Back in 2012 when I was first in Chengdu, I had the chance to experience my first Spring Festival in China. After the first semester of my studies finished, I had a long period of time to travel around but as my friend was coming to visit me, I decided to stay put in Chengdu.
The Spring Festival was approaching and you could see quite a lot the people leaving Chengdu to go back to their hometown to celebrate the festival. As the streets of Chengdu were emptying we came to the conclusion that there would be no reason to spend Spring Festival in the city, so we decided to spend it elsewhere. We wanted something different but somewhere that wasn’t too far, something that would be an unforgettable experience for all of us. My friend suggested Emei Mountain because she heard that the sunrise was amazing. So that was it, the decision was made, we would spend Spring Festival at the top of a mountain!
Two nights were booked and we were excited about our adventure to Emei Mountain. To prepare for our travels we bought snacks, fruit, water and some instant noodles. We also bought some heated pads that help keep you warm. If your feet are prone to the cold like mine, the heated pads that are made to fit nicely inside your shoes will do wonders for your toes!
Our first day was spent travelling and trekking up Emei. When we arrived at the bottom of Emei, we purchased a bamboo stick and some ice grips each to help us with the trek. We then took another bus up to take us part way up the mountain. On the way we could see the weather changing drastically, snow started to appear on the roads and we felt like our life was in danger because the roads were so narrow and close to the edge of the mountain. Nevertheless, we made it safely and arrived at our destination to a completely white covered mountain. We then made our own way up to our hotel and trekked for what felt like eternity.
Our second day started early as the main reason for going to Emei was to see the sunrise, but to our disappointment as we were making our way to the top, we could see the skies were not clear enough that day. But whilst we were there we did manage to take some great photos including the Golden Buddha. That morning we had also decided to shorten our visit for several different reasons. But before making our way home we had to make a detour to a different part of the mountain to do some skiing!
Although we were unable to see the sunrise, the trip to Emei was still unforgettable in so many different ways. Just to name a few, the scenery was of course amazing but also funny memories that we were able to take home with us such as the management of the hotel refusing to give us extra blankets and shutting the door in angrily our faces, and the time when we asked the ski instructor for advice on skiing (it was our first time), his response was ‘Go with your guts!’.
So apply for an internship in China now. In your free time you can travel to many different places and have your own memorable experiences!
Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, is one of the oldest cities in China. With more than 3100 years of history, Xi’an was the imperial capital to 13 dynastic periods, and is best known today for the Terracotta Warriors.
When one thinks of China, a couple of things come to mind: The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, The Terracotta Warriors… One cannot come all the way to China and not see these wondrous places. Thus, Tess (an Australian friend who lives in Zhuhai), Brigitta (one of the Zhuhai interns) and I have set out to see all of these places before we leave China. First on our list was Xi’an, home of the Terracotta Warriors.
When planning trips throughout China, a lot of planning is required, being students and wanting to get the best possible travel deals, we compared the prices of flying out of Zhuhai and Guangzhou. It is really easy to get to either of these airports, as there are Zhuhai-airport shuttle busses that leave from downtown, so there is no worry of how to get to the airport. Ctrips is a great website to use when flying around China – the deals are great and they offer an array of departure times.
Having chosen a flight from Guangzhou after work, we only arrived in Xi’an at about 2am. We had chosen a hostel inside the wall, which was recommended to us by Tess’ parents – Xiangzimen Youth Hostel – and it was a mere 60 RMB (7.60€) per person, per night, for a 3-bedroom room. We were expecting the standard hostel, but what we arrived to was nothing short of a hotel! Hidden away on a little street, we arrived at these old-style Chinese double doors, only to enter into a luxurious and truly unique space. There were Chinese trinkets everywhere; bamboo door hangings, terracotta warrior statues, beautiful vases, exotic plants – the works. Everyone spoke English, which is a plus when you arrive at 2 am, exhausted. They also have a variety of arranged trips for their guests.
