How I ended up in the “City of Ice”
As a student of Business Management and Mandarin, I had to make a choice of city in China for my year abroad. The year abroad, in my case, consists of two components: one year study and a two month internship. I decided early that I wanted to study in one city and do an internship in a different city, for different experiences.
North vs South
Originally, I was very keen on studying in a city in the southern part of China, for many reasons that include: climate, food, proximity to the sea, and much more. As a Portuguese person, I searched for a similar place to go to (and to make the cultural shock a little less noticeable!), However, it went a little different than expected (in a good way!).
I applied and was accepted for a one-year Confucius institute full scholarship in Harbin! The coldest city in China! This peculiar city in northeast China fulfilled my main criteria which was: must have majority Mandarin speakers, who speak in a standard way. My other criteria: I will study in a city where English is remotely spoken, so that I can have the best learning experience. I stuck to these two important criteria and must say, had a great experience learning Mandarin in Harbin.
How I ended up in the “City of romance”
When it came to apply for my internship, Zhuhai was already on my mind. I wanted a place different from Harbin. I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun again, and so I did for two months in the lovely city of Zhuhai. As expected these two cities are extremes in so many categories, that some may ask “Why did you go to Zhuhai/Harbin?”.
Let’s talk about some of those differences:
For those who aren’t familiar with Harbin, it’s a city located in Heilongjiang Province right at the top right corner of China, bordering Russia’s Siberia. So, one can imagine just how cold it is. Harbin’s winter lasts about 6 months reaching minimum’s of – 40 º C. Harbin is, in fact “the City of Ice”, famous for it’s ice buildings and statues and icy festivals. Moreover, it’s important to point out, Russian entrepreneurs who wanted to recreate their motherland, built the Harbin of today. So its buildings are very Russian, in the way they look, but with Chinese banners. It’s this odd combination that makes it such a peculiar city, interesting on the foreign eye.
Zhuhai is the complete opposite. The buildings are tall, and mostly dark grey and white. While it sounds depressing, it goes well with the city’s landscape. Zhuhai is relaxing on the eye, because it is a mixture of human landscape and nature. Wherever you go you’re sure to see trees, bushes, anything that screams Nature.
Beifang’s food (North China) and Nanfang’s food (South China) is completely different. Not only that, but also it varies according to the region.
Harbin’s food is delicious, flavored and mostly fried. But I couldn’t understand why most food was fried. Until a teacher explained that due to the extreme cold weather in Harbin, there was a preference for oil-based food (it will heat your body and help fight coldness). Zhuhai’s food is light, flavored and with a lot more vegetable side dishes. Both are not too spicy, so both Harbin and Zhuhai’s food are very delicious.
That was, for me, the biggest difference between the two. While in Harbin, Chinese people tend to be more amazed whenever they see a foreigner for the first time. Nevertheless they are very welcoming and overall very curious about the countries we come from. They may even ask for a picture.
Zhuhai’s people may also be amazed, but are much more relaxed when meeting foreigners. Overall, I found that a large portion of people in Zhuhai can speak basic english while no one in Harbin could. I imagine the proximity to both Macau and Hong Kong, two ex-colonies and now special administrative regions (SAR) played an important role in this.
Harbin and Zhuhai are two very different cities in so much more aspects other than the one’s I have listed. That is the fun part and makes my first time in China so special. I highly recommend visiting both north and south china and deciding which one provides for the the most enjoyable experience.
by Kim Whitwell
For the first weekend in December, 19 InternChina staff and interns travelled overland to the rural area of Kaiping, China to experience the rural offerings of historic diaolou country.
Setting off from Zhuhai, we all made our introductions and settled into getting to know each other. It was the first group trip the PMSA Kiwi students were involved in since landing a week earlier, so friendships were formed pretty early on.
