Study with us
Beijing offers plenty of opportunity for cultural exploration. It combines the modern elements of the globalised world and the infrastructure of the old city. One of the highlights of my trip was the exploration of Hutongs. There were some Hutongs that are filled with locals and fellow tourists, which resembled a market. When our group went on an adventure to find a so-called tea street, we chanced upon this relatively quiet and isolated hutong, with the old buildings that housed families still very much in place. Small shops, usually situated next to or even inside the house, were still run by family members. There was a real sense of community as the shopkeepers chatted animatedly with the other shopkeepers, which looked like they have been neighbours for years. We sat down at a small restaurant (by small, I mean it’s smaller than our games room), and had a lovely meal there, at the cost of £1 each.
After the meal, I chanced upon this antique bookstore (which actually was not much of an antique as it opened only a couple of years ago). Being able to communicate in Mandarin was definitely a perk during this trip. I started talking to the bookstore owner and had one of the most enlightening experience of this trip. I talked about volunteering at the school to teach English, which led to an extremely interesting discussion about education in China. The bookstore owner was a lovely woman who kept a lot of her old things for sale in the bookstore. I happened to see a metal plate which had Mao Zedong’s face on it and asked her about it. Amazingly, it was from the Cultural Revolution era. It was an extremely interesting conversation, and if I had the chance, I would return to the bookshop again.
At the school where we volunteered to teach, there was a lovely restaurant nearby. It was small, and this time very small—the size of Tizard Room. We went there often for dinner. At first, because most of my friends on this programme were white, the owners of the restaurant and the locals who were dining there looked shocked to see so many foreigners flooding into the restaurant. Soon, as we went there often, they became accustomed to foreigners, and I believe it certainly helped that my friends tried to learn how to pronounce certain words on the menu, especially dumplings, pronounced as jiao zi in Mandarin. One time we were there, the owners asked if we could take pictures with them. That’s when I started chatting with them about us, that we were from Cambridge, and that we were teaching English in the school next door. I helped translate between the owners and my friends (which actually proved to be an extremely fun experience). We all got quite emotional when we had our last meal there as we started travelling.
Xian was an interesting city because, first, it was one of the oldest capitals in the whole world. Second, it was the start of the silk road. Third, what I found most interesting was the roots of Islam in Xian. My previously naïve understanding of religion in China revolves around Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. Despite knowing that Islam existed, I had never known that it existed to such an extent. Hence it was quite new for me to see that so many people were dressed in traditional Muslim clothes, especially for women, many of whom were wearing headscarfs or even the hijab. There were several high-profile mosques in Xian.
Seeing the Terracotta army was also a highlight in our time in Xian. It was amazing to see the different statues of soldiers, and a recent archaeological research showed that the shapes of the ears on each sampled statue were different—providing evidence that they were all different. This was just to show how grand, expensive and labour-intensive this project is—all just for the protection of Qin Shihuang in the afterworld.
I did not know how much I love climbing mountains until I climbed this one. The view was spectacular and none of the pictures below could do justice to what I was experiencing at the time. Furthermore, as we were climbing the mountain over the course of two days, we stayed the night in the attic of a monastery. It was very tiring so we fell asleep at 9pm and got up at 6am in order to get started.
However, the last bit of the journey to the summit was especially difficult as it was very steep and it was also very crowded. I had to take stops around every 2 minutes as it was very, very steep. I was thankful to have a friend pacing along with me, and when we reached the summit, tears came down my face. Not only was it because of the spectacular view, it was also a difficult two day journey successfully fulfilled.