by Zaiga Alksnitis, Reference Librarian at Middlesex & member of the 2013 China trip
Over spring break, Annie Ku, Head of the Chinese Language Department, led a group of Middlesex students and faculty on a tour of three of China's important cities: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. March 9-18 found us in a country extremely different from the Middlesex bubble and our everyday lives. For some of the students there was the added excitement of traveling outside the USA for the first time! Mrs. Ku organized the trip with the help of Pei Pei Zhang, mother of David Fan ’15.
The first stop was Beijing, current capital of China. Beijing is home to Tiananmen Square, which houses government buildings, but is mostly known as the site of the 1989 massacre of protesting students. Now it is filled with milling tour groups. Other sites to see in Beijing were the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and Temple of Heaven - all luxurious and important places during the centuries of Imperial China. The students often found themselves as attractive to tourists as the places they were visiting. Many tour groups come from rural provinces and have never seen “western” people. Having one’s picture taken with an American was pretty exciting for them! Just outside Beijing is a section of the Great Wall. Due to the foggy day and the curving mountains, the wall initially seemed like an easy walk up, but it is actually a long and grueling hike! Those who accomplished it had the opportunity to get their names engraved on a bamboo certificate, the equivalent of bumper stickers that state “I climbed Mt. Washington.” The students had some great opportunities to interact and practice their Chinese when we learned some Kung Fu at the Shaolin Wushu School, and visited a vocational school where we had a hands-on lesson in dumpling preparation.
Our next city was Xi’an, which we traveled to by night train. This was a unique experience, as we slept 4 to a very narrow berth. Xi’an is one of China’s ancient capitals. It was the ruling seat of the Qin dynasty, whose emperor is known for unifying China. He is also the emperor who had the terra cotta warriors created for his tomb. We visited the museum/archeology site and were amazed at the number of warriors. So far 8,000 have been discovered, each with a different face! We had only a day and a half in Xi’an, but somehow we managed to pack in a 21 course dumpling meal, theatricals and museums depicting Tang Dynasty culture, and a bicycle ride on the top of the ancient city wall!
Shanghai, the last city on the trip, was a stark contrast to Beijing and Xi’an with more western style architecture and flashy new skyscrapers, all lit up at night. We strolled along the riverfront (known as The Bund) and took in the diverse skyline. We even got to view the city from 100 stories up in the Shanghai World Financial Center. In contrast to modern Shanghai were the traditional neighborhoods. Nestled among the taller, newer buildings are groups of tile-roofed houses. Many are decrepit slums, but some, like the Tianzifang area, have been transformed into shopping areas full of restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir stands. Residents on the upper floors of these houses look on as tourists bargain with shopkeepers in the crowded, narrow lanes. Every day in Shanghai seemed to include a jaw-dropping experience, whether it was the beautiful Ming Dynasty Yu Garden or the death-defying feats of an acrobatics show. The final adventure for the students was a Chinese language “amazing race” challenge designed by Mrs. Ku. Students broke into teams which had to use their Chinese language skills to bargain with shop keepers, buy certain items, and travel to a meeting point in the French district!
Over all, it was a very successful trip. We had our eyes opened to a different way of living, ate delicious Chinese fare, and learned a lot about the complex history of China. The group will have wonderful memories of this trip for a long time to come!