During this eventful trip to the heart of China, my soul attained a paramount contentment. Many adventurous people’s burning desire is to experience insights of civilizations totally different from their own. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to grant myself one of my most daring wishes at such a young age (19), back in 2014.
I owe everything to the Confucius Institute, the main educational organization whose purpose is to promote the Mandarin language and Chinese customs worldwide. Each summer, at least in Romania, it organizes 2-week long trips to China for its students. You only pay for the plane tickets while everything else (meals, accommodation, bus transport, entrance fees etc.) is covered by the Institute.
The day of departure was the 7th of July, when we embarked on a tiring journey which consisted of a long bus drive from the Romanian city of Cluj-Napoca to the Ferenc Liszt Airport in Budapest, from there a 2-hour flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and finally the 11-hour “interminable” flight to the Pu Dong Airport in Shanghai.
In Shanghai, we were accommodated at the Vista hotel, enjoying a 4-star luxury, and spent two days visiting the main attractions, following a tight schedule. The city would impress with its hundreds of skyscrappers, casting a shadow over any major western metropolis. At night, the light bulbs unfolded all over presented a beauty out of this world, thus confirming the status of a modern 21st-century city. The attractions we explored were the Bund, the Pudong district, the Oriental Pearl tower, the Yu Garden and a museum in the central area.
What took everyone by surprise was that the Chinese people looked at us with a lot of curiosity and many even wanted to take pictures with us. The funniest memory was with a middle-aged man who asked me to appear in a photo along with his wife.
Whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant, we were expected to eat using chopsticks. Everyone got used to them pretty fast and even for a while after coming back to Romania, I personally felt the need to ditch the cutlery.
After having stayed in Shanghai for two days, we went to Hangzhou by bus on a 2-hour voyage. On the way, we could clearly observe the true extent of Shanghai. It seemed like it was infinite in space.
And like in all China, most buildings around us were modern, raised in the last 20-30 years. Throughout the whole trip, I had seen hundreds of colossal structures being constructed everywhere, day and night. There is no other country in the world where cities develop at such a spectacular speed.
Having arrived in Hangzhou, we were taken to the Zhejiang Institute of Science and Technology, where we were greeted by several student volunteer guides. We unpacked in the bedrooms of the college built in the 1980s, whose large campus had numerous neat multi-story buildings, a pretty large stadium with a football field and a running track, a canteen, a marvelous stream which passes through its center and flows into an alluring lake, a wooden tea house with a superb view and many others.
A curious thing would be regarding the exotic animals that would sneak inside the campus, which is placed on the outskirts, near a jungle! I saw several centipedes passing through and once I even accidentally stepped on a snake while walking near the river at night, when I mistook it for a broken tree branch. Only by jumping after hearing the snake hissing prevented me from getting bitten.
In Hangzhou, we had spent most of our trip time, around 8 days, during which we took several Mandarin language classes, practiced painting, seal-cutting, tai chi, visited the main city sights and attended an extraordinary theatrical performance. We had been to the West Lake, the Lingyin Temple and the Tea Museum but what left a deep impression on me was what I witnessed at the Song Dynasty park, which gave you the impression you had time leaped backwards, everything being very traditional.
And the theater play was the greatest I had ever seen. It was divided into multiple acts: one displayed a synchronized dance of attractive women , another one showed a realistic historical battle with loud explosions and exquisite choreography and another presented the majestic interior of an ancient imperial palace. The actors appeared from everywhere in the huge hall (the ceiling, the walls, the floor … especially during the fighting sequences) and there were even real horses brought on the stage. At one point, water drops poured from the ceiling on the thousands of people in the immense audience, including myself.
When we finished our business in Hangzhou, we embarked on the train to Beijing. The ride had lasted for 13 hours. Starring outside, you could rarely spot any vast portions of emptiness so you never knew if you had actually left a certain city or you were still within its area. There were skyscrappers rising even in places which did not appear urbanized so the contrast with the surroundings was pretty strong.
After we arrived in Beijing, we rushed to visit the iconic objectives there as we only had a two-day short stay: the Tienanmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. We were very lucky. We all had expected the infamous smog, a clear drawback of China’s recent rapid development. But the atmosphere was actually clear, so the visibility was adequate to take appealing photos. Beijing doesn’t have as many cool tall buildings as Shanghai but its streets are wider and seemed cleaner.
We slept at the opulent Radisson Blu hotel, practically mirroring the initial chapter of Shanghai.
The next morning, we would go set foot on the renowned Great Wall then come back and prepare, with sorrow, for the journey back home, but pleased of everything we had been through.
I hope to return to China again soon as I know what amazing experiences still await me there.