China: Long Journey I – We Begin in Peking
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.
Beijing Jun 24, 4am. Already a strange smell in the air let you know you are back in China. Large noisy crowds make you even happy because it means the vacation of your dreams begins
Far from an airport you are, the more attention as a foreigner you draw upon yourself. And even more if you have blond hair and you shock small group of people when you start speaking Chinese. After you explain them, for a hundredth time, you are students and you are going to spend the following two months travelling across China you realize you are really going to do that. You also realize things work differently in this country. You hurry to buy train tickets right after you have little rest. You can’t let anything on chance because it would be only foolish to think we can buy tickets a day before departure.
Then you get a true reward – food. Chinese food is worth of an article for itself, and I am not even sure one would be enough.
We won’t stick long by Beijing’s cuisine. Few days later we will taste some meals of the Mongolian, Tibet, Szechuan cuisine... If one thing is certain about our stay in China – we won’t loose weight. That’s for sure. Not even if I count the fact we will spend large part of our vacation in trains eating instant 0,75 cents noodles. This time will come soon. This time we have no time for long walks in Beijing, perhaps shortly before our departure. Now we are moving of to the train station in western Beijing. According to a train schedule our next destination in China will be the former capital of Liao and northern Wei dynasties, Ta-tchung and from there we will continue to the capital of Inner Mongolia, Hohhotu.
There is about a zillion meters long queue of fellow-travelers. You can hear „lao-waj, lao-waj!” from everywhere. Well, what we can do, Chinese just need to say everyone that foreigners will travel in the train. With noodles in our hands, backpacks on our backs we try to reach the top “floor” in our couchette railway carriage. When we finally settle there we watch events below us. Middle-aged Chinese women sit down on the lowest beds and start talking. Almost everyone has in that time his/her noodles swimming in hot water and is sipping them. Who hasn’t his/her attention focused on noodles is eating sunflower seeds and children are eating chicken talons. Uneaten parts are being thrown on the floor.
We are back in China...
Text/photo: Hana Bašová
I wish I could see the Great Wall of China once in my life at least! Have you ever had this thought? When I was little and listed through encyclopedias over the pictures of an infinitely long wall that was dragging the Chinese mountains like a snake. A few years later, my wish was fulfilled. And believe that going through this magical wall is nothing unattainable!
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.
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.
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.
I have written about one of Chinese minorities, the people of Hui (回族) in one of my previous articles. I praised their cuisine and their kindness and knowledge about the place of my origin.
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.
„You study Chinese? So you can read scattered tea?“
„Chinese? Ping Pong?“ „Do you have skew eyes from eating all those rice already?“
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
„To terminus? What will you do there? There is nothing! “
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
„This is something you have to see!“
„It’s sure worth it!“
„It is world’s wonder.“
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Walks and rides in Shanghai are an infinite fount of learning unknown and different no matter where it is. I manage to sit down and observe rush around me for half an hour on one very busy avenue.
It seemed that weather wanted to reward us for what we bore on the other day. So we woke up in beautiful morning. Also, we found out that somebody dig up the main street in the village. So we had to jump over many of the new holes on the road.
Lao-pan of our hotel (if you dare to call it hotel) promised that the bus heading to our following destination, Zhuo-er-kai (a town known as Zoige), departs at 7 o’clock in the morning
The path to Sung-Pan lasted about three hours. As soon as we got off the bus, we realized that we were in a an area superpacked with tourists. While the night was still far, we were worrying about overpriced accommodaiton.
We both knew Chengdu quite well, so after a thorough sleep we went to a bamboo park at the university where I studied. Refreshed by a sweet watermelon we set ourselves another goal: the mosque to the west of Tiananmen Square.
K625 train from Chengdu to Chongqing was relatively ... interesting means of transport. But since it was turned on only every other light, and because we were tired to death, we just passed the seat (unusually empty, endured a few most determined). Nerozhlíželi we left nor right, because ignorance is sometimes the key to success, and we slept fitfully.
We just reinforced our opinion that it is difficult to find how you can get where you need to go. The IN thing right now is the mien-c' face concept. We have something similar in the Czech Republic as well. Long story short – you don’t want to loose your face in front of others.
After a nine hour train ride we got to the station in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province. What was our surprise when we tried to beat a hot gust of fresh air as Chungking! You can not say, although it would not be hot, but there was a gentle breeze, and overall was a lot more comfortable.
