Happy 68th National Day!
The Chinese National Day on 1st October is seen as the anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. On this date in 1949, the Central People’s Government formed with the help of Mao Zedong, celebrated with a ceremony on the Tian’anmen Square (天安门广场). However, the exact founding date of the PRC was the 21st September 1949.
The National Day marks the first day of one of the two Chinese Golden Week holidays. The Golden Week (黄金周) gives Chinese people the chance to travel or visit their family because of the seven continuous days of holiday. Officially three days of paid holiday is provided, but these three days are extended by bridge holidays. Working on surrounding weekends compensate these bridge holidays. The intention of the government doing this re-arrangement is not only for the Chinese people. Primarily it should stimulate the Chinese tourism industry which is steadily growing.
Famous tourist attractions, popular travel destinations, airports, trains and hotels crowd with Chinese people. Everyone wants to use their limited free time for travelling and visiting the country in which they are living. So, for travel during the Golden Weeks, less popular destinations are recommended or be prepared for long waiting times for popular tourist areas.
Traditions and activities
There are several traditions and activities when celebrating the National Day. Throughout the whole country they are relatively similar, even in Hong Kong and Macau. There are many different shows like dance, song and light shows. There are flag raising ceremonies by uniformed troops like in Beijing on the Tian’anmen Square, military reviews and parades. In the evenings there are fireworks everywhere. Red lanterns, banner scrolls, Chinese flags and portraits of Mao Zedong, founding father of the PRC, decorate all public places ostentatiously.
To demonstrate the Chinese public worship of the founding father of the PRC the portrait of Mao Zedong at Tian’anmen Gate Tower in Beijing has changed every year since 1949.
The Chinese government sponsors all these activities, shows and decoration because they express the patriotic feelings of the Chinese people towards their fatherland.
During the Golden Week, government offices and factories often close for several days. However, shops, malls and sights are open. They profit the most from the Golden Weeks because people have time to spend their money.
So, enjoy the new impressions of another kind of busy China and don’t spend too much money! Have a nice free week!
Over the Chinese New Year period, our interns enjoyed an authentic homestay experience. Calum and Alejandra both left the city to experience a traditional Chinese New Year with their respective homestay families.
Calum’s Homestay CNY Experience in Dali
First off, I must thank my host-family for bringing me along with them for their New Year’s trip to Dali, their generosity regularly astounds me! I struggle to imagine ways they could give me a better experience here in China. Dali sits on the banks of the Erhai Lake, surrounded by mountains. Just a short flight of a little over an hour brought us out of Chengdu, and under the blue skies and sun of Yunnan Province.
Our hotel had a very homely feel, with relatively bare corridors leading to beautifully furnished rooms. The owners were an amiable family of husband, wife, and daughter. Much of the furnishing had been done by the husband, himself a keen carpenter. Each piece of the garden and the house had its own individuality. While there was no clear theme to any of it, somehow, they all came together perfectly to make us feel at home. Meals were all homemade, and I must be honest, I think Yunnan edges out Sichuan for cuisine…
The relatively small size of the business meant that often the hotel owners could accompany us on outings, guiding us through the local countryside. Experiencing Dali’s Old Town was something special. Buildings were an eclectic mix of efficient concrete structure designed to keep cool in the summer. Beautiful traditional Chinese architecture, all gilded with generous amounts of neon. This gave it an almost Vegas-like feel at times, while just two dozen metres back from the main road sat simple farming buildings. Industrious locals all trying to find something unique with which to set themselves apart and earn their living was a pleasure to see. There are some absolute gems hidden away in those streets for those willing to seek them out!
The whole trip was just the right length to shake up my Chengdu routine. Every day discovering a little more of the fountain of different cultures that is China. Perhaps in the future, I will be able to bring my family to see the area and meet the hotel family. Although I could go on for hours about how excellently they treat all their guests, I can tell without a doubt that the pleasure is all theirs!
