2011 China Study Trip: Beauty of Southwest
Friday, July 29
The alarm went off at 4:00 in the morning. I didn’t want to get up this early, but I was excited to go to China, so I hurried out of bed. Through the darkness, I took a look at Rhode Island for the last time for a while. Ahead of us we had a long day of travelling. After a four hour layover in Newark, we boarded our plane to China. This was the most daunting part of our journey. We would spend the next fourteen hours on the plane.
After the long plane ride we finally arrived in China. Seeing it for a second time was an amazing sight. Landing in China, we were all tired. It seemed as though we were in a dream world, caught between being asleep and awake. Either way, being in Beijing was spectacular. This dreamlike state continued as we rode on the bus through Beijing.
When we arrived at the hotel, we were relieved to reach our rooms. For a year I had waited for a Chinese dinner. It was so different than regular Chinese food from America. At the end of a delicious dinner featuring ingredients I had never seen before. We had all planned to stay awake for as long as possible to reduce jetlag. This proved harder than we thought as the temptation to sleep became greater and greater. Finally when the appropriate time came we all went to sleep exhausted.
Today was our first full day in China. We woke up to a ringing phone at 6:30. Everyone was still tired, and for two of our groups, an employee had to come and wake us up himself. Nonetheless, we were all refreshed and downstairs for breakfast. Breakfast in China was something that took getting used to. Regarding breakfast food, there was just cereal. However, items that are typically lunch and dinner dishes in America were served. This included dumplings, noodles, cabbage, and MSG powder.
After a quick breakfast, we boarded the bus and headed to our first stop, Tiananmen Square. Being a Saturday, it was filled with people. The square was amazing. Monuments were scattered around the area, with groups everywhere. The best part about Tiananmen was having a picture taken by random Chinese people. After this, there was a short walk to the adjacent Forbidden City. The Forbidden City was awe inspiring. Every court seemed to be more incredible than the last. All of us were blown away by architecture. After four hours of walking, we were relieved to go to lunch.
After lunch, we got back on the bus to see an acrobatics show. I had seen this last year and was very impressed. We went to the Acrobatic show last year, and it was very good. This year however, it was even better. The performers showed real talent and their performance was near flawless. In the theater, there was also a shop to buy souvenirs.
After the acrobatics show, we went to dinner. I went to the restaurant last year, so it was fun to revisit it. After dinner we returned to the Hotel. Those who were still hungry went to a Chinese McDonald’s to compare. It was very similar to those in America, but prices were cheaper.
We woke up at the usual time of 6:30 today. We were all very excited because today we would go to the Great Wall. As we boarded the bus, we made ourselves comfortable and content for the hour long bus ride. However, we could not keep ourselves entertained with iPods and books for long. As we drew nearer, green mountains appeared in the distance. The mountains grew bigger and bigger and offered an impressive view, irresistible to look away from.
When we arrived at the Great Wall we were eager to climb. Unfortunately, it was a very hot day. Just waiting in the parking lot for the tickets caused us to sweat. When the time finally came, the climbing turned out to look easier than it actually is. The steps were steep, so that sometimes it was easier to crawl up using our hands. The stairs were also uneven. One step may be two inches tall, and the next one would be a foot.
We were relieved that the climbing soon became easier after we passed the first tower. It was still a challenge though, and we stopped several times for breaks. Along the way many Chinese tourists asked to take their picture with me and others which we all thought was funny and cool. After several stops and almost a dozen pictures, we had made it to the top. We were all exhausted, but we felt exhilarated to have made it. From the top we had a spectacular view, and through the haze we could see Beijing in the distance.
After, we climbed back down and some more photos we boarded the bus for lunch. The restaurant was in a porcelain factory, and they had a large store where you could purchase many different objects. They ranged incredibly from small and cheap key chains to a six foot porcelain vase which in American money was worth $400,000! We all liked the restaurant because it served French fries and chicken fingers, though the Chinese food was also good.
