China Trip 2018
On Mar.13th , 30 students and 3 teachers boarded Flight EY42 on Etihad Airways bound for Beijing via Abu Dhabi. A trip of a lifetime waited. The students had all participated in a Chinese Studies Module before departure, giving them some sense of what was in store. Equipped with some useful phrases, knowledge of some geography and history of China and a huge curiosity as to how a country with such a vast population actually functions, we landed in Beijing early on the morning of 14th March.
Our initial impression was WOW , as Chinese writing seemed to be everywhere, we were definitely in China. It was a grey morning with an invisible sun high in the sky. This was what we had heard about, smog. Your nose and mouth sensed it was very different from home. People with masks on were common. Yes this was China.
Our itinerary was full and varied. After our arrival we were taken to a restaurant for lunch. Working with chopsticks was a great experience. A skill you mastered or went hungry. The food was all we expected. Full of luscious aromas, crunchy colourful vegetables and chicken and pork in wonderful sauces. After filling up we headed for our first destination.
It began in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, comprising of a complex of 50-year-old decommissioned military factory buildings boasting a unique architectural style, located in Dashanzi, Chaoyang District of Beijing, that houses a thriving artistic community.
Tiredness was setting in as we got our evening meal, again sitting at tables of 11, we conversed about the food, the journey and the idea of actually being able to sleep in a bed. The routine of eating remained the same for the duration of the trip, varied company and conversations at the table and varied menus to spice up the palate.
We checked into our hotel, situated on the North West corner of the second ring road. Never so glad to get horizontal. Light out and the longest day was over.
The next day began early as we headed to The Great Wall. Very impressive. From there we had lunch, went to a Tea Ceremony were we tasted many varieties of tea. No milk, no sugar needed.
Next we went to enjoy the Olympic Village built for the 2008 Olympic Games. The Birds Nest and The Cube. We then went to the Houhai Lakes and surrounding hutong of Nanluoguxiang were we saw the traditional housing from early Beijing. More food and back to base to chill out and again try catch up on much needed rest.
Again an early start to try avoid the morning traffic. Today we went to Tiananmen Square. But it was partially blocked off as The Party Conference was on. This is when they elected the President into office for life. Also we found out when we got home that Kim Jong Un of North Korea was also in town when we were there. Hence all the crazy security.
From there we entered the Forbidden City under the watchful eye of Chairman Mao. Again the vastness of this place, the very specific layout and design, all to the liking of the Emperors. We learned about the importance of colours and numbers in Chinese culture.
St. Patricks Day. We all dressed up in our greens and had our own parade. We were greeted with a snow blizzard at The Lama Temple as we asked for the gods to be kind to Ireland as they faced England in Twickenham for The Grand Slam. Next up was The Pearl Market, the opportunity to shop and haggle. This was the ultimate experience in shopping. Bargaining for Beats, Under Armour, Leather bags, Sunglasses, Silk and many other goods. One had to be careful and wise and understand the conversion of currency. Think fast and recognise a good deal. Also you learned to walk away when the going got too tough.
Exhausted from shopping we visited an acrobatic show, where we witnessed amazing feats. From 16 people on one bicycle to 7 motorcycles in a sphere going every which way at speed.
Our usual early start , heading north west to The Summer Palace. The life of the emperor was certainly one of opulence. A Kung Fu class in the park , being watched by all the local elders was certainly entertaining. Our instructor is well know in the area and is a master in Beijing style kung fu.
After our brave efforts in the martial arts, we walked across the park to The Temple of Heaven. This is where the emperor would make sacrifices to ensure a good harvest to help feed his people. One of the highlights was the exquisite food tasting on Snack Alley just off Wangfujing Street. Here we got to taste scorpions, starfish, snake and all sorts of other delicacies. Not everyone was a fan or daring enough to try.
Final day in Beijing was a visit to the Zoo and a chance to see the famous Pandas. From there we went to the Beijing City Museum which had excellent displays of the cities ancient history. A short bus trip took us to Beijing South Railway Station where we boarded the night train to Shanghai. It was a 12 hour journey, four in a cabin, snug little bugs. Super in Beijing, breakfast in Shanghai.
On arrival in Shanghai it was immediately noticeable that this was a very different type cuty from Beijing. This is New York style, high rise building s dominating the skyline, Shanghai Tower being the tallest. We went to the Old Town and got a glimse of what it was like to live in a condensed space, gone were the traditional courtyards of Beijing. Here the houses were in lanes. We visited the Yu Garden, a piece of majestic tranquillity in a bustling city. Following lunch we ascended The Jinmao Tower which gave amazing views of the city and The Huangpu River. A walk down The Bund gave a spectacular view of the business district with the famous skyline in all its glory.
Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets gave an insight into the hustle and bustle of daily life in a city of 24 million people
Our final hours in Shanghai were spent shopping in the famous underground market of Xiangyang . He you needed a good sense of direction as well as the art of bargaining. It was an absolute maze of shops and stalls , everything available for ‘best price’.
Following our last meal and probably the end of using chopsticks for some time, we headed for the Pudong Airport to catch our long 10 hour flight to Abu Dhabi. The 3 hours stop over was welcomed to stretch the legs before our final flight to Dublin.
It was an amazing trip to be able to do at such a young age and to gain so many wide and varied experiences along the way, was a real educatio