China: How It All Began – The Call of School
Bus taking me from the Beijing airport to the place of my stay. First couple of days it is not a school but a flat of my friend. I will stay day until the registration at the university. How will be the school? What about teachers? And classmates?
I asked myself these questions even a few years ago in Chengdu. According to the placement test, which took place a few days after registration, I knew that I will have my slightly unconventional German roommate with me in the class. The rest, however, was a mystery to me. According to the test, I had to be in one of the higher levels (which really surprised me as I felt like an alien in the streets). At our school there were three main levels - beginners, intermediate and advanced. Each of these levels were then further divided into two sublevels. And I fell under the higher sublevel intermediate.
Impatient and nervous I had been waiting for the first day of school to come. When the day finally came, I went to the school, equipped with everything one can imagine. The school was at the other side of the campus, about fifteen minute of walk. On my route, I passed an elementary school where Young Pioneers greeted with red scarfs around necks welcomed their classmates. I passed also a stadium where young and old worked out under the tones of unbelievable music. Somebody was shouting there “one, two, one, two, one, two.”
I entered the classroom, where were already some of my classmates. And our beautiful teacher Mrs Kuo (the whole school was saying that we got the most beautiful teacher). In an hour we were talking with a classmate by the table and then introduced our classmates at the blackboard. Nervous I introduced J who was an American who took a place next to me. Then I watched my future friends another American R, and a couple of studious Koreans (I will certainly get back to them in some of the following articles, a Japanese guy Y, an Irish guy, a girl from Malaysia S, a German guy, Thai grils and many others. In total there were 20 of us. Majority seemed to be quite nice and I sensed that we would have a lot of common things to talk about.
And then each day the same routine repeated - whether it be lessons in grammar, listening, speaking and hour of Chinese trivia. I should say that we soon called it "the hour of propaganda," and we soon started to avoiding it. The reason of our low attendance consisted in the fact that expect students not coming the teacher did not realized many other things. He always set a brief presentation, which we obviously did not understand because it seemed that it was used previously in the classes for Chinese students. He then happily chuckled and vividly depicted how poor Chinese peasants are. When on one day I felt sick and hadn’t arrived at his class, he refused to tell me what will be in the test. He also forbid others to tell us about the test. This was the reason why this was the last time I saw this little man… Then rumors about him threatening the students not to let them go home until they said he is a good teacher spread out in the school.
But every other teacher was simply amazing. Mrs Kuo treated us as her own children. Others also treated us well. They also gave us many new signs and phrases to learn. Despite we complained from time to time, we were glad and everyday we took a pencil and wrote one Chinese sign after another....
Text/photo: Hana Bašová
We had last day to spend in Xian. We had tickets not to the opera but for the evening train which would get us to my beloved Chengdu 成都.
After all the information we gathered from our friends and teachers about Suzhou 苏州, everybody would look forward to see it! “Up is paradise, below are Suzhou, and Su Chang and Hangzhou" (in Chinese hang you tiantang,
xia you Su-Hang 上有天堂，下有苏杭) we heard when we were mounting green city bikes, and rode through narrow streets near our hotel. The streets were crowded with various stands that lured us to stop (many of them at least). But we didn’t want to miss delicacies of Suzhou.
It wasn’t bad in Beijing. Yet sometimes a time comes that one just want to go somewhere else. Anywhere. The break of the first May was coming and we had already forgotten how crazy it is to travel in China, especially when even others have holidays. But this time we were bit smarter. We learned how to buy train tickets on the Internet.
Christmas is the time of remembrance. One remembers passed year, how and with who she spent Christmas and how it was. I couldn’t help myself from such assessment when I saw grey snowless streets. It remined me of my first Christmas outside home, Christmas in Chengdu 成都.
Spring was coming soon which lured us to the nature outside Beijing. “Why don’t you go to the Sidu river 十渡?“ one teacher–friend told us. The description suggested it is beautiful there: allegedly „Guilin桂林 of the north“. It is a vast karst area covering 300 km² in north China. This area was formed by the Tu-ma river. Sidu literally means “ten fords”. Today the fords are replaced with modern bridges yet they say the place has still some magic in it.