After a stop at the Olympic Village, which we decided to cut short because of the heat, we went to the Pearl Market. The Pearl Market is an amazing amount of shops, all in a four story building. The first floor consisted mainly of knockoff electronics, which none of us were too keen on buying. The second floor had clothing, and knockoff brand names, which we found to be more popular to buy. The third floor was my favorite, with a crafts section that had chopsticks, stone carvings, and jewelry among many other things. Finally on the fourth floor were the expensive things. You knew everything there was real, but most of it was way out of our price range.
Afterwards we went to Dinner. The restaurant was famous for serving the Beijing delicacy, Peking duck. Famous people like Mao Zedong and Bill Clinton have eaten here. During the dinner, an intern filmed a conversation that would go into a video for learning Chinese. After the delicious dinner, we returned to the hotel. We then all went to the Walmart down the street. It was interesting comparing and contrasting the Walmarts in China and the ones in America. Some funny things we saw were rib eye steak flavored chips and a KFC on the second floor. After the shopping we returned to our rooms after a very long and warm day, Eager to go to Chengdu in the morning.
We were up earlier than usual this morning as we had to leave for Chengdu. It was here that we parted with Long Lao Shi and our tour guide Jerry for a few days. After a traffic jam en route to the airport, we were in a rush. Finally boarding the plane, we relaxed for a relatively short three hour flight.
Landing in Chengdu was a very exciting experience. From the air, green mountains surrounded the city, and rivers and roads cut their way through and around them. Once on the ground it was clear that Chengdu is a city vastly different from Beijing. We had been told that Chengdu is a much more relaxed place, and we noticed how everything seemed less busy. There was less haze, and during the drive to the hotel we could see people relaxing. Our tour guide, Alice, told us that this is normal even on a workday like today.
After arriving at the hotel we went to a pleasant alley. It reminded us of something much older and was very rustic. It consisted of several winding and narrow pedestrian street with shops lining both sides. An observation I made was that there were no aggressive shop owners like in Beijing, but ones that were more pleasant to deal with.
We then went to dinner. It was here where we got our first taste of Sichuan food. Some of the food was very spicy, and not everyone liked it. However, it was one of my favorite dinners we have had so far. After dinner, we took some time to explore a fake apple store, which consisted mostly of older Dell models given white covers and fitted with a white keyboard. Afterward, we returned to the hotel and went into some of the shops nearby. We went into two convenience stores which were very interesting. It was funny to see that instead of old hotdogs sitting on a grill, there were dumplings that looked questionable to say the least.
Today in China we were anxious to spend our first full day in Chengdu. Waking up, we went down to breakfast and were surprised to see a large array of American food. We then boarded the bus for a two hour drive to Du Jiang Yan. Du Jiang Yan is a city outside of Chengdu. Our tour guide told us that Du Jiang Yan was heavily damaged during the earthquake of 2008. Outside Du Jiang Yan, we visited an ancient irrigation system. Built 2,000 years ago, it consists of three main parts. They are the fish mouth levy, flying sand fence, and the bottleneck channel. Without this, the river would flood during the rainy season and dry during the dry season, depriving farmers of water.
We started above the river in a viewing platform. Situated above the river, it provided a great view of the valley. After we had all taken pictures we descended. Down by the river, we crossed a suspension bridge. The river below us roared past as we crossed. We were on edge, because the bridge rocked back and forth as we crossed. It was exciting, as some people on the bridge purposely tried to rock it. Making it across, we continued down the river bank. I was amazed by how old the irrigation system was, and how it had lasted 2,000 years and did not receive anything more than a crack during the earthquake.