On our first morning, Tess’ dad surprised us with booking a private tour of the Terracotta Warriors for us. We were to be picked up at the hotel in a large van, just for the three of us, and we were feeling very exclusive. First, we were taken to the factory where they create the real Terracotta warriors statues and souvenirs, as they use the clay that was used to make the real Terracotta warriors that is only found on that one mountain. It was special going there because we were introduced to how the warriors were made, and the fact that we were able to buy real terracotta souvenirs.
From there we were taken to see the real Terracotta Warriors. We all read about them and learn about them at school, but one cannot fathom actually seeing them in real life – the burial pit is massive, and row upon row are warriors; 8,000 of them made, each one different from the next.
Built in 210 BC (at 2200 years old) the statues were found smashed up from having had the roof cave in on them. All the statues now that are standing have been put back together. Upon finding them, all of the warriors were completely painted in bright colors, however almost immediately after being dug up from the earth, the paint flaked off.
We also got to meet the farmer that found the warriors. He spends his days signing books (and gets really angry if you try to take a photo of him).
The mountain in which the emperor is buried contains an abundance of jade and gold, and in this region the special black jade can be found. The girls each bought a beautiful black jade bangle that turns dark green in the sunlight.
When we got back to the hostel in the evening, we passed by a board which was advertising a trip to the Music and Dance Opera, a show of the Tang Dynasty music and dances. It is said that the Tang Dynasty (from 618-907) was one of the most glorious and prosperous periods. We quickly decided to join, and again were put in a private bus and taken to the Opera. What we saw was a combination of beautiful musical acts and many beautiful traditional dances.
To add to the many great things that we had discovered about our hostel, turns out it was right on the bar street as well! After the show we decided to take a walk down the lively bar street, picked a bar that looked chill and sat down to people-watch.
We had heard that a great thing to do in Xi’an is to take a bike ride on top of the city wall. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the wall encircles 13,7 km around the city center, and at 700 years old, it is the oldest and best-preserved wall in China. So, although it was 32 degrees and the sun was blazing, we decided we could not miss out on this activity. Apparently, you can only hire the bikes for 100 minutes, so you have to make it around the 13,7 km wall before then. This quickly became the highlight of our trip – we were able to get a top-view of the city around us, as well as to experience biking on China’s most preserved ancient wall. That was a really special experience.
For the remainder of our day, exhausted after the intense bike ride, we walked along the Muslim Quarters of the city. Here, there are many markets that sell interesting trinkets, from wooden masks to silks to delicious sweets. It seemed that there was food at every turn, and so we had to give in and taste some. Unlike the food in Zhuhai, which tends to be spicy, the food in Xi’an was sweet and bursting with interesting flavors. We sat down for the traditional Liang Pi Cold Noodles, Buckwheat Cold Noodles, Stewed Pork Burgers and tofu.
Before having gone to Xi’an, we were told that other than the Terracotta warriors, there was not much to see in Xi’an. Instead, we arrived and found a beautiful and ancient city, packed with exciting people and special foods.
Today I would like to talk about a few inventions that are so old that we don’t really think about where they came from, but in case anyone was wondering, they came from China!
Fireworks & Gunpowder
Two really great inventions that were thought of by the Chinese are fireworks and gunpowder. Even though a lot of people might think that it is an American invention, it was the Chinese who used explosives for the first time. Legends tell that a cook discovered by accident the ingredients for the black powder and soon after the Chinese were entertaining themselves with beautiful displays at night time.
Guess what they also invented… noodles! I am sure that the first country that pops into your mind in connection with the invention of pasta is Italy, but actually it is China. The Chinese have been eating noodles for four thousand years. When European explorers came to Asia they learned the delicious and nutritious value of noodles during their encounters with the Chinese. The Chinese invented rice noodles, when the explorers came back to Europe they made noodles out of wheat flour instead of rice, creating the pasta most of us know today.