When you are studying in China and you want to learn more than you would at classic lessons you can ask about optional classes. There are usually many as such at universities. You can choose everything from sports, literature, or trivia to calligraphy or local dialects.
For as long as I had travelled in China, my main reason was studying the Chinese language. As more and more people ask me how learning Chinese in China is going I am going to spend some time explaining how it is.
„To terminus? What will you do there? There is nothing! “
I know the old proverb starts bit differently, yet I hold to the opinion that this tweak has some truth to it. At some places I think about this proverb more often. At some places even every day. Perhaps you already realized that by the latter I mean China.
Perhaps everyone who has visited Beijing and had little spare time paid his visit to famous Summer Palace (Yiheyuan 颐和园), northwestern Beijing. Less tourists, however, know, that near the “new” Summer Palace is also Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan圆明园).
Days in Beijing passed by merrily. School in the morning, studying, chats with friends… Everyday routine was diversified with weekend trips. Summer Beijing was not very magical, to be honest.
It is true that I base my articles on my experiences and remarks of my friends, yet I have this feeling that everyone gets to the point when he needs to leave the big noisy city for fresh air in the countryside.
„You study Chinese? So you can read scattered tea?“
„Chinese? Ping Pong?“ „Do you have skew eyes from eating all those rice already?“
First, I have to say that I come from a small town. Arrival in Prague was a large shock for me. When I was then hustling in Prague in darky morning trying to find the right address, I had no idea such an experience was not my last time. Next time it would be more intense.
Certainly there are lists of the most used words in any language. We learn what words we use the most in our mother tongue. We do not wonder as those are mostly words that are logically the most common as well.
When returned to the hostel we were decided to get up early, get on the roof and start the day with a look at Suzhou in the morning 苏州. Right with the alarm clock ringing we started cursing the idea. Because we did not want to be lame in front one of another we get from warm duvets, and headed to the roof.
When we said farewell to Suzhou 苏州, the train took us to the famous Shanghai 上海. Shanghai is the name everybody things of when asked if they can think of a Chinese city. Once it used to be a small fishermen village.
Upon our difficult arrival at Hangzhou 杭州 we had crammed schedule ahead. Right in the morning, we went to explore how to get to our other goal the village of Longjing 龙井 that is famous for its tea plantations.
Terracotta army in Xian 西安 was truly interesting yet it wasn’t the only thing we saw there. We were, perhaps, bit disappointed from all those people we had met there. Whether they were tourists looking for something exciting, or vendors trying to make profits, and I don’t even mention high admission… We even hadn’t seen any good place to have lunch in. We ate only some snack, got on the bus to get back to the city.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
The Temple of Eight Immortals (Ba xian an八仙庵) is the largest Tao temple in Xi'an 西安. When we were deciding on what sight to see as the first, the temple was pretty clear choice.
Beijing, the city of our year-long study stay, did not greet the girls pleasantly. Yet despite all obstacles we faced, we didn’t let it to spoil our mood. We decided to see all the sights, we hadn’t manage to visit during the first couple of days, before our flight back. We counted with some problems in our grandiose travel plan anyway.
Even though we tried, we didn’t manage to get nice weather. Smog, that impervious pot lid, held tiring heat above Beijing. But we were determined to prevail.
End of June was about leaves. Since May, my friends had been leaving. Finals were coming and those who didn’t need any confirmation of their study stays and exams passed just packed their luggage and boarded the plane. Other didn’t visit schools because their relatives, and friends arrived. Dormitories emptied.
It hasn’t been so long ago when I boarded the plane to Helsinki. I was thinking how I would spend a night before leaving for Beijing. Suddenly, I realized that my stay in China is coming to an end. It was one of these moments when I felt nostalgia and casted my mind back.
I am of those people who cannot enjoy shopping. Mostly I have this feeling that the time spent finding something could we spent much more efficiently. When I decide to go somewhere shopping I need time.
Our trip to see the famous tulou 土楼 was great. A strange van appeared and it was not strange after all. Chinese tourists stepped in and we stepped in as well because they said that the last bus had just left and the van driver would give us better price.
