Travel Tuesdays 7: China

So, Tuesday seems to have crept up on me again…

For today’s post, I’ll talk about China. I lived in China for two years (from 2014-2016) and had a few chances to travel to various places within my province (Henan) as well as further afield. 

I lived in Zhengzhou, which was one of the ancient capitals of China. Despite feeling like the city was too big, crowded and dirty, there were lovely places to be found, where you could find some culture and pretend to step back in time for a while.

Near Zhengzhou are the cities of Luoyang, Kaifeng and the Shaolin temple – the birthplace of Kung fu! All are very much worth a visit, where you can get a taste of ancient China (and meet some interesting monks, in the case of the Shaolin temple.) 

The scenery in Henan province is also quite impressive. I really enjoyed taking some trips to the mountains, for a bit of fresh air -although it’s difficult to find peace and tranquility in such a highly populated area of China!

Further afield, I found Beijing to be a great place to visit. Of course, the highlight for me by far was the Great Wall, where you can merrily wander along and delight in the surrounding scenery for miles around.

The Terracotta Warriors in Xian are not to be missed! It’s so interesting looking at how different each warrior is, thinking about how long it would have taken to make all of these little people and what a surprise it would have been for the farmer that came across them after they’d been buried deep underground for hundreds of years!

Another favourite place of mine is Hong Kong. I found the city to be vibrant, fun and full of character! 

The last place I want to write about in this post is Hainan, a small island in the very south of China. It’s nicknamed the “Hawaii of China” because of its year-round warm temperatures and lovely beaches. I went there during the winter and really enjoyed the chance to sunbathe on the beach while it was so freezing in the north! However, I’m sure the real Hawaii is slightly cleaner than Hainan…

Medical advice

Have you ever found that when you’re ill with a cold or flu, you’ll try doing anything to get rid of it… Including following the advice of friends, family or colleagues, who often suddenly believe themselves to be medical experts, when faced with a willing “patient”!

While living in China, the advice I received for any illness was to “drink hot water and wear more clothes”, regardless of the season, weather or actual illness! When something more stringent is needed to fight off an infection, you might be advised to drink herbal tea (one such tea that my students loved tasted like mud to me!), vinegar (yuck!) or make up a lovely remedy involving ginger. My favourite of these is boiling Coca Cola or Pepsi with ginger. It tastes good and makes your sore throats/colds feel much better. On Sunday, I had totally lost my voice, and it’s been slowly returning thanks to drinking hot ginger Pepsi every day! (I also went to the doctor to get antibiotics, just in case, as I have a lovely infection.)

Of course, as well as giving advice on how to cure your cold/ flu, you will also find many helpful friends, colleagues and family members who will enjoy speculating as to how you got ill in the first place. In Romania, I find the reasons that people give for how you got sick most amusing. In fact, air conditioning, a cold draft of air from an open window, or walking outside when the temperature is less than 18 degrees Celsius is the cause of most illnesses in Romania (according to many people I’ve met here, who think having small children coughing, sneezing on me and using me as a tissue all day long has nothing to do with it…)

Incidentally, Romanian remedies are just as fun as Chinese ones. They include eating raw garlic (yuck), eating soup, staying inside (with the windows closed of course) and drinking “onion tea” (I am yet to try this, as I find the thought of a cup full of onions and hot water somewhat repulsive!)

A lovely thing about being ill in China, was that many of my students would bring fruit or herbal teas to my apartment to help me get better. (Indeed, I would often be “fruit bombed” by enthusiastic students even when I was not ill. I call it “fruit bombing” because they would see me, greet me, throw an apple or banana at me and run off, before I had a chance to politely refuse the gift.) So far, no one in Romania has done this… it’s such a shame, having to buy my own fruit again! ūüėú

Cars, trucks, motorbikes and…

I had great fun with this black and white photo challenge! I stood on the street in the town where I live in China and enjoyed snapping away at all of these vehicles. 