After the irrigation system and a lunch at a restaurant nearby, we headed for Qing Chen Shan. Qing Chen is a mountain in the Sichuan province. It is considered a holy site for Daoism, a religion in China. The mountain was covered with thick vegetation, and a winding path cut through the foliage. As we began to climb, we had no idea what we were starting. The walk seemed easy as the stairs started to wind their way up the mountain. As time went on, and our group became spread out, it became harder. Also, we had originally planned to take a cable car, but we soon found out it was broken. This meant we would have to climb the whole way up ourselves. As the minutes turned to hours, exhaustion began to set in. Every so often, we would reach a temple. The temples were extravagantly decorated, yet basic in their purpose. They were more like pavilions. Each one was dedicated to a different god. Daoists would approach the image of the god, and bow before it three times.
As we passed temple after temple, we began to wonder when we would reach the top. We had climbed for around two hours and we could not see the end. We were all sweating and tired, and we were all constantly overpassing each other as our paces fluctuated. Finally, after much energy we had reached the top. On the summit was a pagoda, with a large gold statue inside. You could buy a red ribbon, which you could write on and tie to nearby tree or wall. After writing my name, I tied it to the wall, feeling proud that I had reached the top and had left my name on it.
We then went to dinner at a restaurant famous for tofu. I usually do not like tofu, but Fan sat next to me and made me eat. It turned out that the tofu was very good, and had a lot of spice in it which made it very enjoyable. On the bus ride on the way home, we were informed that we were not going to be visiting a school. Though we were saddened because of this, we made a plan to have a party with the gifts of candy we had brought. After a lot of sugar and many games of Ma Jiang, we were tired, after a few more games of cards, we returned to our rooms to go to sleep.
We awoke this morning to an unfamiliar sight, a dark gray sky. Rain gently pattered against the busy morning streets. We saw firsthand today the friendliness of some Chinese people. While we were eating, two women sat at the empty seats at our table and joined us. After breakfast we got on the bus and headed away from the city. We would be visiting two ancient towns well outside of Chengdu.
At our first town we would have a chance to walk down an alley lined with shops. The buildings were all built with classic Chinese architecture. Gray cement walls with black and slanting shingle roofs. Again, I noticed how passive the shop keepers were when it came to selling their trade. I almost felt guilty trying to barter with them. This was probably a good thing, as they weren’t willing to go too low. At the end of our time to wander we came across a snack stand with interesting foods. Lining the stand were edibles such as cicada, beetle, and scorpion. I had arrived late and was only able to watch my friends finish off the cicadas. However, I was able to get to try a scorpion.
Fear ripped through me as I slid the hot scorpion off the stick. I was gathered in a circle with other travellers as a camera was rolling to capture the moment. I knew I could not go back now, and I stared into what were the eyes of the scorpion. When the count reached three, without thinking, I threw it in my mouth. As I took a tentative bite, I realized it tasted pretty good. It was covered in spice and the meat was tender. It resembles something like popcorn, although it left a bad aftertaste. Nonetheless, I was proud that I had eaten it.
We then got back on the bus to visit another ancient town about an hour away. I spent this time relaxing and taking in the country side. When we arrived, we were astonished by the size of the town. It was several times larger than the last one and much better decorated. Because we had arrived unexpectedly, we ate at whatever restaurant we could find. The result was a restaurant where our dining room was upstairs in a room with a bathroom that had a shower in it. The food was definitely distinct, as it had a more home style taste to it. After a big lunch we were free to explore the town. The architecture was similar to the previous town, but the walls were wood and either black or brown. The most distinctive feature was a river running down the middle of the street. Aside from the major bridges, there were many places along the river where a few stones served as a place to walk on to cross. Also in the river, were little bridges and water wheels that little children could play on. I was struck by the apparent lack of safety regulations in China. In America, there was no way something like this could ever be allowed. I was glad that people took a more relaxed approach to these sorts of things in China.
Because we had such a large lunch, we would go to a restaurant that served snack size meals, kind of like a tapas bar. In the end however, it turned out that we ended up with more food than we would have with a normal dinner. The total count of bowls on the table reached around sixty. After this dinner we got back to the hotel early. We decided to go to KFC for fun.Kyle, wearing his panda suit endeavored to get fifteen hugs in the nearby mall. He succeeded, and was rewarded with KFC. Afterwards, it was raining so we walked back to the hotel fast and spent the rest of the time relaxing in our rooms.