Met by our tour guide Peter, and newly opened hostel owner Rocky in Tangkou, the group arrived just in time for a cooked lunch made with local produce from the area. Bellies full, and smiles on our faces for the blue skies and green scenery Kaiping was providing for us, we jumped on our bikes and followed Peter for the first of our diaolou tours.
Diaolous are fortified watchtowers built by the overseas Chinese in order to protect their rural home towns. To ensure their families were safe during mass emigration in the 20th century, overseas Chinese sent money back from afar to build them.
Displayed to the public, the presence of dialous are a marker of Chinese history and heritage. It reflects the rich culture and influences from both immigration (styles of décor in the diaolous show western influence) and emigration.
We wove in and out of rice fields all at the many different stages of cropping. Peter provided the knowledge and the various rural communities provided the photo opportunities. We all soaked in the authentic appearance and operations of the locals who went about their daily business with little more than a “ni hao!” in response to ours. We saw drying bok choy, rice husking, traditional instrument playing and oxen all within an hour.
On return to the hostel, we settled into the night on the roof top area watching the last of the sunlight fade. The hostel kitchen provided another extremely delicious meal, which some interns helped prepare. After, Peter captivated us with more of his extensive and passionate knowledge of diaolou country.
More chat, more beers and more laughter followed well into the night with a great time had by all . The immaculate hostel providing the most comfortable place to lay our heads for the night.
Day two arose with breakfast (a personal highlight) of both Chinese and Western cuisine (peanut butter on toast)! Then onto the bus we hopped to travel to some unique UNESCO sites in the local areas.
Bamboo forests and a local wedding greeted us at our first stop. Peter continued his extensive commentary on the history and significance of diaolous, mansions and operations in the local villages. Stop number two provided the Instagram opportunities! Lunch back at the hostel concluded our weekend in Kaiping. Bellies full once more, smiles a plenty and memories made, we filed back onto the bus and travelled a fairly sleepy and quiet journey home.
Kaiping is an authentic display of Chinese rural life that draws you into a time machine back 30 years. The attractions aren’t crowded or over commercialised so the experiences you have are very much genuine. Peter’s knowledge of the area and history behind it was captivating. He helped bring to life a part of the world not well known or considered in the tourism industry. Rocky has created an accommodation space that also feels genuine and homely. Utilising the infrastructure provided by history within the area the place is quirky and unique. If you are looking for a relaxing, yet interesting, time out from city life, this trip is for you.
This is a blog for all you rock climbers out there! If you are heading to Qingdao, then you are in luck! The Shandong province has some of the best boulders in China. The rock in and around Qingdao is a type of granite similar to Yosemite, which means you don’t need to travel far to find good boulders with interesting features. Fushan ‘Qingdao’s back garden’ has many different rocks to climb, from boulders to trad routes.
For those who haven’t get tried bouldering, when in Qingdao you should give it a go! It is a very unique, interesting, and social sport which attracts all sorts of characters! It is also one of those rare sports where men and women have an equal ability! Don’t be afraid if you have never climbed before, unlike the GYM, no one judges! No matter the grade you climb, it is your sweat and determination that is celebrated. Indoor bouldering is a great introduction to the world of climbing as it is the safer way to enjoy this very fun and dynamic sport!
Indoor Bouldering and Climbing
There is a great indoor bouldering in the center of Qingdao. The climber who runs the place is very friendly and takes delight in showing you new moves and positions to improve your balance and strength. When you go, check out his wall of fame, he has even met Shauna Coxey!
Address: 菁英攀岩俱乐部 Jīngyīng pānyán jùlèbù
山东路 136号 壹叁陆城二楼 Shāndōng Lù 136 hào Yīsān Lùchéng Èr Lóu (2F)
Price: 30 Yuan (student) for the whole day and includes shoe rental.
If you fancy higher walls then head to Chengyang, which is north of Qingdao and takes around 45-60mins to get there by public transport. Here you can use a harness and belay.
Price: 100 Yuan for the day and includes shoes and harness.