busy street

street vendors, selling snacks from their cars

watermelon truck

mum, dad and child on an electric-powered bike

sweet potato cart

old street cleaner with his bicycle

driving home after school

Village life in China exhibition 

Yesterday I visited an art gallery in Zhengzhou and there were some fascinating photos of daily life in rural China. While the photos may appear hundreds of years old, the exhibition ranged from the 1960s to the present. It’s amazing how time seems to stand still in rural China!

outdoor class

Can you imagine having to stand outside for hours on end with a blackboard around your neck to do your lessons? Is this what they do all day long at this school or do they actually have classrooms to sit down in and time to run around and play? Unfortunately, this photo was not dated in the exhibit, so I can only guess at the year it was taken. It reminds me of a visit I had to a Victorian school (in England) but the style of the clothes the children are wearing in this photo is more modern… Either way, I would not have enjoyed spending my childhood like this!

on the way to the fields

The tag with this photo at the gallery explained that the people were university graduates from a big city, who had been encouraged to help the farmers after finishing college. The life of the peasant farmers was idealized in the 1960s, so I’m sure the students were glad to leave the big city to experience a different way of life, although I imagine they had to work extremely hard on the farm! I wonder if these young people returned to the city after a few years, or if they stayed in their new village for the rest of their lives? 

Would you believe that this photo was taken in the 1990s? China has developed a lot since then. There are still many small villages, but I think housing made from bricks has been provided for most of the population now. What an interesting way of life though, selling soup or porridge to your neighbors from outside your straw house, and travelling everywhere by donkey and cart!

(I linked this post with the daily post prompt for the day, as the first photo depicts childhood.)

Festivals in China 

China has many many many festivals that they celebrate! The Spring festival (Chinese new year) is probably the most famous of these. But there are many other, lesser known festivals that I’m sure you will find interesting. 
Modern festivals:

1) May 20th (I start with this one, as it happened just a few days ago). It’s called 520, “wu er ling” in Chinese, and is like a mini Valentine’s Day, because apparently wu er ling sounds similar to the Chinese phrase “wo ai ni” which means “I love you”. (I don’t know who decided this, but it must have been a shopkeeper, as I’m sure this is just a shopping festival…)

wu er ling!

2) 11/11. Double eleven is Singles’ day, where single people can be happy that they don’t have boyfriends or girlfriends. It also happens to be a shopping festival, with billions and billions of RMB being spent on discounted goods online…

3) Christmas Eve. Not really a Chinese festival, but Christmas has become popular in China in recent years, where people will give apples to their friends on Christmas Eve. This is because the Chinese for apple, “ping guo” sounds similar to the Chinese word for Christmas Eve, “ping an ye”, meaning peaceful night, and apples are also symbolic of safety and peace.

Christmas Eve apples

4) Chinese people have also begun to celebrate “Western new year” (January 1st) in recent years. Although it isn’t as important as their own Spring Festival.

Ancient festivals: 

1) Dragon boat festival. A fun festival, where people will race along rivers or lakes in dragon boats and eat steamed rice dumplings called zongzi. This festival is to commemorate Qu Yuan, a famous Chinese poet.

2) Winter solstice (on December 21st) has been celebrated for thousands of years. People make and eat dumplings to celebrate this festival. 

3) Mid-Autumn festival. The date of this festival follows the lunar calendar, and usually occurs in October. On this day, Chinese people will eat moon cakes and look at the moon. There is a story about a woman called Chang E who lives on the moon, so I guess people will say hello to her on this day.

moon cakes

4) 7/7. Double seven is Chinese Valentine’s Day, and also follows the lunar calendar. It celebrates the story of a man and a goddess, who fell in love but were forever separated by the queen of heaven, who didn’t approve of them, so made a river form between them. Once a year, a flock of birds form a bridge between them, so they can meet for one romantic day.

5) Qingming festival happens in April every year. This is called tomb-sweeping festival, and families will visit and sweep their ancestors’ graves.