Again the sky was gray when we woke up this morning. As we headed out the door of our hotel, we were sure to grab umbrellas. It had rained yesterday and I had nothing but shorts and a t-shirt. I wanted to be prepared this time.
Our first stop today would be a private school in Chengdu. Although it had been cancelled two days prior, we had been able to book another school. Only a few minutes away, this was a quick ride compared to the two hour long bus rides we took in previous days to travel outside the city. We were surprised when we arrived at a building with a giant sign on it saying “KTV”, what the Chinese call Karaoke. The school was located on the second floor of the building. During the summer, parents who want their children to have an advantage over others send them to a private summer school like this one. In a small reception room, an employee explained that these schools are becoming increasingly popular all over the country. He also mentioned that all of the teachers were former teachers at normal schools.
After the introduction, we went into a classroom full of middle school students learning English. They all spoke it very well, and were unbelievably excited to see us show up. One girl in particular gave a very good introduction. She ended it with her personal motto, “life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you’re going to get” borrowed from Forrest Gump. After this, we went into the reception room with the students. The number slowly grew, and we all found a particular student we talked to the most. Their knowledge of English varied, but English teachers were always nearby to translate. When the time for socializing was over, we exchanged email addresses and posed for a group picture. Then, it was back on the bus.
After lunch, we headed to a museum built on the excavation site of an ancient culture that lived in the Chengdu area. The museum gave us a guided tour around the various halls. There was also an open hanger like area, that contained the earthen outline of a town, with objects like elephant tusks and logs still inside. In the halls, tools like shovels and jade jewelry were on display. It was strange to think that thousands of years ago, a person not entirely different than the people of today made and used those objects on a day to day basis, and thousands of years later, they are behind glass and treasured greatly.
We then went to dinner at a nearby restaurant that specialized in hot pot. I had never had hot pot before, so I wasn’t sure what it would taste like. The principle is similar to that of fondue. Meat is poured into a tray of boiling water which is mixed with various spices and herbs. When your food is cooked, you dip it in sesame oil and consume. The level of spiciness varied. Some were easily tolerable but others were not. Two bites of a meatball required four glasses of soda to bring my mouth back to normal. Afterwards, I was glad I had tried it.
For our final activity of the night, we headed to a nearby tea house. This tea house was famous for its Sichuan Opera performances. While we were served tea, singing and instrumental performances began. The performers were very traditional, both with their high-pitched singing voices and their colorful costumes. While this was happening, I decided to partake in some Chengdu culture by having my ears professionally cleaned. It felt weird at first, letting someone touch your ears with metal instruments, but you soon got used to it. I don’t know if it was just my imagination, but I swore I could hear better afterwards. The final performance was costume and mask changing. Almost by magic, the performers would change the color of their robes. They did it so quickly it mystified everybody. Then, they would move a hand across their face, and the mask would change colors. To prove his supposed transparency, one performer came into the audience and did it right in front of us. When the show was over we headed back to the hotel. It was not time for bed yet though. Many of us needed to exchange money in order to hold the baby pandas tomorrow at the reservation.
This morning the weather had improved compared to the last two days. It was humid and a little hazy, but the sun was poking through. We were all excited for our activity today, visiting a panda breeding facility. We began by driving a little bit out of the city. We arrived at the facility and were astonished by its size. It was essentially a forest, with winding paths cutting through. Along the side of the paths were the enclosures that kept the pandas. Make no mistake, their enclosures were not small. They essentially had a piece of forest to run around in.
My experience with pandas had not always been exciting in the past. Last summer, when I went to the Beijing Zoo, I waited in a long line only to see a sleeping panda for a few seconds. However, the first panda I saw here was lying on its back, lazily chewing at bamboo, only a few feet away from me. This changed my whole perspective on pandas, and I took a lot of photographs.
