before ordering learn the related dialogue related to getting a package or make a friend that speaks Chinese and can help with the picking up. Our first few experiences were a little disastrous one had us running between each gate confused (we didn’t even know what deliverymen looked like, turns out they have a big enclosed cart attached to a scooter), the other resulted in no delivery when I answered the phone with “Hello?” which resulted in a hang up and no other contact. But we learnt(which on the phone means just make the sounds “uh uh hao le uh hao uh uh” and everything should work out and you sound like a native born Chinese) and can now successfully pick up our packages. Unfortunately we travel constantly and have to rely on our friend to pick it up for us.
Our next trip wasn’t planned by the school, instead it is just us students travelling on our own to Shanghai! Unfortunately, Moe can’t come because she is worried for her safety (being Japanese) but we promised to bring her back something nice. We are really excited for the trip and are quickly getting everything prepared.
I looked awful in all the pictures, So here is a pic of Russell chillin’ on the top of the mountain.
Some miscellaneous mountain climbing pictures.
The next day of our time in the Shandong province we climbed the Tai mountain. Taishan is one of the five greatest mountains in China not only because of its height but also its historical significance. The mountain has a stairs leading all the way up to the top where a grand gate is there to congratulate you on your arrival. Our tour guide informed us on the saying that if you pass through the gate you gain immortality. Some people, including our teacher Daniel, started climbing from the base of the mountain while the majority started from the half-way point. Those you chose the halfway point took a bus up then began their ascent. There was an option to take a cable car up to the tip top but only Erin chose to go that way.
So we begin walking and realize that all the warnings that it was going to be cold were wrong and quickly take off our jackets. I paired up with Russell and climbed the journey with him. We stepped and stepped and stepped noticing the higher up we were the more expensive things were in the little shops to the side that were present all the way up the mountain. We figured it must be really troublesome to work there due to the massive amount of steps you have to climb. But what was more mind boggling was the old grounds-keepers with grey hair and wrinkly faces that trekked the mountain, what i would assume to be, almost everyday to pick up trash and empty the trash bins. They were very had workers and I hope I have that much strength when I reach their age but I highly doubt it because I lack the strength now.
But step by step we walk up the crooked stairs that change length and height every step up causing a large number of trips and damages to our feet. But we went becoming more sour and tired the higher we go. Eventually we meet up with Moe and her Russian friend(who spoke really good chinese and fluent japanese). We started to climb together but they soon were far ahead of us again as we took more breaks per minute than before. We didn’t feel so bad because most people were the same as us. The higher we got the more people we saw taking breaks. But what really made me question my strength was when Dan, our teacher who started at the base of the mountain, surpassed us. I was disappointed in myself and admired Dan because he didn’t even look that tired.
Finally the gate appeared only a few steps before us and even though I was ready to collapse I pushed on the next few steps and made it to the gate where on of the guides greeted us and told us where to meet. We had an hour before lunch so we rested on top of the cool mountain and waited for the others to reach the top. Once it was time, we ate together and had the option to either walk down the mountain or take the cable car down. I really wanted to ride a cable car so I took that option whilst the others sped down the mountain with our guide. We waited on the line for the cable car for like an hour and the sat cozily in it as we watched the scenery during our descent. We then met up with the others at the halfway point of the mountain then we all took the bus down to the base.
Some nice scenery from the temple and mansion.
A marvelous photo that gives the on looker the impression that the path in the picture is always facing them no matter the angle.