6) Spring Festival, in case you don’t know, is Chinese New Year. It happens on the first day of the first month of the lunar calendar. During this festival, people will visit their relatives, decorate their houses, make and eat dumplings, give “lucky money”, wear red (a lucky colour) and set off fireworks to celebrate the new year. The festival lasts for 2 weeks! And really is the most important of the Chinese festivals.
If I think of more Chinese festivals, I will write about them later. ūüėä

Travelling in China

As I mentioned in a previous post, China is a beautiful country, there are so many interesting and wonderful places to visit. But it can also be exceptionally crowded. With a population of around 1.4 billion, it’s easy to see how! 
Many Chinese people work for seven days a week and are only able to take the national holidays off work (eg. Spring Festival, National Day and so on.) These festivals will be the only chance they have to travel, so people will crowd onto public transport and visit relatives or scenic spots in China. I have experienced travelling during these times, because our university holidays coincide with the Chinese national holidays. Yay! This photo is an example of crowded public transport (people are queuing up to have their ID cards and bags checked before getting on board a ferry. They do the same ID and bag checking procedure for the trains too.)

ID and bag check

Luckily for me, I live in the most populated province in China (Henan), so I think I get to enjoy even greater crowds when I travel! For example, last summer I went to Yuntai mountain, on one lovely weekend with two friends, only to find that everyone else in the province had had the same idea! The weather was really hot (around 38 degrees C) and I’m sure the rather large number of people on these mountain passes didn’t help. Despite the crowds, we really enjoyed our trip -although you do have to get used to being pushed rather a lot. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Chinese people are lovely and friendly, although they seem to forget this on public transport and on crowded mountain paths, where they will push and shove to get ahead of as many people as they can!
Oh, only in China! 

Yuntai mountain

Yuntai mountain

Yuntai mountain

Life in China 

So, I have been living in China for almost two years now, and I must say that I love it! China is very unlike any other country I’ve visited – the culture, language and general feel of the place is very different in many ways! At first, the unfamiliarity of the country was very daunting, but now I guess I’m becoming more used to it. Most people are friendly and willing to help foreigners in any way they can. I speak a little Chinese, but often rely on my students to translate for me, or communicate with people through crazy gestures and so on. This is the way I communicate with the ladies who work in the college canteens, for example, who always seem exceptionally excited to see me! 

A disadvantage of living in China is the air pollution… we have days when the air is quite literally black and you can’t see things that are more than one meter away! ūüėú Also the traffic can get a little crazy! There only seem to be two traffic rules in China: don’t hit another vehicle and don’t hit any pedestrians. Otherwise, pretty much anything goes! Cars, buses and motorbikes will do anything to overtake each other -just to arrive at their destination a few minutes earlier! And they love to honk their horns constantly, seemingly just for fun!

Advantages of living in China are the friendly people (I have met many people that had never seen a foreigner before -so were very excited to meet me!) There are some beautiful places to visit in China -spectacular scenery, stunning mountain ranges, famous historic sights, temples and so on. Plus, I love the flowers in the spring and summertime. And the cost of living is relatively cheap! ūüėä

China is developing quickly, I see evidence of this everyday, with the huge amount of construction taking place everywhere in my town. Amid China’s development, I find that Chinese people are proud of their rich, 5000 year old culture and will do all they can to hold onto their traditions in the rapidly changing world, for example by continuing to practice tai ji in the parks, restoring old buildings (or rebuilding them as many had previously been allowed to fall into disrepair), or practicing traditional Chinese art and calligraphy. You can see many of these activities taking place in the parks in China, which are often blissful havens in the busy, bustling and crowded cities. 

While I feel like I have gotten used to some of the more crazy aspects about living in China, there are some things that will never seem normal… People’s stares of disbelief at the sight of a foreigner, endless construction and finding a family of 4 squeezed onto a motorbike all seem quite normal now. Whereas, I will never be able to get used to the sight of children peeing and pooping on the street, the spitting and the overly crowded buses. But then again, who would enjoy travelling for an hour with your head stuck in someone’s smelly armpit, while the driver takes you over as many bumps and potholes as he can?! ūüėú
Photos are from the Green Expo Garden, Zhengzhou.