I was still waiting though, for my chance to hold one. It was pricey to hold one, so I hoped it would be worth it.While waiting, we went into the nearby gift shop, where we bought as many stuffed pandas as we could. As I went into the room, I was given a surgical slipper, plastic gloves, and an apron. I felt like I was going into surgery.
I sat down, and an eleven month panda was dropped on me. He sat there, contently chewing on a piece of apple, oblivious to my existence. An employee took lot of pictures, as I stroked the panda’s wiry fur. The time with it was short, but I loved every minute of it. It was definitely worth the payment. We then went to look at the red pandas. They were a fox color, and more related to raccoons than bears. They were small and scurried along in front of us, eating at food. Towards the end, a baby red panda emerged who was grayer than anything else. After this, we went to the lake on the premises. There were koi fish in the water that swarmed when someone dropped fish food in. They went crazy and would clamber on top of each other, splashing water at us, to get some food.We ate a lunch at the facility that featured bamboo shoots. This is the main diet of a panda so it was interesting to experience what it is like for them. We then headed for a nearby museum. Like the museum yesterday, it was built on top of an excavation site. It featured many pieces of jewelry and ornaments. This museum pertained to an earlier culture that mysteriously disappeared. Many think that they moved and became the first inhabitants of Chengdu but no one knows for sure.
We then had an hour and a half long bus ride to get back to Chengdu. We ate at a restaurant that thankfully wasn’t as spicy as last night. We got back to the hotel early at around seven. We returned early so that we could pack. Tomorrow, we would be staying at a different hotel outside of Chengdu. We had extra time, so we celebrated by getting some KFC delivered to the hotel.
Today was the last morning we would spend in Chengdu. We all loved Chengdu very much, but knew there was more to be done elsewhere. We had been told that we would be visiting a very special museum today, so we were excited. For our last breakfast in the hotel, I helped myself to two large bowls of Coco Crisp, which seemed to taste so much better in China. We then began the bus ride out of the city.
Earlier, we had visited ancient towns in the country, but nothing compared to where the museum was. It was at least an hour and a half drive outside of Chengdu, far from any urbanization. I took many pictures of seemingly anonymous views from the highway. Spanning from all directions away from the road were farmer houses and rice paddies. Then, nestled in a small and rural village was the Jian Chuan Museum Cluster. It was here where we said goodbye to our tour guide, Alice. We took lots of pictures with her and then we entered the museum.
The cluster was huge, basically dominating the entire village, with almost twenty museums. The area was so big our group was shuttled around on elongated golf carts. The reason this museum is special is because it is the only privately owned and ran museum in China. It was built by Mr. Fan, who received an honorary degree from Bryant University along with former President George W. Bush in 2008. Because it is privately owned, it contains exhibitions that you would not find in normal government run museums. This first hit us when we saw a massive memorial to Chinese soldiers that fought during the War Against Japanese Aggression. It composed of metal models of prominent figures. The controversial part was that the soldiers were a mix of communist and nationalist party members.
Another controversial topic in China today is the “Red Age”, which spanned from the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. It was during this time that the Chinese people experienced some of the greatest hardships in their history. Among these was the Great Leap Forward, where rapid forced industrialization caused a nationwide famine. In the museum we saw a massive collection of ration stamps from this time period to save the scarce amount of food and materials. Another trying time was the Cultural Revolution, when Mao, in order to sustain popularity after the failed Great Leap Forward, launched an attack on anything traditional. The act had violent consequences, such as the burning of books and persecution of religions. In the museum, we saw artifacts like letters that fanatical children wrote home to their parents, beginning and ending every piece of correspondence with “Long live Mao.”
