Social Policy student Judah took part in the Study China programme during Easter 2014. He shares his photos and diary with us below.
Hi,My name’s Judah, a second year Social Policy BA student at the University of Birmingham and here are just a few of the amazing events that I have captured about the trip. It was an unforgettable experience and one that I will cherish in the years to come and I hope by the end of it that you get a glimpse into how amazing and fun China is too!
Day 1 Sunday
The first day I arrived in China! Flying by myself for the first time was actually quite difficult! I didn’t know where to go initially in the airport but managed to figure out after asking a few questions about where my airline was. The taxi driver was really friendly too but it was quite expensive at £20. However, my luggage was pretty heavy so it was a good decision!
Once I arrived at Shanghai airport, I met fellow course mates on a 3-hour coach ride to where we would be staying. My first impression of China was crazy- the coach driver literally was honking his horn every 5 seconds for the whole journey!
Once we arrived, we were given an orientation tour by the Chinese volunteers and shown the nearby shops. I also met my roommate for the three weeks. We got on like two grannies – I don’t think I could’ve asked for a better roommate! We were like potatoes and curry.
Day 2 Monday
On our second day we had the immense privilege of having a tour around the infamous West Lake on a boat trip. The views were absolutely breath-taking and I could see why the lake was so renowned. It really was amazing.
After the boat, we then went to the ‘He Fang market’. A market with an ancient rumour that you buy stuff there for people you hate. This Buddha is the most well-known part of the market. There was a fair amount for sale too-food, clothes, cheap jewellery, and watches so I took the opportunity to buy a few trinkets and a hat. I also bought a present for my mum here- though hopefully it doesn’t mean I hate her- does it?
Finally, we went to the place where the famous Hangzhou green tea is made. After showing the group all the beneficial properties that green tea has, most of us ended up buying some! I didn’t want to buy at first, but the demonstration was so persuasive that even I bought some in the end
Day 3 Tuesday
Tuesday was the first day of our lessons. We were introduced to our mandarin teacher and delved straight in with learning mandarin as well as being asked to choose our Chinese names. My Chinese name was “Chong Xin” which translated literally means “Heart of worm.” I’m glad others, including the teacher found it funny too!
It was also the first day I went to the University cafeteria. Thinking I ordered beef, I ended up buying some sort of liver! I think that was one of the most difficult things in China. About 90% of people couldn’t speak English and a lot of the menus were in Chinese too so it literally was pick and miss when it came to ordering food.
After that we went to the welcome ceremony and had a traditional Chinese buffet. With speeches by prominent people by the University, it really felt like a privilege to be in China when we were told there were only 90 places with over 1200 applicants!
Day 4 Wednesday
Wednesday was the first day of having two language classes in a row which was quite difficult! The majority of the first few lessons were primarily repeating Chinese words and phrases either with the teacher or with a partner. At first I never noticed but by the end of the three weeks I could definitely tell the difference in my pronunciation of Chinese vowels and words.
In the evening, we decided to go to our first Chinese restaurant. Not knowing the area meant it took nearly an hour to find a restaurant to eat at. However, the exploring meant that we were able to see more of the area and be stared at by the locals. Staring was a common occurrence that you kind of got used to after a few weeks, but still was awkward when you were by yourself.
Day 5 Thursday
On Thursday we again had two language sessions where I finally began learning basic words, grammar, and sentence structures. Lessons mainly consisted of a few quizzes at the beginning to test our knowledge and then learning new material after. The classes were often quite humorous which became apparent when someone pronounced a Chinese word particularly badly!
Thursday was also the main day where we learnt Wushu kung Fu and Tai chi. Being a massive fan of martial arts, I went to both lessons even though you were only meant to go to one. For the lesson, we had to do a few games, followed by learning a routine and finishing off with the quiet, relaxing, and fluid motions of tai chi.
Day 6 Friday
On Friday, the whole group were given the opportunity to visit the University’s main campus. It was famed with having the biggest university canteen in Asia with seating of over 5000! It was a really nice big, green and leafy campus and the perfect place for lovers. Well that was what we were told by our Chinese guides who were so excited to be showing us the campus. Each student had a Chinese student guide who stayed with them for the whole campus trip. My guide was called Lin. We exchanged emails after and are still in touch now.
After a full day of walking, a few of us ended up having a quiet night in and watched the Disney classic “Frozen”. By this stage of the course, everyone had made friends and I felt genuinely relaxed and happy to be with these people in the trip.
Day 7 Saturday
Saturday was the notorious and trademark family visit trip. Because there were four of us with the host Chinese family, we ended up walking around the West Lake, visiting YuFei temple, and heading to KFC before catching a taxi home.
Day 8 Sunday
Sunday was the first day we had off so we made up for it by having a bit more relaxed day. A few of us played some basketball at night before heading to a well-known restaurant- Pizza Hut! Funnily enough, in China there were McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Subway, and Costa which we ended up going to a lot. McDonalds in particular was open 24 hours a day which meant it was ideal for the casual mid-night snack!
Day 9 Monday
On Monday we had our first calligraphy lesson in our Mandarin class. It was surprisingly difficult and I learnt to appreciate the different types of strokes and the connotations associated with them. Sadly, I realised after a few goes it was impossible to do and in the end I drew my name instead!
Day 10 Tuesday
Tuesday was one of my favourite of days in China as after lessons, we took a visit to Song Dynasty Town and watched an amazing night show. The show was truly fantastic and some of the acrobatic stunts were off the roof. I didn’t meet one person who wasn’t impressed by the performance.