Our first impressions of the Zhangjiajie National Park were not positive from the first moments we were there. Positive impressions, however, were not following. At the entrance we met a woman who insisted on offering us an amazing hotel accommodation in the park at a price that we even had to haggle areas not favored by tourists.
We decided to give the park another chance and start from the other end - from the south. We also fulfilled our commitment to avoid the stairs, so we walked along the river.
A bus trip went relatively fast, sky became clear and we had a view of vast land before us. More and more we submerged between high mountains covered with grass and nimble goats.
After our visit of Labrang monastery we were falling asleep, in rain, and in rain we were waking up. We were also quite glad that we had abandoned our initial goal to sleep on steppe under sky.
It is hot. We sit in a bus crammed by a window and we are trying to breath fresh air. The freeway changes to a dusty road with many bumps. Bumped we got off the bus for a short visit in Linxia town.
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”).
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.
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.
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.
„Waky, waky! We are in Pingliang!“ It takes a while for one to realize that this is not just a dream but that a Chinese conductor tries to tell you that it is about time to leave your warm bed in the carriage for you arrived in your destination.
It was already evening and when we left our accommodation and set out to the Labrang monastery. It is one of the six main monasteries of the Gelugpa sect, a Tibet Buddhist sect, known also as “the yellow caps sect.”
Another road was ahead of us, it was from Ping-liang in Gansu Province to Tianshui. The name of the latter means literally “sky – water “(天水). This was the very first thought we had when we jumped to a puddle right when we got off the bus.
When we purchased the tickets that we guarantee that we will be able to leave the Zhangjiajie National Park, we did not protest when we found a complete state of affairs: a printed inscription in characters wu-cuo quite clearly said that most likely during the way we sit.
As we decided upon a plate of la-mien soup. So we did. Right in the morning we got on a city bus going to the Xiang River. As soon as we got off the bus, we saw our destination - Tung-Chou. Because it is a real island, the only access road goes along the river.
On the following day, around seven o’clock in the morning we got to Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi. It has very rich history.
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.
After registration troubles in the office, I managed to go through the rest of the week pretty well. I did not have to worry about the housing. Gradually, I was getting to know my new roommate and our new pets – cockroaches.
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”.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
The train, although it made us very, very tired. It took us safe right into Hefei, the capital and largest city in Anhui province.
Even local policeman knew of our arrival. So we could safely roam the city. A relatively small community of Hui live in the city. We like them not only for their culture but also for their kind attitude. So we went to the streets to see their mosques.
Our sleep that night, although intermittent, but still quite refreshing, so we did not hesitate and early morning set off to explore other monuments in Bozhou. Silently we hoped that the sooner we get up, the less heat will accompany us.
Bozhou said good bye in style. We went to temple Mu-lan cch'. It is a temple dedicated to the memory of famous Chinese heroin, Mulan. Perhaps some of you have heard her name in the Ballad of Mulan. Until the present, Mulan is an example of traditional Chinese son/daughter devotion (siao in Chinese).
We loved Kaifeng from the very beginning. Well, not actually, no. Because I was snorted over the fact that they even hadn’t swept up the room when the previous guests left.
Another day spent in Kaifeng was very spirituality. At first, we visited five mosques, because in Kaifeng there is a large community of Chinese Muslims. We were surprised also neglected half-ruined church, where making of wedding photography took place. We finished the entire circuit in a Buddhist temple.
Although, I was about to tell you how we lost accommodation in Heze, I should mention our train trip as well. We sat in a slightly crowded carriage and talked in Czech, which of course attracted the attention of our fellow travelers. In contrast, a bunch of us sat constantly laughing gentlemen who were watching us a lot, and finally dared to ask where it actually are.
While browsing in the diary, I found this note: "Qufu, arrival around 00:00." I remember that moment too well. It was quite cold, pitch black, and right at the exit of the station greedy taxi drivers came to us. Matter of principle had to be rejected. Then, however, had no choice but to hope that they were wrong and that you can get accommodation in and around the station ...
Previous day in Chu-fu, sadly, in comparison to places that we've visited was not that interesting. Maybe if around the tomb of the great Confucius did not stand crowds of Chinese eager to make photos and if for passing the cemetery of the Kchung family was not required admission 40 yuans, the overall impression would be a little bit better.
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.
Hong Kongu is amazing place to many. It is strong, intense and sometimes wierd experience... It s...