After this, we had lunch, where Mr. Fan joined us. We had a donation ceremony led by Dr. Hong Yang of the Confucius Institute in which two books pertaining to the War Against Japanese Aggression were given to the museum. We then went to visit a museum about the Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers were a group of American volunteer pilots, who fought the Japanese Air Force and airlifted supplies to the Chinese resistance when the road to India was captured. The Flying Tigers are not represented in Government Museums, so many Chinese people in the museum had never heard of them.
The last museum we visited for the day was dedicated to the Sichuan Earthquake, also called 5/12 in reference to the day it occurred. It contained graphic pictures from the disaster that the government had banned from showing. Also in the museum were personal effects of victims, as well as uniforms and phones used by the army during the rescue operations.
We ended on a lighter note, by visiting Zhu Jiang Xing. Zhu Jiang Xing is a 200kg pig that survived 36 days buried in rubble. Mr. Fan acquired the pig and it now lives in the museum. There is a joke in China that the pig lives better than most Chinese people, as it has a bedroom, an office, and eats three meals a day.
We then visited the village outside the museum. The museum is still fairly new, and it is located far away from any city. Because of this, very few or maybe even no westerners have ever been to the area. Lots of people were staring at us, fascinated because we looked so different. In the town, we got to explore the shops. It was very similar the other village we visited, just less touristy. We then had dinner where we had lunch. It was here where we found out that all the food in the hotel I prepared by local people, so the food we eat is 100% home style. After dinner we had a journal reading session where we each read one day’s worth of writing. We then had a trivia contest with questions about information in the museum. Tired from a busy museum day, we all went to bed, in a Cultural Revolution themed hotel with a bust of Mao and an authentic book of his quotations.
We woke up early at 6:45 so that we could leave Sichuan Province. I had enjoyed my time in Sichuan and I felt like I could have stayed much longer. However, I was excited in some ways to go back to Beijing. I had missed the aggressive bargaining techniques and the Chinese tourists that wanted to take pictures of us. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and the options were foods I was not used to. Our choices were all dinner foods, which none of us were really in the mood for. After sampling some items, most of us ended up eating from the bowl of peanuts.
We then boarded the bus bound for the Chengdu Airport. I found it ironic that we were driving back into Chengdu only to leave shortly afterwards. The process at the airport went smoothly, and we had an hour in the terminal to kill. I spent this time eating, as the peanuts for breakfast did not keep me full for very long. We then boarded the plane and spent the next three hours trying to relax.
The flight seemed to go by fast and we were soon in Beijing. At the exit of the terminal we were reunited with our tour guide Jerry. He spoke with a British accent and addressed us as his homies. On the bus we were told that we would be going to Hutong Alley. Hutong Alley is a traditional style neighborhood consisting of an intricate network of winding streets that run past very old houses with courtyards. Beijing was once almost entirely composed of Hutongs, but as China grew, almost 70% of them have been razed to make way for newer developments. In Hutong Alley we took a rickshaw ride through the streets. Starting at the bell and drum towers, which are the tallest buildings in the area and were once used to communicate the time to Beijing, we set off. We moved at a slow pace, which was good because it allowed us to take in the surroundings. Everywhere I looked I saw people, either working or relaxing. Pets roamed freely around the area and little children played.
We stopped off to see the inside of a traditional house. The owner explained that his family has lived in there for five generations. We explored his house, playing with two of his eleven cats. We then went to another house to eat dinner. This house was similar to the previous one, and we sat around their dining table. I thought it would be nice to compare, contrast, and take a break from the restaurant food and atmosphere. The food was amazing, and by far one of my favorite dinners on the trip. Every bite regardless of whether it was meat, vegetables, or rice had amazing flavor. What I really liked were the peanuts, which endlessly kept coming. By the end of dinner, we were on our fifth plate.
After dinner we were all tired from the long day of travelling. We remembered that there was a bakery right next to the hotel, so we all bought a piece of cake. We then had a quick shop at Wal-Mart, then went up to our rooms to enjoy our cake and sleep
After a night filled with cake and card games, we were reluctant to wake up. After a visit from hotel staff because we didn’t answer the wakeup call, we were on our way downstairs. Our first stop today would be the Summer Palace. Our tour guide Jerry explained that the Summer Palace used to be on the outskirts of Beijing, but because the city has grown so much, it is now relatively in the center.