After while, during our search for tulou 土楼 we went off the tourist-luring village with never ending music. Chinese tourists took pictures of each other wearing traditional and nontraditional clothes rented for horrible money. All of a sudden, everything went quiet around us. We were approaching local hills on a narrow road.
Our stay in Yunyongyao云永谣 commenced with a funeral, not particularly traditional way to begin one’s trip. Most of the locals took part in it. Some right in the procession, others just watched from afar. Soon, however, cracking and music ended. Only streets covered with red papers could tell the story.
Before I traveled to China, I had noticed weird mostly roundish buildings on various ad posters. I didn’t understand why would anyone build something like this.
When we peaked out to the street in the morning, it was truly alive. The digger was demolishing houses, and people were engaged in their work. I sought to protect my breakfast against omnipresent dust. It was clear now what we would do on that day. We had to get as far as possible.
We were returning quite disgruntled from the village of Longjing 龙井. The intrusive lady reminded us again that we are still tourists in China – and given my face, I still will be one.
First registration procedure was successfully done. I had a Chinese bank account, submitted about eight passport photos, and other required documents, and while tired I read through the instructions in my room. When I found out that there is a difference between the Chinese and English version, I decided to trust the original, in Chinese.
In couple of articles already I mentioned the same topic – hot water drinking. Since young age I have been frightened to drink hot beverages when ill. It is easier and tastier to use just syrup with water, I had been always saying. And then I left to China.
Back in Amsterdam when I was waiting for my flight to Chengdu, smiling pandas surrounded me. On the background there was a clear blue sky. No. In reality there were no pandas in every park in the city, no blue sky, so my ideals immediately vanished. I decided to see pandas with my bare eyes.
Who was in summer in China, knows what I am talking about. Once you get off an airconditined airport, its like by a switch somebody turns on sauna. At least I felt like this when I arrived to Chengdu.
If you are in China, you wont omit to shop in a supermarket. But there is a supermarket supermarket. There are shops of western type, and then there are Chinese supermarkets. And of those, let's say something.
Do you know this feeling when you just want to try something new, different, just set out for some adventure? After spending whole January in Beijing we missed China so much we found the cheapest flight tickets and we decided to spend summer again in China.
Before you find yourselves in some foreign country, perhaps you would not know what you have to do. Mostly, those are things that are completely normal in your homeland. These things are usually a routine, no one even think about. For example shopping. Lets start right on the street with stalls.
This is how my first three meals that I missed in China the most. Of course, one find out that IKEA is about an hour of bus ride off the campus (in China my perception of what is “near” really changed) and that you can buy there some cheese and chocolate, to feel better there.
Another land, another habit. I realized this every day while I was in China. It did not take long. It began when I get out of the plane, continued with unbelievably intense portion of Sichuan pepper that were included in my dinner, and continued once more during - breakfast.
At the airport, I get in the bus heading to my university. There are always traffic jam in Beijing. I have a lot of time to think. How it was back then. I had already settled, bought several necessities to get by… and then I just had been waiting for my roommates to show up.
Of course, from time to time one just gets this urge to “bargain”. In case that you consider this rather amusement and you do not have nothing better to do. I even thing that if you are lucky, you can buy many things really cheap at market. Moreover, you will chitchat while doing so.
There is much more happening in Chinese parks than in Czech parks. In the previous article it was mentioned dancing and all kinds of performances. But this is not all.
After some time my life in Chengdu 成都 was becoming quite monotonous. On one hand, every day was quite new but it was apparent that everyone longed for a break.
We will live in a small house hand-built by his own cousin, the Tibetian, we call Z. here, told us. Once again he awoke curiosity and enthusiasm in us, partially suspended by a long journey. Except this we were so tired we could fall asleep literally anywhere. Still we could not believe our own eyes when he stopped in front of the building.
When before the departure from Chengdu I decided to final packing of my things, I found out that I have a lot more than a few things.
Another place I planned to visit before my arrival to Chengdu 成都 was Luo-Tai. According to the guide and our enthusiastic friends the place was worth visiting.