Alejandra’s Countryside Homestay Experience
Chinese New Year with my host family was quite an experience. It started with a visit to Leshan, my host mum’s hometown. I visited a cousin whom I had met previously and who is kind of a genius with Chinese medicine (yes, I have had quite a few sessions of hot cupping and acupuncture). I went orange picking in Leshan and had an amazing lunch after. Everything is so fresh in the countryside! After lunch, I learnt how to fly cards. First time lucky I managed to fly a card just right and slice through an Aloe Vera plant. The cousin was denting tea cans with every card he flew- I need a lot more practice!
After Leshan, we head off to Guang’an, about 4 hours away from Chengdu, where my host family’s father is from. As a foreigner, you become the town’s talk in a very good way. People want to come say hi and meet you. I spent my evening playing cards, running around racing with the children and playing badminton. Once you are that far away from the city air is so fresh you’re going to want to be out walking all the time.
However, the next day the Winter Olympics were on and we were all a little tired so we decided to spend the day just chilling, except the host grand parents- they never never stop! They are farmers and their cooking is incredible, with everything they cooked grown and picked from their garden. They are so strong, healthy and always very hospitable and smiley. I offered to help but they said guests were not allowed to help. I managed to quickly pick up the plates once or twice after dinner when they weren’t looking (I call that an achievement!)
New Year’s Eve was also spent at home. I thought we’d go out to town and look at lanterns and fireworks but in the countryside, the New Year’s Eve is spent at home with all the family gathered. No disappointment there at all. We had a great time at dinner then… Fireworks concert just before midnight until 6 am. Everyone in the neighbourhood takes turns and fires amazing rounds of fireworks.
After and during the fireworks, we all went upstairs and watched the New Year’s gala on the TV. I understood half of the comedy sketches, but it was good fun watching everyone laugh. There also some dancing, singing and acrobatic performances that were all YUP! ASIAN LEVEL! INSANELY PRECISE. We then called it a night for an early wake-up call.
Chinese New Year!
I had no idea what it would be like but the amount of people that Guang’an had made it look more like a big city than a town. Turns out it is good luck to spend the entire New Year’s day outside your home. I spent the whole day with my host father playing cards and just having a good laugh and banter with his old school friends. I became one of the lads for the day. The town looked like a mix between a children’s fair and a tea house full of Mahjong and card adult players. Then towards night time it was Baijiu and dinner time. Let’s just say I had a really good night’s sleep after such a long day.
Finally, the trip to the countryside made me realise how different traditions are but also how immensely hospitable Chinese people are. The family welcomed me with open arms and were always asking twice if I was okay. Even when you insist you are alright, they always want to make sure you are more than alright and this just shows how giving and kind their character is.
Want to experience a traditional Chinese New Year yourself? Apply Now!
春节 （the Spring Festival）or the 农历新年 (the Lunar New Year) is fast approaching! The new year of the dog begins Friday the 16th of February, with the first new moon of the year. The holiday can fall between the 21st of January and the 20th of February. People start to celebrate the day before the New Year and continue until the 15th day – the Lantern Festival. This year the Lantern festival takes places on the 2nd of March, when people will release red Lanterns to symbolise letting go of the past and moving on into the new year!
Chinese New Year and the Chinese Zodiac
The Chinese zodiac is divided into 12 animals; similar to the 12 Western Zodiacs, however each Zodiac represents a year as opposed to a month. This passes in cycles with each year also being associated with an element. 2018 will be the year of the Earth dog, which is the 11th animal in the 12-year cycle.
Your Birth Year ‘本命年’:
The year you are born in decides your zodiac and you won’t be in your zodiac year again for another 12 years! Surprisingly, your zodiac years are the considered the unluckiest in your life and unfortunate events in this year could have lasting effects on you for the rest of your life! So, you are suggested to take extra care to avoid incurring bad luck. Many Chinese people will buy lucky items as talismans, such as red underwear with lucky characters stitched on.
There are also lucky numbers, cardinal directions and colours associated with your zodiac. 3, 4 and 9 are lucky for people born in the year of the dog, as are the colours green, red and purple.
