On the 22nd March, nine pupils and two teachers left Heathrow to fly to China. Fourteen hours later we arrived in Beijing ready to start the adventure of a lifetime (after a quick sleep to recover!).
We were lucky enough to experience some truly amazing sites and places – we started our trip with three days in Beijing, where we visited the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and the area around our hotel (the Hutongs) which was right in the historic centre of Beijing. The smells and sounds of Beijing made a strong impressions on us from the beginning – our first visit to a public toilet in Beijing will be forever etched onto our brains! After some lovely food (including a delicious Peking Duck, and some wonderful local small restaurants with very traditional, and sometimes spicy, food) we visited a Lama Temple, followed by an unforgettable day trip to the Great Wall of China.
The Great Wall of China was magnificent, and for many of us was the best experience of the trip. We had beautiful warm weather, we could really appreciate just how huge the wall is, and we walked along quite a way to the highest point in the section we had come to. Some girls walked over seven miles – we thought this would be good preparation for the overnight train journey to Xi’an! After an exciting toboggan ride down from the Wall to the shuttle bus, we were off to catch our overnight train. This was an experience – with some fascinating scenery to look at for those of us who found it harder to sleep!
Xi’an is a beautiful city – the spring blossom was coming out everywhere we looked, and combined with the stunning architecture gave us a feeling for the beauty of China that we hadn’t always seen in the huge metropolis of Beijing. We visited the Great Mosque in Xi’an, the Culture Street to see the Calligraphy, and an Art Museum where we all had a Calligraphy lesson. The markets in Xi’an were amazing – we spent some happy moments exploring the stalls of ‘genuine’ designer goods, as well as experiencing the smells and sights of the Muslim food market at night. While in Xi’an we of course went to see the Terracotta Army – just outside the city. It was awe-inspiring to think that one man had ordered this all to be prepared for him when he died – there is still so much waiting to be uncovered, the archaeologists that we saw estimate they have another 40 years of work to find everything at this wonderful site. We saw a factory where they make replica Terracotta Warriors, and then visited the site itself – the famous Pits 1,2, and 3.
After the wonderful sights we had seen so far, it was lovely to fly to a very different part of China. We landed in Guilin after our two-hour flight, and drove to the small town of Yangshuo, on the Li river. The scenery here is eerie – it feels like something unworldly, almost as though you are in the Lord of the Rings! Here we enjoyed the calmer pace of life; we went to a local market and then to a cookery school where we cooked some delicious dishes – and then ate them! We went on a beautiful river cruise on bamboo rafts, and again had some time to explore the smaller town and the different atmosphere and way of life. While in Yangshuo, we met with a local woman (we also met a very interesting lady in Beijing) who spoke to us about the role of a woman nowadays in China, how things have and have not changed for women in terms of family, business, expectations etc. Some of what she said was quite shocking to us – for example her nine year old son has so much work to do he can’t go to bed before 11pm! At the end of our time in China we had time to visit a local zoo, where we saw two gorgeous Pandas – awake, walking around and eating bamboo!
Finally after another two hour flight we arrived in Shanghai for our last stop on our tour of China – it was a very different place from our other destinations. We found it much more westernised, more business-focused, and more familiar than the other places we had visited which were obviously more foreign when compared to our life in Calne! In Shanghai we visited the beautiful Yunan gardens, the Bund; we went up the third highest tower in China (the Jinmao Tower); we shopped in local markets and we celebrated Emily’s 12th birthday in style! After an amazing trip we travelled home and met parents at Heathrow – tired, but inspired by everything we had seen and experienced.
China is a wonderful country, we had a fantastic time and would like to thank everyone who made it so special. Watch this space for details the next China trip in a few years!