Writing, Paper, and the Printed Word
Probably the most important invention made by the Chinese was writing. In 1700 BC, symbols were carved on oracle bones in China, today these are thought to be the first true writing.
Along with the writing, the Chinese were at the forefront of developing the printed word. As far back as 105 A.D., Ts’ai Lun invented the process of manufacturing paper, therefore the first use of paper was also in China. The paper was superior in quality to the baked clay, papyrus and parchment used in other parts of the world.
The first printed newspaper, in form of a woodblock printing, was available in Beijing in 700 A.D.
The magnetic compass is also a very helpful tool the Chinese have invented. As early as 500 BC, Chinese scientists had studied and learned much about magnetism in nature. They used this information to create navigational compasses which were widely used on Chinese ships, enabling them to navigate without stars in view.
No one knows for certain where the kite originated, but many believe it was invented in China a couple thousand years ago. Many credit the Chinese with the kite because they had bamboo to build the frame and silk to make the sail and flying line. Both materials were strong enough and light enough to fly. There are many legends about the origins of the kite. One suggests the idea came to a Chinese farmer who tied a string to his hat to keep it from blowing away. Today you can see kites all over the world.
And here are some other funny Chinese inventions:
Chinese Legends say that in ancient time, two phoenixes flew over the town and found the surroundings so beautiful that they hovered above it, and were so taken by the beauty that they did not want to leave. This town then got the name Phoenix Ancient Town.
After our amazing 2-day trip to Zhangjiajie, in which we hiked up and down the mountains and saw the picturesque view, we continued on our journey to Phoenix Ancient Town (Feng Huang), a mere 6-hour drive away in Hunan Province. The town can be traced back to Qin Dynasty (221 – 206 BC). By the time we were nearing the city, everyone was so exhausted from having spent over 23 hours in the bus in the span of three days, and were pretty grumpy and ready to get off the bus. When we passed by the river in which the town is situated however, everyone quickly got very excited at what they saw – a beautiful lit up city reflecting over the river.
The city is inhabited by the local Miao people, and is famous for its beauty and specialty – the houses are on stilts over the river. The scene looked like something that could have come from a movie, the glowing Chinese architecture reflecting in the still river, red lanterns hanging from every roof. It was beautiful. The town runs along the river, and is home to many stores, restaurants, bars and markets. Night life was bustling, so after we checked into the hotel and left our bags in our rooms we all split up into little groups to explore the city.
There must be beautiful gardens surrounding the city, because every couple of meters on the river’s edge were old ladies, sitting together and stringing together flowers to make beautiful head wreaths. At 5 RMB (0.62 €) a piece, who could resist?
Having been on the road for so long, we practically lived off gas-station food and candy, so we were all excited for the dinner that Naima (our tour guide) had planned for us. Located in the new part of the city, we were taken to a restaurant that had a wonderful and authentic Chinese feel to it. Delicious food was made for us, including cooked shredded bamboo, a variety of cooked vegetables, shredded potatoes, steamed pork and cooked beef dishes, chicken soup cooking over a fire on the table, and of course lots of rice. Not only was the food delicious, but we got to try some of Naima’s home-made rice wine. Although pretty strong, it is very sweet and a great complement to the food.
The next morning was really special because we were finally seeing what Phoenix Town looked like during the day! The town has the beautiful backdrop of mountains. The sun was shining and as we walked around we got to really appreciate the constructions of the houses. There were lots of men on little boats, trying to get from point A to B, and women sitting on the river’s edge cleaning their laundry.
We had until 1 pm to walk around the city, grab some local street food, take some pictures and enjoy the sunshine before having to head back to the bus for the 16 hour ride home. Everyone was sad to leave the city, and although there wasn’t too much to do there, it was just one of those places where you could spend a couple days just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery around you. We could definitely have used another night there. But as it is, it’s nice to have left with the great memory of our one night in Phoenix Ancient Town.