Arriving in the Summer Palace, we were struck by its natural environment. Although it was in the middle of Beijing, all I could see was a large lake with pagodas and pavilions dotting the shore. It was hot and soon we were all tired so we rested by the lake under the shade of a large willow tree. I had an excellent view from where I was. I could see the entire lake and the beautiful foothills in the distance. We then walked along the lake, eventually reaching a pagoda.
The pagoda is called the Buddhist Incense Temple. It was built by the infamously corrupt and manipulative Dragon Empress during a war with the British and French to celebrate her birthday. This decision was controversial because the people were suffering the effects of war and her country was in chaos, while she put money elsewhere and celebrated. This epitomizes the corruption that was rampant throughout all the dynasties, not just limited to China. Outside the pagoda, we played the official game of the China Trip, ninja. The object is to get in a circle, and make one movement to slap someone’s hand. Conversely, you can make one movement to escape an attack. This game attracted a lot of attention which made us feel like mini celebrities.
Afterwards, we took a dragon boat across the lake. A dragon boat is a traditional wooden boat with the classic Chinese style slanting roofs. We disembarked at an island in the middle of the lake and walked around. From the island, we had a panoramic view of the green scenery. To get off the island we took the Bridge of 17 Pillars. It is a large, sloping white bridge that looks like it was made of marble. From the bridge, we could see many families moving around the lake in their rented paddleboats, as well as the dragon boats we rode on.
We then left the Summer Palace and had lunch at a nearby restaurant. Afterwards we went to the Temple of Heaven. I took the one hour bus ride to rest, so that I would be refreshed. The hour came and went, but I was still groggy as I exited the bus. The Temple of Heaven is really a massive piece of land. It was a place where the Emperor would go to worship for seasonable weather or to atone for transgressions. On it are two main structures. The first is a large stone mound. At the center of the top, the floor is raised. This is where the emperors once prayed. The second structure looks similar to the stone mound, but it has a pagoda on it. We could only see it from a distance, but even that was very impressive.
After leaving the temple of Heaven, we returned to the Pearl Market, which we visited on our first day in China. Holding the panda in Chengdu had left me low on money, so I had to wait to get some exchanged. My bartering was better than last time, and I felt like I was successful in conserving my cash. Some people however, were less successful. It brought back not so fond memories of last year when I paid 200 yuan for a small statue.
After the Pearl Market and a dinner nearby, the students on the trip went to see the new Harry Potter at the cinema. To get to the cinema, we had to take the subway. The train wasn’t as crowded as I thought it would be, and compared to subways in America, the station and the train were very well cleaned and maintained. Seeing the movie with Chinese subtitles was an enjoyable experience. I felt like I could match some of the characters with the words that were being said. After the movie, and a wizard battle with straws in the lobby of the theater, we returned to the hotel. We went to bed, and prepared for our last full day in China.
Today was our last day in China. We were tired after a night of Harry Potter and were reluctant to wake up. While we were getting ready, we remembered to wear business casual clothes. Today we would be visiting the HanBan headquarters. After lunch we left for the day. The HanBan building was a very interesting building. The building is essentially the headquarters of the Bureau of Education in China. It is them that made this trip possible, so we are very grateful. It had a room called the “Exploratorium” where you could use multimedia to learn about China. One of my favorites was a map of China on a touch screen. On it was every province. When you clicked on a province, it gave you a description of the area and some pictures. From this, I learned that China is a very diverse place. Another area I liked was the folk music section. It had Buddhist chimes, which, after much practice, some of us could make music from. Also, there was a wooden drum, which made the classic “gong” sound.