The Origins of Chinese New Year
Every year around the new Lunar Year, a mythological beast called Nian was said to come and lay waste to towns and eat people, particularly children. Everyone would hide from the beast until he left. One year an old man appeared and refused to go into hiding, and decided he wanted to get revenge on the Nian. He put red papers up around the door of his house with lucky symbols and set off loud firecrackers. The day after, the villagers discovered that their town wasn’t destroyed. They believed that the old man was in fact a god that came to save them. The villagers then realised that the the colour red and loud noises deterred the beast. Next New Year the villagers hung up red lanterns, wore red clothes, and placed red character scrolls on windows and doors, and they set off firecrackers to frighten away the monster. Ever since, Nian never returned to scare the villagers!
Characters on the Door
You will see Chinese phrases on red scrolls around doorways, such as ‘出入平安’ , meaning peace wherever you go. The most common character is ‘福’ Fú which means fortune or luck. It is often placed in the centre of the door to ones home, and sometimes you will see that the character has been placed upside down. This is because by placing it upside down there is an added meaning to the character:
Homonyms are common in Chinese language. The Chinese expression ‘福倒了‘ and ’福到了‘ sound identical, so to have 福 upside down also means to have fortune arrive.
New Years Day Celebrations
On New Years day young family members are given red envelopes called hongbao (‘红包) filled with money, fireworks are set off, dumplings are devoured and relatives are put up with. It is a time when Chinese families reunite, with some people travelling vast distances to see their family. The Spring festival period is host to the largest migration of people on earth, with almost 3 billion journeys being made!
Here are some common greetings to say on the New year:
Taboos to avoid doing on the first day of the festival:
- Debt: You should not lend money on the day, and debts should be paid before New Year’s Eve.
- Washing hair: you’ll wash away your wealth for the year.
- Sharp objects: if you cut yourself it is extremely unlucky.
- Sweeping and cleaning: If you sweep up then your wealth will be swept away.
- Theft: If someone steals from you then your wealth for the year will be ‘stolen.’
- Killing anything: Similar to sharp objects, anything associated with blood is very bad luck.
- Taking Medicine: you’ll be ill all year.
- Monochrome clothing: White and black are the colours associated with sorrow in China.
- Giving specific types of gifts: scissors, clocks, or anything with the number 4 (it sounds like death 死) and shoes (they sound like evil!)
Have a happy New Year and remember, watch out for evil shoes!
Over the highway from the extravagant Huafa Mall and new town’s glass palaces lie the backstreets of old Beishan district, where wooden doors creak and electrical cables drape between buildings like bunting. Hipster noodle bars, cafes and even a tattoo shop seemingly add modern charm to the oldest district in central Zhuhai. Beishan Hall, a cultural institution, stands monumentally affront the labyrinth of streets. Its decaying grey walls mark the transition from new to old, from westernized to gentrified traditional.
The hall’s courtyard is framed with red lanterns and bonsai trees, while the rooms hold lavish costumes, books and art. Over summer especially, the institution boasts a program of shows, concerts and even a yearly Jazz festival launched in 2010. Consequently, Beishan Hall has become somewhat of a cultural center, with music institutes and art centers set up nearby.
On a regular weekend, however, the hall’s art cafe is available to escape both the weather and reality. Along with good quality fresh coffee you can flip through the thick, grainy pages of their exquisite book collection to a soundtrack of calming Chinese music. Adorning the shelves are translations of classics such as Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ or Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’, if your level of Chinese doesn’t quite stretch that far, however, beautiful art books – and a peculiarly high number of photographs of Bob Dylan – are also available. Beishan Hall is therefor a perfect way to spend a slow Sunday morning.
On the eve of 31 October, many Western countries come alight with the glow of countless jack-o’-lanterns that signify the arrival of Halloween. In China, Halloween celebrations among the younger generation are gradually becoming more and more popular. Kids’ Halloween parties and pumpkin-carving is becoming a favourite with less conservative parents in big cities. Nonetheless, apart from a few expat-oriented bars and pubs, the practice of dressing-up is nowhere near as widespread as in the West.
There is, however, no shortage of traditional festivals dedicated to the dead in Chinese culture. In fact, the majority of festivals contain an element of sacrificing offerings in the form of money, food and wine to deceased ancestors. Qing Ming Festival, Ghost Festival and Spring Festival are among the better-known ones.
