Written by Jodi Blank, Work and Travel
Its Summer 2019, and I am in the middle of our busiest season at CHI. It’s around this time when we start thinking and planning for our travel season which starts sometime in August and goes through March of the following year.
I actually wrote down all of the places I wanted to go this travel season. On my list this year: China. At the time that I decided that China was on my must-see list, this was sort of an impossibility since our department hasn’t been there in almost 10 years. My plan was to travel to China on my way to another country as we were going on our hiring tours. The first item on my Bucket List is The Great Wall of China. Actually, it is to see the 7 Wonders of the World. The Great Wall was first on sub-list!
As fate would have it, our Department decided to try a hiring tour in China this year! As soon as I found out, I decided I had to go, and so it was.
Here is the truth about travel…though it is amazing and I recommend travel to everyone…it isn’t for the faint of heart. Travel makes you stronger, more tolerant of others, and a much more resilient person in general.
Arriving in China
It turns out that getting to China would take time and patience, more than I ever needed before. Obtaining a visa to China is no easy task and one of my colleagues got hers only 2 days before we were set to leave! I truly believe this trip was one that was meant to happen and even though I had some very panicked moments about whether we would all make it there, we did. And let me tell you, it was unforgettable.
My colleague and friend, Jennifer and I met up in Atlanta to start our tour in Beijing. If you want to be a well-rounded traveler, you definitely need to be flexible and roll with the punches.
Our first stop was the Forbidden City. On our way there, we walked through Tiananmen Square (Gate of Heavenly Peace). This an important part of the Chinese culture as many significant events have happened here throughout the past century. Some of the monuments include the Monument to the People’s Heros, the Great Hall of the People, and the National Museum of China.
On our way into the Forbidden City, we realized that we were there on a Monday when it was closed to the public. At that point, we were frustrated and trying to decide what to do next as to not waste a day while we were there, a tour guide approached us and offered to take us to the Great Wall. Immediately we decided to change our plans and go.
Jenn and I were giddy with excitement! We knew we were seeing what most people only dream of and it seemed to be all working out just the way it was supposed to. Our driver drove us to a town outside of Beijing where Jenn talked me into taking what looks like a ski-lift up to the top of the mountain and at the end, taking a slide from the top, down to the bottom. The trip to the top was amazing and being on top of the Great Wall, you could see for miles.
The Great Wall is estimated to be about 13,170 miles long and if you were to hike it, it would take 177 days of non-stop walking! There are tours that you can take to hike certain sections of the wall that take 2-3 days where you set up a tent and spend the night and continue your hike every morning.
When we were there, it had recently snowed and it was a bit icy in places. We enjoyed the view and walked along the path for some time and we witnessed a young man asking his girlfriend to marry him! I’m pretty sure that has to be on the top of the list of coolest ways to propose.
From there we took the 10-minute toboggan ride from the top to the bottom of the mountain and I don’t know if I have ever had so much fun. I had my hand on the break the whole time and went “grandma-slow” but it was a blast.
The next day we went to the Forbidden City, which was now open to the public. The Forbidden City and its walls adhere strictly to the practice of feng shui and the complex faces south to honor the Sun. The construct was commissioned by the young emperor of the Ming Dynasty in 1406. As we walked through the complex we noticed even the smallest of details along the rooflines of the great buildings. It took most of the afternoon and we took our time walking through Beijing and seeing many sites.
That afternoon, we watched the flag-lowering that happens every day at sunset, back in Tiananmen Square. They have an impressive military ceremony in which the soldiers march across the wide street from the Wu Gate to the square where the Chinese flag flies.
We left Beijing that night and took a sleeper train to our next stop, Xi’an. Jenn and I stocked up on food for the night and had a great time talking about our amazing trip so far and couldn’t wait to see our next part of China.
In Xi’an we went to a restaurant that served with a cooking hotpot in the middle of the table. The waitress was amazing, although we didn’t communicate at all by speaking, she helped us to cook the meal on our hotpot and mimicked how to do it so we would understand her. It was one of the best things that I ate in China.
That afternoon, we went to see the Terracotta Warriors. The Warriors were found by a group of five farmers in 1974 which turned out to be one of the most amazing discoveries in Chinese history. These warriors are thought to number around 8,000 and were meant to protect the ancient emperor in the afterlife. The warriors were crushed by the weight of the earth so when they were found, they were in small pieces. Over the past 44 years, the Chinese people have painstakingly pieced together only 187 figures. That is an average of only 4.25 per year!
We learned that when they were discovered, they were painted with brilliant colors that they had never seen before, but to their dismay, the colors faded away after 2 weeks. They have now slowed their unearthing of the Warriors until they figure out how to preserve the brilliant colors. They estimate that about 6,000 still remain buried.
The next day we took the bullet train to Shanghai where we met up with our other colleague and friend Jessica, and our seasoned employers, Carolyn and Andy, to start our hiring tour. We spent several days getting to know our partners better and really beginning to understand the Chinese culture in a way that we hadn’t experienced before. One of the questions I love to ask our students is, “what do you want Americans to know about your culture?” Everyone answers a little bit differently, but they all said that they are proud of their food and their traditions
On two separate occasions, our Chinese partners took us out to a traditional Chinese dinner. This was one of my favorite parts. I love to experience the different things that people eat in other cultures and really do love to try new and exotic dishes. Typically, they love to see us try them and get quite a chuckle when we try their foods. Jessica, Andy and I all tried chicken feet, which is a delicacy item in many parts of China.
We also were able to see Shanghai from the top of the city from the Pearl and then were able to experience it from the ground level on the Huangpu River Cruise. These are some of the most incredible views I have seen in all of my travels throughout the world. The lights are spectacular and I realized how I could easily stay up all night because the city never seems to sleep.
After 12 days in China, it was time to head home. I can tell you that this trip was one of the most amazing and unforgettable trips that I have ever taken in my years with CHI. Sometimes, you just have the right combination of people and places where magic just seems to pull it all together. China. It was sprinkled with a little bit of tradition, a little bit of cadence, and a lot of friendships, new and old. Until we meet again….