The official (also the best) time to climb outside is from March to November. Bamboo is a rock climbing legend who can speak a little English, he runs the rock climbing official accounts on WeChat. He and a local group of climber’s head to the rocks most weekend. WeChat ID: QingdaoClimbing
Qingdao Laoshan Mountain 青岛崂山
Laoshan Mountain climbing site has been popular among rock climbers in recent years. There are around 150 climbing routes to meet your needs, Monkey Crag is a popular site.
If you visit Laoshan Mountain in winter, you can try an ice climbing. It is really an interesting and unforgettable journey in the Laoshan Mountain Scenic Area in winter.
Location: Liuqinghe, Laoshan District, Qingdao, Shandong Province
Rock climbing: Pānyán 攀岩
Muscle fever: Jīròu suāntòng 肌肉酸痛
Hey travel addicts! Let me show you the Great wall as you would have never have imagined it!
You might think you know quite a lot about China, but this massive country has plenty of secrets. If you’ve already been, you’ve probably visited the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Bund in Shanghai. I bet you’ve seen the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, the lovely pandas in Chengdu, and the “Avatar Mountains” in Zhangjiajie…
If you have managed to see all these things, it seems like you might be half Chinese now- congratulations! But what if I told you there is way more to China than these popular tourist spots? The Great Wall of China is probably one of the most famous tourist spots in the world, but I’m sure you’ve not seen all yet!
The Great Wall: Tourist Destination
If you’re in Beijing, well of course you should go to the Great Wall, otherwise you’ll never be a brave man – 不到长城非好汉, as the Chinese proverb said.
For a first experience in China, Badaling 八达岭 and Mutianyu 慕田峪 are nice spots of the Wall, and are very well renovated- this therefore means they are the most visited parts of the Great wall, so don’t expect to be the only tourist there!
But if like me you’re not really into tourist traps, and crowded places, let me show you another piece of the Great Wall called HuangHuacheng 黄花城. This is the only lakeside piece of the Great Wall, and some parts of it are not renovated, which means there is the perfect balance of tranquility and adventure- you definitely should try it!
If you feel ready for a hike, I have another piece of the Great Wall for you! Zhuangdaokou is one of the unrestored sections of the Great wall in Beijing, and you should definitely visit here if you feel like an adventure. Don’t be scared if you see some signs which won’t allow you to climb there, they are most likely like the “no smoking” signs all over China … not really significant.
Did you know that the Great Wall isn’t the same everywhere in China? For example, in Inner Mongolia the Great wall is totally different, and it’s of course way harder to imagine how they could defend their country with this kind of wall, made of soil and sand. In every hostel in Hohhot you can book a tour to see those amazing landscapes, and since Inner Mongolia isn’t that far from Beijing, you definitely should go and take a look there!
Do you feel like exploring the Great Wall of China? Then you should apply now!
If you are in the east of China it’s easier and cheaper to travel to Suzhou or 苏州. Best bet is to take the train to the Suzhou Railway station. Above all, it’s at the center of the city, so it’s easier to move around.
So what is Suzhou known for? It’s referred to as Heaven on Earth because of its garden landscapes. Back in time, it was widely known for attracting high society, artists, and scholars. Although it doesn’t have all its historical sites anymore, it’s still worth a two to three-day trip.
Where to go
In particular, Suzhou is home to nine gardens that are part of the UNESCO World Heritage List. Such as, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden, Master of the Nets Garden, Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, Couple’s Retreat Garden, Garden of Cultivation, Great Wave Pavilion, Lion Grove Garden, and Retreat & Reflection Garden.
Another nickname for Suzhou is the Venice of China. There are three notable water towns to visit, and one in particular, Zhou Zhuang Water Town, is a must to see. Especially at night!
Furthermore, there is Old town, located near Pinjiang Road, is also a great place to visit for a more cultural shopping, cute little tea houses and canals. For the most part, Momi Cafe, an Instagram-like cafe that also sells postcards, is my personal favorite place. You can enjoy a cup of Joe while writing to your friends and family back home.