The Ghost Festival, also known as the Hungry Ghost festival, falls on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It stems from Taoist and Buddhist belief that on this day the gate that separates the world of the dead from the world of the living opens, and ghosts are believed to visit the living in their homes. To appease the hungry ghosts, their living descendants prepare elaborate feasts and burn joss paper. In many ways, the Hungry Ghost festival is similar to Halloween in the West.
The Qing Ming Festival is celebrated 108 days after the winter solstice. During the Qing Ming Festival, unlike during the hungry Ghost festival, the living visit the dead at their graves and bring offerings in the form of food, wine and chopsticks. They sweep the graves and burn joss money and firecrackers.
The Spring Festival, the most well-known among all Chinese festivals, is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, the Spring festival was a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. During the Spring festival, the whole family gathers from different cities and provinces for a reunion. Offerings to ancestors play a big part in the proceedings. The lunar calendar is consulted about the specificities of which way to face when bowing and making offerings. Traditionally, dumplings (jiaozi) are offered to the ancestors to invite them to join in the festivities.
There is a distinctive difference between Chinese and Western cultures in the way they interact with ghosts. While in Western culture Halloween is the height of human-ghost interaction, in Chinese culture deceased ancestors play a much larger part throughout the year. The interaction between the dead and the living is not limited to a few select days in the year. People commonly burn joss paper and offer wine at street corners. Although strict guidelines that guide the process of interaction are put in place in the cities, people that live in the countryside have a much closer relationship with their dead ancestors. We only need to look at how graves form a natural part of the architectural landscape in the countryside to see that the divide between dead and living is nowhere near as defined as it is in the West. For the Chinese, it is not just during Halloween that the worlds of the living and the dead come together.
Hello, everyone! My name is Meredith, and I am one of the new interns here at the InternChina office in Qingdao. This past week, I celebrated my first ever Mid-Autumn Festival! The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Mooncake Festival, is a national holiday that takes place every year on the 15th day of the 8th month according to the Lunar Calendar. This date marks the full moon, when the moon is at its roundest and brightest. In Chinese culture, this is very significant as circular shapes symbolize reunion and wholeness.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a time when friends and family gather together to celebrate and give thanks for the harvest. In honor of Chang E and in the spirit of togetherness/reunion, people often make and share mooncakes with friends and relatives.
Mooncakes consist of fillings, such as red bean, lotus bean, orange, duck egg yolks, and mixed nuts. These are just some of the fillings I have come across during my time here in Qingdao. There are certainly others!
After consuming many, many mooncakes in the week leading up to the festival, my colleagues and I decided to get into the holiday spirit and make some of our own “laowai” mooncakes! In addition to the traditional fillings of lotus and red bean paste, we decided to incorporate some flavors often used in sweets back home, such as strawberries, bananas, Nutella, and peanut butter.
Some mooncakes turned out better than others – mine ended up looking more like blobs than mooncakes, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?! 🙂
I thought the peanut butter filling would be the clear winner in the taste test, but I was very, very wrong! Although widely debated amongst my colleagues, I believe the mooncakes filled with the traditional fillings were actually much better than the ones made with our own special ingredients.
Even though the mooncakes did not turn out quite like we thought they would, it was still great being able to spend the holiday with friends!
If you are ever in China during the Mid-Autumn Festival, I would encourage you to give mooncake making a try!
I remember once hearing someone say, “You work more than a Chinese person!” I now don’t think that person understood the reality of this sentence. The truth is, nobody really can until they’ve been living in China for a while!
China has four main Public Holidays and numerous annual festivals, the most important of which are Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Mid-Autumn Festival (National Day). People often refer to these festivals as “Golden weeks”, but for many interns who experience these holidays in China for the first time, the Chinese idea of a holiday is not what you’d expect! You might get seven days of in a row, great, but there is also a price to pay. The Saturday or Sunday before or after the Golden week become regular working days to make up for some of the valuable working hours lost to leisure time. No rest for the wicked, ay! This was definitely a shock to me when I first started my internship in Qingdao – “I have to come to work on a Sunday!?!”