Before my flight to Chengdun where I had studied for half a year, there were several other trip. One of them took me to Leshan, the place with the largest Buddha statue in the world.
Several days have passed at Chengdu University. Days went by rather in same manner. Some were less calm and some calmer. We had no trip ahead of us and waited what would happen.
During walk in Dujiangyan Cityu the school invited us for a generous lunch. All ate properly. Soon they regretted as they had found out that we would go to Mount Qingcheng青城山.
Every once in a while, our University has decided that it is necessary to educate us in culture. Or at least try it. I always then appeared on the bulletin board announcement on various trips. Such notification shall we, though as administrative students who went on a diet mental, more or less perceived as an invitation to tour a huge banquet that this trip will end, all of course in the direction of the school.
One day we decided we decided with L. to see “culture,” literally. Chengdu is well known for it Jinsha Site Museum金沙 (literally “golden sand“), (in Chinese Tin-Sha-c po-wu-kuan). The easiest and cheapest way to get here is probably using one of the city buses: right here, buses like 5, 81, 83, 7, or 37.
Our stay in Jiuzhaigou was coming to an end. The last day we devote to exploring the area. While L. was just sitting at the furnace up to one hour and then suddenly stood up and said she was going to the mountains, me and V. we climbed the nearest hill and enjoyed the peace that we so lacking in big cities. We even run to the village and bought a few souvenirs, especially the warm Tibetan scarves.
As I promised myself on my exploration tour to the campus I fulfilled that promise. At the beginning of September I trotted to my future campus.
Beijing – Datong– Hohhot... and Yinchuan was supposed to follow. As we were amazed that we managed to get some tickets, we didn’t examine it.
If we set off to China it is almost imposible to miss out its capital - Beijing. Beijing is full of traces of history but Beijing also lives in the present and future in every of its wide avenues and narrow streets. Beijing is full of fabulous food, noisy traffic... And so on and on. Where would you look for peaceful moments in busy metropolis?
From Bejing to TaZ Pekingu do Datong. From Datong to Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, our second stop on our way across China. We waited on the Datong train station, instant noodles (in Chinese their name is fang-pien-mien, „comfortable noodles“, a really convenient name), we held happily our tickets. There was jing-cuo written on them (“hard seats”).
Summer. Heat. Beijing. Getting a round stamp was the only thing left when I got off the plane. But I have to wait in a queue for some time. Well, I am in China, again.
A journey from Beijing to Datong was smooth, without complications. We arrived at the place few minutes to midnight and the city was unusuallay quiet and deserted. It almost seemed as some sort of furious storm swept through the city and wiped out everything alive. Even lamps were turned off. This made our orientation, if we can use this term for a situation when we had absolutely no clue...
Despite the title looks promising there wont be a long description of my acting career. As we promised to the elderly, we came on the following day to another “rehearsal”.
When you set out to Hohhot, it is almost impossible to miss famous Mongolian steppes. There are plenty around Hohhot, we chose Si-la-mu-zhen. With our backpacks we got in a bus and two hours later the driver unloaded us in the middle of nowhere.
A queue to get a round stamp seems infinite. Next I have to just pick up my baggage, get on a bus that would take me from the airport and get at the campus. Everything according to the plan. Only with some extra time in queues or in Beijing traffic jams. Two years ago in Chengdu, if my memory is right, it was not that easy...
One of most popular tourist attractions of the Province of Ning-Sia are royal tombs about 35 kilometers from the center of Yinchuan. It is a landmark you just have to visit. We set out there soon after we get an accommodation. After while we found a bus heading to Shun Hing, literary “western Xia Square”.
As it has been already said in the previous article, Yinchuan is the capital of Ningxia, an autonomous region of the Hui people. Long story short, the Hui people are Chinese Muslims and you may recognize them at first glance for men as well as women wear typical hats.
I am waiting for tickets to get from the Beijing Airport. I have to just sit in a right bus. An hour later I am on place. I am really curious about my new place, campus and its surroundings. I have to remember my first campus in Chengdu two years earlier.