A more modern feel?
Then head over to Harmony Times Square or 圆融时代广场 this is where you will find everything you need for your shopping and some fun! Instead of your regular souvenir place, here you will find western brands, luxury brands, a movie theater, cafes, restaurants and more! Not to mention it’s located next to Jinji lake and a few minutes’ walk from a local amusement park, it’s a perfect place to spend an afternoon.
Getting Around in Suzhou
For the most part of the city, there are two metro lines that covers most hot spots. However, I recommend taking the bus since they have more routes if you want to discover the city.
In any event, bring a student card for great money-saving deals on some attractions!
Just by the title, I am sure you are thinking “why would anyone do that?” Traveling without a phone was not by choice I assure you! This is not a case of, ‘I can’t live without social media’, this story is about how important Google Maps, my clock, and my camera is and the lessons I learned a long the way.
It started early summer, four days before my big trip to Japan. I had lost my phone and didn’t have the budget for a new one anytime soon. So, there I was in Suzhou, planning everything step-by-step of where I need to go, how to get there and any important information I needed.
Day two without a phone: Shanghai
I stayed three days in Shanghai to get my JR pass for Japan. It’s a handy but pricey all access pass to any JR train, bus, and bullet train, with some exception. Now, I just arrived at the train station in Shanghai and needed to get to my hostel. I decided to take the metro since I am used to traveling around Shanghai. The difficult part was when I got out of the metro stop and realized I forgot to check which exit I needed to get out of. I spent a good 30 minutes walking around before I asked a local for help.
Lesson #1: Write the metro line, stop, and exit down (there can be up to four or more exits)
Where’s the map?
Now, I wasn’t completely helpless. I did have my laptop with me. Why would I go traveling with it? The main reason was because I had a job interview the day I arrived in Japan. Funny enough, it was with the former IC Chengdu Branch Manager, currently the China Manager. My arrival post and this post should be proof enough that I got the job!
So, there I was, at the Haneda airport checking which train I should take, to get to my hostel. I honestly thought I was completely prepared. Got my JR Pass, took my train and went my way. After arriving at my stop, I read my notes and I saw that I need to leave through the North exit. After walking around for 30 minutes, I asked a local for help. I was in the complete opposite area!
Lesson #2: Read the map at the train station to make sure what side is which.
Can’t be too harsh on myself for this one though, I had been up for +20 hours and the only thing I can think of, was getting a nap in before my interview. This is where I truly realized how much more researching and planning was going to done.
A picture is worth a thousand words
I never imagined how much I needed my not-so good quality camera on my old Samsung S5 mini. The biggest regret would have been not buying a camera beforehand. My flight to Japan was around midnight (not including the delay) so, I was fortunate to see the sunrise on my flight. Being able to see Mount Fuji during the sunrise was surreal. A moment I’ll never forget, I just wish I had a camera.
Lesson #3: Get a camera to record the beautiful moments of your trip!
Eventually I bought a small Sony camera. It was awkward in the beginning. I didn’t get as much pictures because I’m not used to taking pictures with anything but a phone. However, I found myself enjoying the scenery a lot more.
Tik-tok, it’s check-out time!
For the most part, my sense of time was the most effected. I found myself waking up at the crack of dawn because I was afraid to sleep through the check-out time. Ironically, I didn’t need an alarm anymore! However, I still needed to know what time it was. As a result, I bought a simple watch to keep track of the day. In fact, I am not consistently looking at my phone anymore. This is one of the best habit I took from my trip.
Overall, these were the three things that really stood out throughout my travels. The next time you plan to travel without a phone, make sure you are fully prepared!
Nĭ hăo! Wo shì Shona and I’m the Design and Marketing intern at the Chengdu office, although my journey started further east, in Qingdao. I was lucky enough to begin my programme with IC working in the Qingdao office, which I was very happy about, as Qingdao is a beautiful city and right on the sea so there’s always a nice breeze to help with the heat.