Here’s an example of how the working week took shape in the past to accommodate Mid-Autumn Festival and China’s National day. Peculiar, huh?
During these two weeks Chinese people usually go back to their hometowns to visit their families or go travelling as a family. You’ll find the big cities packed to brimming point with happy families wielding cameras in on selfie sticks. It’s a lively atmosphere, but for the safety of your toes, I would advise you to avoid the main attractions and tourist spots on National holidays! You’re likely to find something like this:
CHINESE NEW YEAR
But not everything is negative and actually one of the main reasons I love China is that behind these holidays there is a strong sense of tradition, a history and many customs that will continue to be observed for years to come.
For example, the Chinese New Year Festival (or Spring Festival) in February has more than 4,000 years of history. The Chinese welcome the New Year by asking the Queen of the Sun to help with the next harvest.
The festival is said to have started with a mythical beast called the Nian. The evil Nian would come on the first day of New Year to eat livestock, crops and even villagers, especially children. To protect themselves, the villagers would put out food in front of their doors at the beginning of every year. It was believed that if the beast ate the food they prepared, it wouldn’t attack any more people. One day, a villager decided to get revenge on the Nian. A god visited him and told him to put red paper over the outside of his house and firecrackers too. The Nian it seems was afraid of the colour red. When the New Year was approaching, the villagers hung up red lanterns and red spring scrolls on windows and doors and lit up firecrackers to frighten the beast away. From then on, the Nian never troubled the village again.
That’s also the reason you’ll find all over China red paper decorations adorning every front door.
Around the same time as China’s National Day, the Mid-Autumn Festival arrives. This festival is closely related to the changes of the seasons and agricultural production. It’s a time to say “thank you” to the Moon Queen and celebrate the last days of September. The festival has more than 3000 years of history.
It is said that in ancient times, ten suns existed and the extreme heat made people’s lives very difficult. It was the hero Hou Yi, who, owing to his great strength, shot down nine of the ten suns. On hearing of this amazing feat and the hero who performed it, people came from far and wide to learn from him. Among these people was an old friend called Peng Meng. Later, Hou Yi married a beautiful and kind-hearted woman named Chang E and they lived a happy life.
One day, Hou Yi came upon Wangmu (the queen of heaven) on the way to meet his old friend. Wangmu presented him an elixir which, if taken, would cause him to ascend immediately to heaven and become a god/goddess. Instead of drinking the potion himself, Hou Yi took it home and presented it to Chang E.
Unfortunately, Peng Meng secretly saw Hou Yi giving the potion to his wife and three days later, while Hou Yi was out hunting, Peng Meng rushed into the backyard of the happy couples home and demanded Chang E to hand over the elixir. Knowing that she could not defeat Peng Meng, she took the elixir and swallowed it immediately. The moment she drank it, Cheng E flew out of the window and up into the sky. Chang E’s great love for her husband drew her towards the Moon, which is the nearest place to the earth in heaven.
On realizing what happened to his wife, Hou Yi was so grieved that he shouted Chang E’s name to the sky. He was amazed to see a figure which looked just like his wife had appeared in the Moon. He laid Chang E’s favourite food on an altar and offered it as a sacrifice for her, but he had lost her forever.
After hearing that Chang E had become a goddess, the folk people also started offering sacrifices to Chang E, praying for peace and good luck. Since then, the custom of sacrificing to the moon has been spread among folklore.
I like this story, but the best thing about the holiday are the moon cakes. Each one is a surprise because I never know what filling I’ll find inside!
Which each day I like China and its culture more and more – there’s always a nice story to listen to. If you also want to experience the real China – apply now.
Last week I introduced you to some really good places for a night out in Chengdu. But aside from American-style parties, western clubs and rooftop bars, in Chengdu you can also experience some crazy Chinese clubs, chilled pubs and amazing riverside bars.
