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This summer I spent 6 weeks in China travelling and teaching English. If you are considering visiting China, the first thing you need to know is that it very different from the UK; the food is different, the language is different, the buildings are different, and the people are different.
My first stop was Ningxia, a province in the north. Ningxia does not have many foreigners, so I stuck out like a sore thumb but it was fortunate that the locals are particularly friendly to foreigners. They often took my picture and bought me drinks so for the first few days I felt a bit like a celebrity. Even so, the novelty soon wore off. Despite the fact that Ningxia is a province which is small and relatively unheard of, I grew somewhat attached to it. The highlight of my time there had to be flying across the Yellow River on a zip wire.
I then travelled to Qinghai Lake – the largest in China. I travelled there by train. The journey was 12 hours, but fortunately I had a bed. On the way back however, I wasn’t so lucky. The only tickets left were standing ones. So I had to sit on the floor for 12 hours through the night. The lake itself is pretty spectacular. I went horse riding around it, taking in the views. I also paid some guy 10 RMB (the equivalent of about £1) to sit on his yak.
I then went on to Xi’an, one of the ancient capitals of China and home of the terracotta warriors. Xi’an is a bit more tourist-friendly than the other places I had visited. There’s plenty of travelling tourists, and western shops and restaurants. My final stop was Beijing. There’s so much to see in Beijing; the Olympic Park, Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Summer Palace and the Great Wall. Taking the subway in Beijing is an interesting experience. I found out the hard way that Chinese commuters aren’t afraid to sneeze on you!
Chinese food is very unique, but I soon grew to love it. Although eating everything with chopsticks takes some getting used to. My favourite type of meal was hot pot. In hot pot restaurants, every person at the table has their own mini hob. The waiters bring you the meat and vegetables uncooked and you boil them yourself in a spicy broth – very tasty indeed. Chinese alcohol on the other hand wasn’t great. The beer was weak and watery, but a lot cheaper than imported brands. There is one particular spirit – bijou, which is absolutely lethal. I wouldn’t recommend that at pre-drinks.
One of the biggest differences between the UK and China that struck me was the buildings. In the UK we are used to two-storey houses with gardens and driveways. But in China it seemed like almost every building was a high-rise tower block. And half of the buildings haven’t even been built yet. Everywhere you go – especially in the outskirts of cities – there are hoards of skyscrapers which haven’t even been finished. China is like a big construction site!
I think people in the western world are relatively uneducated about China. We don’t learn about the vast Chinese history or Mandarin in School. I think it’s a shame considering China is home to almost 20% of the world’s population, and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. I would definitely recommend visiting China if you want to learn more about the world we live in.
Words: David Clarke
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham