Coming to this trip with virtually no prior knowledge of China, i really didn't know what to expect. I did however plan to achieve some understanding of this rich culture, learn some background to my heritage and share some great memories with this group of people whom I'd never met.
The flight en route to China was a long exhausting one that I spent trying really hard to learn the names and interests of the group I would be spending the next month. Arriving in China I was a little apprehensive about the daily lifestyle and standard of living we had gotten ourselves in for.
Arriving in Foshan we were taken to an extraordinarily luxurious hotel where we spent the following four nights dispelling all my prior concerns. The days here were spent at the Huang Fei Hong martial arts academy learning Kung fu where I learnt to appreciate all the skill and dedication this art demands. It was an interesting experience to join in and be apart of this culture. The masters all fully gained my respect for their dedication and patience in teaching us the skills needed for us to be able to perform.
Although classified by Chinese standards as a small city/town, I found it to be an alive place that made me stop every couple of steps to get a good look around. The ancestral temple where we spent much of our days in Foshan are so beautiful and amazed me with the atmosphere that it created with the locals doing their daily tai chi.
Our next stop was Jinsun where we were given the opportunity to have a look and take in the history of some of the ancestral villages. Although my family was not from this area, I was still fascinated about these buildings that once housed our ancestors. I was amazed to see how well preserved they were and how they were so well built to last this time. Visiting some of the local sights such as the infamous lychee tree whose fruit sold for the same price as a very nice car and going to the well where the fairy committed suicide provided some insight to the local folk stories and history.
It was also here going to the Sinjin markets where I got my first shopping experience in bartering and learning the hard way about secret rooms and pushy shop assistants. Although Janet warned us, a group of us did manage to get ourselves locked in one of the shops backrooms, it was an incident that was a bit of a culture shock but definitely one that I can now look back in retrospect.
The minority village we visited appeared to be like a Chinese theme park full of rides and souvenirs. It was very touristy and only a recreation of the minorities' lifestyle, however, it was full of lovely traditional costumes of the minorities and colourful and rich displays depicting their native culture. The night show we went to while there was amazing and breathtaking, the costumes, set and performances were incredible.
Going to the local schools to learn calligraphy and socialise with local students was a good opportunity for us to share the more local way of life with people our age. The students were all eager to talk to us making them very approachable and friendly. They showed us around the school and their hostel rooms that were a lot smaller and crowded than ours back home.
Visiting more ancestral villages in Guangzhou gave me the opportunity to again immerse myself into this history especially when we stopped at a Joe village. It was hard as I had no contacts in china so didn't know exactly which village was mine but even just visiting this one and seeing evepjone else's was enough for me to appreciate my heritage.
Dr Sun Yat-sen's memorial and museum was a chance to learn more about Chinas past and background. It was nice to meet with the Australians who were doing a similar tour to us, and spend the day sightseeing with them.
Leaving Guangzhou we took a 2hour flight to Hangzhou, which I thought, was the most beautiful place we went to on the hip. It was so picturesque with the water and quaint willowing trees. Here we did lots of sightseeing and got to visit the Yue Fei temple where the tombs were and the Lingyin temple which were full of caves that were full of statues and carvings. The Westlake cruise we went on was nice way to see the city especially as it was a fine day.
We departed Hangzhou to Shanghai by bus and stopped at the Wuzhen water village on the way. This village was like the Chinese version of Venice. People actually lived there and it felt kind of weird like we were invading their homes. The leisure boat ride that took us through the village was nice and it was a good opportunity to observe this scenic place.
Shanghai was definitely more fast-paced than the other cities. We spent a couple of hours at the Shanghai history museum that had amazing displays which were carefully laid out showing the city's timeline. It was also great to go to the Bund where it was fascinating to see all the different architecture styles that Shanghai encompasses and see what the buildings looked like with what I had seen in the museum presentations.
Exploring Nanjing road was interesting; this famous shopping street was long and full of stores and malls. It was very loud, pushy, and overcrowded making shopping difficult as I am used to a more relaxed environment.
The Huangpu night cruise that took us along the river to see the beautiful buildings lit up at night was fun. The city did look different at night and definitely lived up to the reputation as the city that doesn't sleep.
The Jade Buddha was an active place that housed the white jade Buddha statues. It was a place where I had something to look at the whole time.
On my free days in Shanghai I went to the markets when I eventually got used to and started enjoying the bargaining situation. Also we went to the 88th floor of the Jin Mao observatory, this provided a picturesque view of how vast and spread out Shanghai really was.
Leaving Shanghai we took the overnight sleeper train to Beijing. The train ride was an experience with a small room with bunk beds and enough room to open one suitcase at a time. The ride though was surprisingly comfortable and I slept welt.
Although warned about the cold temperatures, the chilly weather was still a bit of a shock especially with the previous cities on the trip being so hot.
The temple of Heavan Park was larger and more beautiful than the pictures I had seen depicted. It contained the Hall of Prayer for good harvest, which looked so grand with the distinct three-tiered circular roof. The echo wall had us all at opposite ends carefully trying to hear each other.
Going to Tiananmen and also visiting Mao Zedong mausoleum was a sombre activity.The square was large and full of visitors, the line to visit chairman Mao's memorial was long with many flowers being sold and laid near his body that was cordoned off and heavily guarded.
The Forbidden City had surpassed all I had read about its vastness and beauty. We didn't manage to see all of it but I could see the history and intricacy of the grand courtyards, palaces and gardens.
The Hutong tour we went on allowed us to visit and experience the more typical Chinese lifestyle. Visiting the local houses in town and meeting the locals was a refreshing change from the typical sightseeing and was a great opportunity to understand their way of life. I was shocked to learn that the houses did not contain bathrooms and that people just used the public washroom. The house we saw was of a middle°™class family and though it was homely, it emphasised the different standard of living to what was back home. It was built to have the sons and daughters to live next door; I was smprised that this was still the cultural norm. I enjoyed seeing this area and the chance to see it riding on the rituals that definitely made it even more special.
The acrobatic show we went to made me occasionally wince at the flexibility of the young gymnasts.Their performances were extraordinary and it was an enjoyable show.
The name of the summer palace seemed ironic, as it was so cold that I felt like a marshmallow padded up in all my layers. It looked very different to the pictures I had seen which were all shot in summer, but the frozen lake and dusting of snow made it look enchanting. The long corridor was definitely one of the attractions here so colourfully painted landscape pictures.
Climbing the unforgiving and grand Great Wall was a challenge and a highlight. I didn't go up very far but I went enough to be able to appreciate the unexpectedly formidable steep hillsides. The large number of other people trekking up the famous sight alongside us surprised me, however once seeing the view of the mountains with the trees lightly covered in snow on this clear crisp day I understood why this was one of the seven wonders of the world.
The Ming Tombs were a close description of what my travel book that had stated it was an underground palace full of the copies of the wooden coffin containers and artefacts. The Sacred Way that we went though backwards was pathed with stone statues of guardians and animals that were both large and grand. My remaining time in Beijing included more shopping at the markets and a visit to the Beijing zoo. At the zoo the main attraction was definitely the pandas that all seemed quite content in their eating and occasional movement. The zoo was huge but it was a pity as most of the animals had to be housed inside due to the cold weather. Shopping was good and was spent mostly at the two markets Hongqian and Ya Show. I also discovered two great CD stores along the streets near to our hotel.
We left Beij nig when it started to snow; it was a perfect way to leave China.
This was a huge difference from China, busier, more crowded, more westemised, and more overwhelming. Our time here was free so mine was spent just exploring Nathan Road and ail the shopping malls. The malls were again busy but English was widely spoken, prices fixed and more expensive.
We took the ferry which was a nice way to see the water and buildings on the way to Hong Kong Island; then we caught a bus up to Victoria peak which had a breathtaking view of the many high-rises as well as the sea and trees.
I also tried to familiarise myself with the subway which was conveniently located near to our hotel. It was a busy and fast paced place but was a lot cheaper than taking a taxi that meant I used it to get around and explore a lot. I was impressed with the use of the Octopus cards which were very convenient and sped up the system that catered for so many people. The card is a good example of how I think Hong Kong is so much more ahead, advanced, and active compared to home.
This trip was such a wonderful opportunity that I took a lot from. I achieved everything I had set out to gaining some insight of the rich and different culture that is part of my heritage. The people on the trip that shared this experience with me were all lovely and I hope to remain in touch with all of them.
Thanks to the NZCA and Mr David Tai for making this opportunity to go on this trip possible.
Also thanks to the Chinese government and Guangdong Overseas Chinese Affairs Office for allowing us to experience this amazing month and also for subsidising the trip.
To our tour guides and teachers your help and knowledge provided me the much needed background information to the sights we saw. Amy and Miss Leong thanks heaps for organising our activities during our stay in the Guangdong area.
I would like to especially thank Janet for ail of her much needed guidance and wisdom, without your vast knowledge, patience and wonderful organisation I would have been lost.