During all of our programs, whether during the fall, spring, or summer, some of the most exciting times of the semester are excursions outside of Beijing.
For many students, coming to a city like Beijing is an accomplishment in itself - adapting to a new culture, a new language, and 20 million other inhabitants competing for space at every juncture! While Beijing is a keen representation of modern Chinese life, nearly half of China's 1.3 billion people live in the countryside.
This summer, students had the choice of choosing one of two trips, each with a different theme. Held in late June, the first trip went to the northeastern port city of Dalian, while the other trip took students to rural areas the Shanxi and Hebei provinces.
Doan Tranh, a student from the University of Missouri - Columbia, was one of the participants on this trip and agreed to give a recap and some of her thoughts about what this excursion meant to her.
In order for students to fully experience China as a complex and diverse country beyond the happenings of Beijing, CIEE has provided two very different weekend trips for us to choose from. The first option is a trip to the port city of Dalian to learn about its colonialism and modernization. The second option is an excursion to the countryside of Shanxi/Hebei to explore environmental issues on the rural landscape. Both are interesting but I decided on the latter.
The first day was spent traveling to Tianzhen county where we will stay the night. After we arrived and had lunch, we were off to a section of the Great Wall that fell into disrepair long ago. It lacked the magnificence of the Great Wall everyone knows of but it was quite interesting. Then back to the hotel, dinner, and a trip to a hot spring. It was my first ever soaking in a hot spring.
The second day we headed to the village of Zengjiacha. When we reached the village, groups were formed and each assigned to different families. This was such an amazing experience. The family that I lived with was exceedingly kind. Their hospitality, though, at times was overwhelming. I can't even count the times we have to politely refuse more food during meal times, not that we disliked the food but we physically just couldn't eat anymore. We also offered to help around the house but was repeatedly declined, although we did get to help with the weeding.
One thing that I found very awesome was how efficient the houses were at regulating temperature. Even when it was sweltering hot outside, the inside remained cool and comfortable. At night, the built-in heater under our sleeping arrangement was enough to keep us warm.
The third day was the hike. The whole hike was 10km and should take around 5 – 6 hours to finish. For someone who has no hiking experience, this was a crazy decision. Despite being completely exhausted and in quite a bit of pain after, I did enjoy it and the scenery was spectacular. I did have the option to not do the hike entirely or turn back at a certain point but I didn't and I'm glad I didn't.
The last day we stopped by a Catholic church and a Buddhist temple on the way back to Beijing. Shocked was my reaction when I saw the Catholic church. I expected something humble and quaint, not such a tall and embellished structure. We probably could have spotted it from miles away if the sky was clearer. The Buddhist temple was on the other side of the spectrum, dilapidated and in dire need of renovation. This little tour, however, does require more hiking up a mountain.
Besides getting to experience one day in a rural village, the objective of this trip is for us to gain awareness of the severity that environmental problems poses on these rural communities. It's one thing to hear about it and another to witness just how critical the situation is. If problems remains unresolved, the countryside will bear the brunt of the consequences. There isn't an easy or quick fix but it's better to be aware than ignorant of the issues.
Overall, this trip was far from comfortable and don't expect it to be but it was absolutely eye-opening and life-changing. I do urge people to give it a try and see for themselves.
Doan, victorious (and tired!) after finishing the hike! Doan (pictured far right) on the final day of the excursion at the damaged Buddhist temple, which is now being slowly repaired by local volunteers.