With my day off from school on Friday, I went to the financial district, which has most of Beijing’s tallest buildings. I tried to go to the top of the Beijing World Trade center only to discover that the highest floor you can go up to without staying at the hotel there is the 32nd. There was still a nice view from the there, though.
I also went to the see the CCTV building, which in Chinese is known as the 大裤子, or big pants. I think it is a really amazing building and a marvel of engineering.
I finished off the day by visiting Beijing’s antique market, which had some interesting artifacts from Chinese history, but also a great deal of touristy items.
On Saturday, I also decided to go out because I didn’t have too much homework to do before my school trip. I went to visit Beijing’s Drum and Bell towers. Though it was cool to see from the outside, they were closed for restoration, so we were unable to go inside. Instead, we walked around some of the surrounding hutongs.
Since we had some extra time, we decided to return to the Tiananmen area to visit the Workers’ Cultural Palace, which, despite the name, is really just a small park next to the Forbidden City where the Emperors used to go to worship their ancestors.
On Sunday we left for our trip to Shanxi province. I did far too much to describe it all, but I'll write about the highlights of each day. We took a slow train to Datong on Sunday, which was seven and half hours and swallowed up almost the entire day. Upon arriving, I was stunned to find that Datong was not a small rural town in the middle of nowhere as I had imagined but in fact a large city with a population of well over a million people. Additionally, everywhere you turned there was new construction as more people continue to move from the countryside to cities in China.
On Monday, we went to a local high school called 北师大大同附中(Datong High School Associated with Beijing Normal University). Although I felt awkward at first, it was an amazing experience to meet high school students in a place that is so different from both the US and Beijing, and they were so excited to meet foreigners. We even had a talent show in the evening where some SYA students performed and we were able to see both traditional Chinese dances and western performances from the Chinese students.
On Tuesday morning we visited a coal mine just outside of Datong, which remains one of the biggest coal producing cities in China. I enjoyed putting on the mining outfit and descending so far down to get a sense of what working in a coal mine is like and the true costs of China’s production of coal. From the mine we drove to the Yungang grottoes, which contain large Buddhist statues that were carved into the side of a cliff more than 1500 years ago. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We finished the day by doing a scavenger hunt that led us to the major sights around Datong.
We left Datong early Wednesday morning to begin our 9 hour bus ride to Pingyao. Luckily, on our way, we stopped at the Hanging Monastery, which is spectacularly built right on the side of a mountain, and a pagoda which is the 3rd tallest in China.
Thursday was spent exploring the city of Pingyao, which is a magnificently preserved Ming Dynasty city. We stayed in a courtyard hotel and slept on Kangs (beds made of concrete). It was great to wander down the streets full of artisan shops in old Chinese buildings.
Friday seemed to just disappear as we drove from Pingyao to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. On the way we stopped at the mansion of an ancient Chinese merchant family, but places like that are all starting to look the same to me. In the afternoon I left my classmates to go to Taiyuan airport, where I was flying to Shanghai to meet my aunt, who was there doing business. I was very excited to be able to navigate transportation — the taxi, airport, and plane — all by myself and all in a foreign language.
I spent Saturday morning Pearl shopping with my aunt, and in the afternoon we ascended the Oriental Pearl Tower to do some sightseeing. We then finished off the day by walking along the Bund to enjoy the spectacular skyline of Shanghai's new Pudong district.
I am writing this blog post on Sunday (11/16/14) as I am on the bullet train back to Beijing. In the morning my aunt and I did a bus tour and walked around People's Square, and then I had to go to the train station. The time with my aunt flew by too quickly, but I had a really great weekend and I’m so glad I made the effort to go to Shanghai. It was an adventure to figure out the train system myself, but I'm loving the bullet train, which is really nice inside and going so fast! As I type this, the display at the end of the car says we are going 188mph!