Day 11 Wednesday
Wednesday was pretty difficult as we had 4 hours of language classes and another two hours of a Chinese nationalism class in the evening. After class, a few of us went to the Hangzhou night market which opened till late and was the perfect place to buy souvenir’s and gifts. I ended up buying a hat, mini harmonica (To use with my beatboxing. Sadly it broke after two days), a Chinese hip hop CD, and a belt. For the girls it was paradise as there were hundreds of stalls dedicated to female jewellery, perfumes and purses.
Day 12 Thursday
On Thursday we had a fantastic time traipsing around Mo’gan mountain; a famous mountain in Hangzhou province. After the two hour coach journey, we were treated to lunch where we sat around a round table with various dishes in front of us to sample. As with most of China, it was a pick and mix choice again. Whilst some dishes were really nice, others a lot of people weren’t fond of. I ended up trying chicken foot and ate a fish eyelid. “When in China” as they say!
The scenes were picturesque which meant it was the perfect place for lots of snaps. The majority of the time I was either in photos or taking them. But looking back, it really was a perfect view. As well as beautiful scenery we also got to see where the famous General Mao lived.
Day 13 Friday
On Friday, after two language classes, we had the whole weekend free so decided to book trains and a youth hostel in Shanghai. Taxis in China were almost impossible to get and our group had to split into three taxis in order to get to the train station. Sadly, my taxi cohort missed our initial train because our taxi driver took us to the wrong station! But I guess this is just what happens if they can’t speak English and us, Chinese. BUT finally we arrived at our youth hostel and explored a bit of Shanghai that night.
Day 14 Saturday
Saturday was a fantastic day because it was the only real day that we had to explore Shanghai. After a late start, I spent the day at the famous no. 580 West Nanjing road market where they sold everything from suits, hats, handbags, and boxers, to ‘Dr. Dre.’ music beats and branded hoodies. It was here that my haggling skills were put to the test. Unlike ordinary shops where prices are set, the prices here were set at the shop owner’s jurisdiction. A normal case scenario was that sensing you were foreign; they would trick you and state that the hoodie you wanted was 1000 Yuan (roughly £100). From that you had to use your master skills to get the price down to what was close to the real price of the item. In the end, I managed to get a hoodie for 100 Yuan which was down from the previous price of 1000.
After a busy day shopping and bartering, we decided to go classy and headed to one of the most well-known bars in Shanghai, ‘bar rouge’. On the way there, we were able to marvel at some of the beauty that Shanghai had to offer as one of the largest and greatest cities in the world.
Day 15 Sunday
Sunday in Shanghai was the day of the grand prix! We had bought tickets the week before and got to see the Formula One racing live. It was an amazing experience and one that everyone knew was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Day 16 Monday
Monday meant we were back to Hangzhou from a wild weekend in Shanghai. After a surprise test in my academic module, “Nation and Nationalism in China”, we went on a fieldtrip with the class to a historical place where the Japanese had invaded the Chinese and executed some of them in the process.
It was clear that it was a serious matter, and the trip made me realise some of the painful history China had that I was not aware of. However, the curator of the gallery and apparently the last surviving member from the Japanese takeover was really sweet and took a picture with me.
Day 17 Tuesday
With it being our last week in China and having made some great friends along the way, we decided to explore more of our local area in Hangzhou and in the evening went to the popular karaoke place, known as KTV. We were given a small private room for our group of 15 with complimentary drinks and left to our own devices to sing pop songs loudly, badly but proudly till the early hours of the morning.
Day 18 Wednesday
After our language class on Wednesday, we used our free afternoon to take a bus trip to the West Lake and do a bit of biking! Despite being there three times, there was still so much that we didn’t see. Biking was a cool and unique experience. With China’s seemingly lack of rules for the roads, it felt like an organised chaos trying to cycle past people, cars, mopeds, oncoming traffic, and fellow cyclists but I made it out alive!
During our cycle ride, we also took the opportunity to explore the famous West Lake Pagoda which was the perfect place to take snaps of the surrounding lake and greenery from up high. I also bought a talisman and necklace from the gift shop where they even inscribed names on for you!
Day 19 Thursday
Thursday was quite a unique day as it was the one where everyone realised our trip was about to come to its end. Lots of socialising and chatting took place and friendships created and strengthened. But most importantly we also had to revise for the language test on Friday morning…
Day 20 Friday
The final day of the trip. After the language test in the morning, a few of the guys decided to have a football match in one of the nearby pitches. After a few games, we headed back to get suited and booted for the final closing ceremony in the evening.
The ceremony was fantastic. A massive range of dishes from fish to… other strange but interesting looking delights whose names are unknown to me. After speeches by Lucy (The UK co-ordinator) and a few from the key organisers from Zhejiang University in China, every mandarin class had to do a song in mandarin to perform. It was a load of fun even though a lot of us couldn’t sing the mandarin properly.
I then got called up to do a little beatbox performance I had been working on. After that the ceremony was officially finished and so was the trip! It was one of those few surreal moments in life when you know you are at the end of something amazing like the last day of school, or graduation and you have to make the most of what’s left.
Everyone took loads of photos, signed t-shirts, exchanged hugs, kisses and handshakes, said heartfelt thank you’s and goodbye’s, as well as best wishes for the future. This was the last time the group would ever be together as some people left that evening and some the day after at different times.
Day 21 Saturday
The day I took my flight home. My last day in China. I felt I’d made some fantastic friends and was actually quite sad to leave them as they were from all around the UK- Northern Ireland, Bristol, Manchester, and even one from Scotland.
Overall, Study China 2014 was a complete crazy mix of mandarin lessons, nearly getting running over dozens of times, seeing the grand prix, wild nights, interesting food, visiting Shanghai, and some mind-boggling sights. It was a place that I grew to love, a place to be at peace, and in the process make some fantastic friends. I’ve even applied to continue learning Mandarin next year in University.