Lan Kwai Fong (兰桂坊)
Lan Kwai Fong Chengdu, named after the infamous party street in Hong Kong, is a purpose-built entertainment complex in the heart of the Waitan area on the riverbank. It’s the place where you can find a Latino-American bar like Rumba bar alonside a Chinese club next door. It offers some restaurants, cafes and shops, but even more clubs and bars for the keen party goers ! Lan Kwai Fong attracts an international crowd with its numerous establishments. Every club has differents things and atmospheres to offer : MIU bar for free alcohol, Venus for it’s crazy atmosphere and its original dancefloor.
Jiu Yan Qiao (九眼桥)
Close to Sichuan University campus, there are various bars and clubs in this area. The surrounding street BBQ places, known as Shaokao, are always good for a midnight snack after long night out.
- ONLY : If you ever wanted to experience a Chinese club, then Only is the place to be. If you go you might be the only foreigners on the dancefloor, but the Chinese will be very welcoming, perhaps a little too much !
- Underground bar : A British bar located in the heart of Chengdu where you can find over 50 different beers and tasty homemade food. Nice place to chill with your friends after a long workday.
- MUSE : You can find a Muse in almost every major city in China and the concept is always the same: stylish interior, pumping sounds and the occasional dance show on the stage. Good for a fun evening and a couple of whiskeys mixed with green tea.
The Riverside in Chengdu offers quite a few bars to hang out at different locations. There are bars along the river near Jiuyanqiao and west of Ren Min Nan Lu. One of the best ones is probably the reggae themed ‘Jahbar’. There are regular free jam sessions and cheap Tsingdao beer in a nice setting. What more can you ask for ?!
Yu lin (玉林)
- Machu picchu (马丘比丘): A small and chilled bar hidden in a side street off Yu Lin Nan Lu (玉林南路) with live music on the weekends. You can go there during the week and pleay video games on a gigantic screen while drinking beers !
- New little bar : The original Little Bar served for years as the capital of Chengdu’s burgeoning rock music scene but after years of building their audience, the original location wasn’t big enough to house the events that were taking place there. New Little Bar has now a capacity of about 80 patrons and features a stage and sound system that’s a dramatic upgrade from their previous offering.
I hope I could give you an insight into Chengdu’s nightlife. If you also would like to do an internship here, check out our page.
See you soon for another blog!
Party Guide #1
The Lantern Festival is celebrated in China on the 15th day of the New Lunar Year. It symbolises the passing of winter and the declining of darkness, and as the lanterns are released into the sky, also symbolises a new start. It’s a chance for families to get together again before life goes back to normal after the Spring Festival. The glutinous, black sesame filled rice balls, tangyuan 汤圆, are the traditional dessert for this period.
In Chengdu, the InternChina team and Co. celebrated this year’s Lantern Festival with our Language partner school. There was a variety of cultural activities we could take part in, which included tangyuan-making, calligraphy workshops, Chinese paper cutting, drinking tea and quizzes. Each of the activities was fun and engaging, but I do believe that most of us got stuck in the tangyuan room!
The sweet, squidgy dessert is made from glutinous rice flower with a bit of water. They can be either filled or unfilled, but traditionally they will have a black sesame paste filling. Nowadays you can find them stuffed with almost anything however – peanut butter is one of my favourites. Though a fairly simple concept, it’s not actually that easy to roll the balls and make sure none of the filling spills out and ‘stains’ the snow white dough. The mixture is also prone to drying out quickly, so there was some time pressure too. It took us a couple of tries to get them right!
Next stop was calligraphy. Here we had the opportunity to let out our inner artists and have a go with the Chinese calligraphy brush. Unlike the ones we’re used to from home, these brushes are usually thicker and softer and the correct way to hold them is also different (and quite tricky to begin with..).
In the evening, people gathered by the river to set off paper lanterns and enjoy the last few fireworks. There’s something very calming about watching the little red and yellow light rise into the sky
Curious? Come join us for an internship in Qingdao, Zhuhai or Chengdu, and get the chance to try the local specialities and experience true Chinese traditions! Apply Now!!
Firstly – Happy New Year – it is my pleasure to be writing my first blog in the year of the Horse – I hope you enjoy it! This blog is going to be a mixture of personal reflection on Chinese New Year, rough travel guide and random ramblings. I hope you can get through my mixed style and enjoy this blog.