Afterwards, we went to the National Museum of China. The museum is very new, and only opened a few months ago. It now boasts itself as the largest museum in the world. After a long security process, we entered the main lobby. It was incredibly spacious, and a pristine and shiny white. Long columns held up the high ceiling. Because the museum was new, there were many exhibits that still were not open. The ones I did go into were a collection of ancient Buddhists artifacts, a display of ancient Peruvian relics, and a hall of revolution themed artwork. My favorite was the hall of art. Most of them featured Mao. Whatever political opinions you had, they were very colorful and well-drawn to present the artist’s message to the viewer.
We had lunch on our own in the museum café. During this time, a few of us thought it would be funny to see if McDonald’s would deliver to the museum. To our shock, they did. Lei, a Bryant student, picked up the food outside and checked his McDonald’s bag through security, then gave it to us. After lunch, it was back on the bus to our final stop on the trip, the Silk Market. The Silk Market is very similar to the Pearl Market, except bigger. A cheaper price can be found here, but the shopkeepers are much more aggressive, so it takes skill to do so. This was my last chance to shop in China, and I would miss bargaining very much when I went home. I decided to make the most of it. My bargaining was successful, and I was satisfied that I had bought everything I needed. We then had a pizza buffet dinner at the top of the building. Outside, it was pouring and thunder and lightning cracked loudly. It was then that I remembered I had wanted to buy a pen, but had forgotten. For my last shop, I did my best and tried to buy the best fountain pen for fewer than 100 yuan. I was unsuccessful. For some reason, the keeper wanted 100 yuan, and one US dollar. After this last shop it was back on the bus and back to the hotel. Before arriving, we said goodbye to our tour guide Jerry. Arriving back at the hotel, we stayed up as late as possible, to avoid getting jet lag when we got home.
It has been over a week now since I landed in Providence to meet my family at the airport. On the plane, and during the first few days of being back, I was excited to be home. I had missed the comforts that hotels can’t provide, and it was good to see signs of my own culture again. However, I soon longed to return to China. Visits to New Hampshire and Cape Cod upon my return, pleasant though they were, reminded me I was home.
Things reminded me of China everywhere-yet, signs showed it was not China. The houses did not have the slanting black roofs, signs were in English, and the roads were not in an orderly form of chaos. Every day I would wake up around six or seven, still on China time. Last year I had the same feeling, missing Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Beijing; now I miss Chengdu and Beijing.
This trip has impacted my life in so many ways-it is hard to describe. It reminded me that what happened last year was not a dream-that going to China was a true and real experience. Chengdu was a new place for me and was an amazing city. Last year, the cities we went to were very busy and work oriented. Chengdu, compared to Beijing, is such a peaceful city. Everyone seemed so laid back; it inspired me to bring some of that attitude into my own life. Climbing Qing Chen Shan solidified this feeling, and was by far my favorite experience on the trip. The mountain was such a formidable obstacle that created so much pride to conquer.
Similarly in Beijing, visiting the Great Wall was my favorite experience. Reaching the top, which I failed to do last year, felt like such an improvement. Even though I preferred Chengdu, Beijing was still an amazing place. I felt the nostalgia, having been in some of the same exact places I was last year. Even the hotel was the same, Xiang Da International Hotel. The two places I will miss the most are the Pearl and Silk Markets. I could spend hours in there, and indeed I did. Bartering there was like a sport, and the opponent was the clerk. You had to see past their “that joke price” and “I lose money” defenses. You had to know when to walk away, which was your greatest tool in bartering and should be used sparingly. In China, sometimes I got tired of bartering and all I wanted was to buy something at face value. Now, I wish I could do it everywhere.
Now I am back home, and the euphoria of my return has expired; I hope to improve my Chinese at Bryant during the fall. I will remember my experiences for a long time to come. They will also serve me well in the future, as I work towards some sort of career in the international field. Though I miss China already, I am so glad to have had the chance to go to China, both this year and the last. Regardless of whether I have the opportunity to return in the future, I will forever be happy to have participated in the Startalk Program.