As finals week slammed us CSI students in the heart of fall, our pressure ramped up significantly. Countless days spent at the nearby student hub Wudaokou coffee shops preparing for our finals rendered us tired beyond belief. But before we knew it, the 50 or so students in the programe were split into our two chosen lines–the Purple line bound for Tibet, with me and 14 others taking the Green bound for South China–and were off on a new adventure.
First stop for the Green Line: Xi’an, Shanxi Province. Once known as Chang’an in ancient times and bearing the nickname “City of Capitals”, Xi’an is the ancient centre of China and served as the seat of government for the Han, Tang, and countless other significant dynasties throughout China’s long history. Today, Xi’an contains loads of historically significant landmarks, such as its famous Bell and Drum Towers and the world-famous Tomb of Qinshihuangdi guarded by the Terracotta Soldiers.
My second time to Xi’an, I was just as captured by the awe-inspiring traditional architecture, local food, and vibrant culture Xi’an has to offer. Haggling with locals is always fun, but it’s especially interesting in places such as Xi’an, which Mandarin-speaking foreigners are a rarity. Next to the Drum Tower sits what’s known as the Hui Fang, which is essentially a neighborhood of a local Muslim ethnic minority who have lived there in Xi’an since the original Silk Road connected China with the Middle East nearly 2,000 years ago. The Hui Fang contains a large a famous street packed with nearly as many food carts and restaurants as people. Side streets veering off of the main drag have loads of shops selling various items from chopsticks to silk scarfs, a perfect place for bartering. The Xi’an city wall was especially beautiful to revisit. Surrounding all of the Old Chang’an City, the Xi’an city wall is the most well-preserved ancient military fortification in the world. The wall is absolutely stunning, and walking along it you’ll notice
both the ancient parts of Xi’an on one side of you while the modern side of the city is erected to the other. But of course, the Terracotta Soldiers were truly amazing to see again. Since I had last visited, so many more had been uncovered at the site, and it’s hard to believe they have barely scratched the surface of what was hidden under the earth over 2,000 years ago. Our last major stop in Xi’an consisted of a lecture learning about the local Hui Muslim population and visiting the Great Mosque of Xi’an, which is still used to this day by locals to pray. The site is constructed completely with Chinese architecture in mind, making it very unique for a mosque.
Next stop on the Green Line was Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and home to China’s Giant Pandas. After visiting some of the older parts of Chengdu known as the Kuanzhai Xiang, or wide and narrow alley, the day came to head towards the panda research centre and get my first glimpse of the Giant Panda. The animals were absolutely gorgeous, and so graceful. They looked as if you could just give them a big hug and take a nap with them. After that, I got the opportunity to meet a long-time pen pal of mine who happened to be studying abroad at a school in Chengdu from Portland State University.
We hung out two times during my stay in the Sichuan province, and it felt like we should have been friends all these years. Our mutual interests in China and Chinese culture is sure to keep us connected into the future. Our last stop in Chengdu was an ancient dam system built nearly 3,000 years ago and still in use today, helping irrigate Sichuan Province, especially Chengdu. The complex was absolutely astounding, with high mountains and blue water rushing between them.
After Chengdu, we finally entered the Southwestern Yunnan Province, an absolutely gorgeous place bordering several Southeast Asian nations and filled to the brim with varying minority groups. Lijiang was our first stop. An ancient city with a huge, gorgeous, and well-preserved old-town, Lijiang is easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen before in my life. The old town really is ancient, many with winding canals of fresh mountain water rushing through and small, narrow streets made only for pedestrian traffic. The weather was a comfortable 70 or so degrees all day with not a spec of air pollution to be seen. Towering over Lijiang is the stunning Snow Mountain, the farthest-south snow capped mountain in the northern hemisphere. Whilst climbing the mountains near the 18,000-foot peak for a better view, we came across a small Buddhist temple home to a Lama, or Buddhist Priest.
After conversing with the Lama for a while and helping him translate with a few Russian tourists, he invited me to sit with him for a bit and was kind enough to give me one of his necklaces he wore free of charge. After many thanks, I took my leave. A similar interaction back in town between me and a lady from Sichuan province equally intrigued me. Wandering to one of my favorite areas in Lijiang (a small tea shop with
some cute dogs, fish, and two peacocks) one night, I ran into two ladies coming to have tea with their old friend–the shop’s owner. After being invited to sit and have tea with them, the four of us chatted for hours and ended up making a few new friends. In the centre of the old town lies what was once the headquarters of the local Lijiang government in ancient times–the Mu Palace. The Palace rests on a hillside, and the complex has a stunning view. While exploring the palace, we came across a group of elderly women of the local Naxi people putting on quite an adorable show, dancing together for a group of people in traditional clothing. Lijiang left an incredible impression on me, solidifying itself as one of the most beautiful cities in my memory.
After Lijiang, we made our way to Dali, another Yunnan city a few hours’ drive from Lijiang. While Dali’s old town was not quite up to the level of Lijiang’s, it still was incredibly beautiful. It sit next to a massive lake, on which we took a tour cruise to small islands with various Buddhist temples. Perusing the nearby shops, it is easy to see that Dali has a lot to offer in terms of items to buy. From great snacks, gifts, and the best wine I’d ever tasted, Dali certainly has a lot to offer.
Finally, we arrived at our final destination: Kunming, the Capital of Yunnan Province. Kunming is extremely clean and beautiful, and rests next to the large Dian Lake. While visiting, we went to an ethnic minority park, which includes loads of representative villages of each minority group in Yunnan province. While the stay in Kunming was short, it certainly inspired me to go back sometime soon.
The study trip ended faster than it started, and we were greeted by Beijing’s pre-winter cold as soon as we walked out of the airport. Now, I await my Dutch friend (my roommate from last year at Linfield, a former exchange student) to come to Beijing in order for me to show him the wonders China has to offer. It will be a nice weekend to sit back and relax after all the chaos of travel.