After setting off a few Chinese firecrackers, enjoying a wonderful dinner with one our homestay families in Chengdu and successfully not getting blown up by the 1000’s of fireworks and firecrackers exploding all around us in the middle of the street whilst cars, motorbikes and people moved around the city. I was off to spend the holidays in a different province – Yunnan, China.
China has 22 provinces which are all vastly different to each other, which is why when someone asks – “what’s it like to live in China?” the answer can be somewhat problematic and relative to the individual. The answer may vary significantly if you live in the icy Heilongjiang Province, Tropical Island, Hainan or spicy Sichuan province (which is where Chengdu is located). In summary, China has many provinces which are bigger than many European countries and with distinctively different personalities, food and landscapes. One of the joys of living and travelling here is you can experience a very different China right on your doorstep.
The capital of Yunnan – Kunming is one hour flight from Chengdu and a little over 2 hours from Zhuhai and Qingdao. Famous for being the “Spring City” with year round temperate and sunny weather as well as being one of the most ethnically diverse provinces of China (25 of China’s 56 recognised ethnic groups call Yunnan home).
Whilst in Kunming, I noticed some distinct differences to Chengdu:-
• (Even) more chaos – be careful when crossing the street here!
• Sun… much more sun.
• Less push chairs and more babies on their mother’s back (carried in ethnic minority style carriers).
• Less tall buildings/advanced development – Kunming is growing but at a slower pace than Chengdu.
• More travellers/hippies/backpackers and tourists (domestic and foreign)
• Flowers – EVERYWHERE!
• More street vendors and street food
• More exotic fruit and vegetables (fruit that is not available in Chengdu until Spring is already readily available)
• More expensive taxi’s
• Cheaper water
• No humidity
• Red earth and Eucalyptus trees (outside the city it can look a little like the Australian bush!)
• High Altitude – you may feel tired for the first few days and this is where Chinese athletes come to train – try to run / cycle here at your normal pace and you will struggle.
• You can get sunburnt in January and wear a T-Shirt.
Kunming is a great gateway to some wonderful destinations (and I am forgetting it borders Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos – which all require a separate blog) – go south to the beautiful rice terraces of Yuanyang, and further still to Jinghong and Xishuangbanna where free roaming elephants, jungle and spicy food next to the Mekong river await.
Go North and you have tourist hot spots and hippy hangout Dali and further North Lijiang and the (highly recommended) Tiger Leaping gorge where you can hike spectacular scenery and look down at the Chinese tourists taking the “safe” road below while you climb along waterfalls and negotiate the mountain pass used by tea traders in years gone by and now travellers from around the world.
As you can probably tell I have a soft spot for Yunnan – it was my home for a year and a half and my girlfriend also comes from there. It was really great to enjoy the Spring Festival with her family. We had huge, delicious dinners, played a lot of Mahjong – a lot of money exchanged hands(even I got a couple of Hong Bao’s – Chinese lucky money). We also spent the holidays relaxing, watching movies and eating chocolate and exotic fruits! It was also a good chance to visit some parks and bars in Kunming which I used to go to regularly, (try) to do my Chinese homework and have a decent Indian curry! All in all a productive time in Kunming.
After spending a few days in Kunming I also took the chance to visit Yuxi and enjoy the Hot Spring’s and food in a city voted one of China’s best (small) cities. Beautiful flowers, Spring Festival traffic jams and endless blue skies greeted us as we drove to the city which is just two hours from Kunming.
It was also a chance to meet up with some old colleagues and friends in Kunming, enjoy a few beers and catch up. Spring festival can be a strange time for a foreigner in China – not knowing quite how to embrace a festival which is not your own, but as I found both two years ago and this year Chinese hospitality knows no end and if you happen to be in China during this time I am sure your new friends / colleagues will make it an unforgettable time.
China has so much more than the Great Wall, Shanghai skyscraper’s and Terracotta worriors, in every one of our cities Chengdu, Qingdao and Zhuhai you will find wonderful treasures hidden in and around the province. So apply now! China is a gift that keeps giving and I have found the longer and closer you look the more you can find in this vast country! Happy New Year!