Photo gallery can be found below article.
For seventeen days, from July 25 to August 11, 2017, I was able to immerse myself in the culture of China. My brother James and I made the trip to visit my father and step-mother who live there. Flying from Pittsburgh to Detroit was a quick forty-five-minute flight. Then embarking on the longest flight I have every taken, we travelled 2,145 miles from Detroit to Beijing, flying over the Arctic in the process.
In our descent to the ground, the geographic enormity of Beijing is what struck me the most. I was aware that the metropolitan area housed around twenty-four million people, but I had no idea how far it spanned. The city is separated into eight rings, with connecting “ring roads” in between. In the short time we were in Beijing, totaling around two days, we stayed in the fifth ring. Arriving late in the day, the first thing we decided to do after checking into our hotel was to eat.
Food is important in the United States, but in China it plays a much bigger role in society. Rarely did anyone order a meal solely for themselves, with the exception of noodles with broth. A lot of people tend to eat with at least one other person. Generally, the norm is that you order one more dish than there are people at the table. Everyone is given small plates and once the food arrives you pick what you want from each dish throughout the meal, similar to the way a family style dinner is served. Never in my life have I eaten more over a period of time than I did during this visit. Even trying our hardest, we could rarely finish the hefty amounts of food given to us. Being someone who loves spicy food, I quickly fell in love with the cuisine, especially of the Sichuan province. Out of the many dishes we tried, mapo duofu and wooung jorim were my favorites.
Because of its proximity to Beijing, we travelled to the Great Wall at Badaling. Being one of the wonders of the world I knew that the sight would have to be breathtaking… and it was even more than I expected! To construct a wall that large is remarkable in itself, but to have it traverse through mountain ranges and over peaks blew me away. While the entrance area of the Wall is packed with people, as you ascend either left or right it quickly disperses as the grade of the wall increases with the mountainside.
The next day was busy as it was dedicated to more sight-seeing and traveling. To arrive to the rail station in the center of the city (First Ring) from the fifth ring took forty-five minutes by car. From here we took a short subway ride to reach Tiananmen. Tiananmen Square holds much of China’s history and is a popular cultural hub. The square itself is massive, and is surrounded by the National Museum of China, Great Hall of the People, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, and the Forbidden City. Because of time constraints we spent most of our time in the Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum. Housing many generations of Chinese royalty, the Forbidden City is surrounded by twenty-five foot walls, sits on over 175 acres, and during its period of use, citizens were not freely allowed in, hence the name. After spending a few hours here, we then made our way back to the train station to begin the next part of the trip.
Our destination was Shenyang and our mode of transport was a bullet-train that moves at 190 miles per hour (~305km/hour). Normally the trip would take twelve hours by standard train, but is now cut down to four. Although the countryside flies by, the ride is beyond smooth since the train is powered by electro-magnets. Despite being less populated (around 8 million), Shenyang feels denser in comparison to Beijing. The visit to Shenyang was short, just one day, but in this time we managed to visit the notable Wu’ai Market, Banruo Temple, and Xingshun Night Market. Both markets are some of the biggest in Asia, so these were easy locations to get all our shopping done. The night market stretches for over a mile, one section contains many food vendors while the other has retail items.
The following day we boarded another train to our father and step-mother’s home in Yanji, Jilin Province, an area in northern China. Yanji sits about 50 miles (75 km) from Russia and between 10 to 15 miles (15-20km) from the North Korean border. Because of this, Jilin holds a large population of ethnic Koreans. Nearly all the signs in Yanji are in Korean and Mandarin, some also have a third listing in English or Russian. Most of our time in Yanji was visiting with new friends and family (which also meant a lot of food!).
Much like Pittsburgh, Yanji sits in a valley among mountains and has numerous bridges to cross the Bu’erhatong River. We also visited the nearby city of Tumen, which sits just across the Tumen River from North Korea. The next trip we made was a few hours by car and led to Changbaishan (Changbai Mountain). This range of mountains reaches an elevation over nine-thousand feet, with its highest peak being a dormant volcano, where a bright blue lake has filled the crater. This is both a spiritual and national place of importance for China, North Korea, and South Korea. The cold peaks retain some snow all year long, and catching a glimpse of the lake is no easy feat as clouds blow in constantly, but we managed to! My step-mother had visited multiple times and was never able to get full-visibility, so now she says we are good luck to bring.
The final note to our journey was a trip to the Tower of Dragon and Tiger. This location is just south of the city of Hunchun in Jilin province. This large viewing tower is situated in the corner of China’s border with North Korea and Russia. It gives a magnificent view of the Tumen River, North Korean ridges and valleys (and a small town), and Russian lakes and plains.
Although not visible, the Japanese Sea sits behind the mountains ten miles away. The tower also houses a Chinese history museum and wildlife education center. Concerning the name of the tower, the dragon is a symbol of strength, power, and luck in China, and the tiger is pulled from some of the wildlife found around the tower.
In this reflection I realized that my trip was much more meaningful than I expected it to be. I found a lot to love about China during this brief visit. I intend to increase my skills in speaking Mandarin and learning more about Chinese culture by taking courses offered at Chatham. I will be returning again during Summer 2018 and hope to communicate more effectively with the people I meet to strengthen the new lifelong interest I have developed.
Enjoy more pictures from the trip in the gallery below!
Corey Doeing is a junior at Chatham University studying arts management with a minor in sustainability. He is interested in various aspects of design, marketing, and communications. He is an office assistant in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department, so stop in and say hi!