Getting to Qingdao
What I loved most about Qingdao is that it’s a great introduction to real-life China, and as the IC offices are based in cities most tourists don’t think of, it’s an opportunity to fully immerse yourself in the culture. Due to Qingdao’s history, there’s a real European feel to the city; however don’t let that fool you- the mass of markets and restaurants remind you that it still is, very much Chinese.
Settling in to China life was pretty easy for me, and while the first week was a bit of a shock- such as getting used to the commute to work (I’m still amazed how many people can fit on a bus here), the culture shock passed quickly. It’s incredibly easy to get used to the lifestyle and turn into a true Zhōngguó rén.
Life in Qingdao
I really enjoyed the lifestyle in Qingdao; there’s always something interesting happening, and despite how fast paced it seems initially, it also feels as equally laid back.
The work/life balance in Qingdao is just right and my favourite post work treat is winding down at the local BBQ spot with some Shao Kao and Tsingtao in hand- now that’s the life!
While in Qingdao I had the chance to help organise fun events each week, my first one being sailing! What better way to experience a Chinese seaside city than by boat? It was my first time running an official event, so I was a little nervous but the event ran without a hitch and everyone had a blast.
One of the best nights I’ve had in China was camping on the beach, at the foot of Mount Làoshān; the real highlight was floating around in the sea, surrounded by friends and all watching the fireworks light up the night, and moments like that are why I love China.
The first big Summer trip was a joint excursion to Beijing with the Chengdu, Qingdao and Dalian IC offices, and being my first trip in mainland China, I was so excited to see the China I’d seen in movies growing up as a kid.
We saw iconic landmarks such as the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and the icing on the cake, the Great Wall. It’s safe to say I wasn’t disappointed as Beijing has so much to offer, but the pinnacle of our trip was visiting the Great Wall at Mu Tian Yu.
The Big Move: Swapping Cities
Three weeks into my internship I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Sichuan to help support my colleagues in the Chengdu office. I had always wanted to visit Chengdu and love to travel so when the chance arrived, I jumped at it!
Travelling to Chengdu was exciting; even the legendary Chinese flight delays, which gave me the opportunity to make friends with the locals using my broken Mandarin, couldn’t dampen my mood as I headed to panda city.
First Days in Chengdu
Arriving in the Sichuan capital, I was lucky to have a few days off before starting work. So what’s the first thing you HAVE to see in Chengdu? Pandas! The panda base, or Xióngmāo jīdì as its known here, is hugely popular with tourist groups so it’s important to get there bright and early.
After waking up at the crack of dawn, I jumped in a cab that took me straight from my apartment to the base for 60 kuai, which was worth it just to beat the queue.
July in Chengdu is the peak of summer and with average temperatures of 30 degrees, and with it being so hot outside the pandas were hidden away in their cool enclosures. This meant I had to fight my way through the tourist mob to catch a glimpse of the famous bear cat, but it was worth it- after all, pandas are an icon throughout the world so I couldn’t pass through Chengdu without stopping by!
Life in Chengdu was a bit of a shock at first, especially the morning commute to work. Chengdu feels like a combination of the fast paced lifestyle of cities like London with bustling subways and seas of people, along with the easy going nature of the Chinese locals, sat playing Mahjong on the street at night- a contrast if there ever was one.
Since coming to Chengdu I’ve been involved in all sorts of IC events, from the weekly Thursday dinners eating famous hot pot to the Four Sisters mountain trip in western Sichuan. When staying in Qingdao I used to think it was the city that never sleeps, however since coming to Chengdu, I’ve realised what life really is like in a busy Chinese city.
Here in the hub of China’s “Go West” policy, there’s always something to do, somewhere new to explore, and it’s the perfect mix of culture and business. I’m looking forwards to what the next two months bring here in Sichuan.