November 3rd, 2013

Back from Shanxi

The Beijing Center hosts many programs and opportunities to travel around Beijing and greater China, most of which is included in tuition (saaweet!). At the beginning of the semester we went on a 16-day trip from Beijing to the western border, about 50 miles from Pakistan. Mid terms week occurred two weeks ago, and as a “treat” we went on a week-long trip to the province of Shanxi. Shanxi is just southwest of Beijing and was very famous for the successful merchants and is now famous of their coal production. Unfortunately Shanxi is an extremely polluted province due to the high consumption of coal, but there are many beautiful historical and natural sites, too. Here is a small map of our course: 

Our first stop was in Datong where we visited the Yungong grotto. There were multiple cravings into caves and rock walls of Buddhas and other Buddhist symbols. Our next stop was in a traditional Chinese farming village. We had time to explore on our own and a few of us ended up chatting with a local elder who was 90 years old and had lived there his whole life. There were two middle aged men who were sitting with him and the group of us held a conversation for a lengthy amount of time. One of the men proceeded to tell us about his time in the Chinese military in the 1980′s and took us to his home to show us pictures of him and his battalion. There he and his wife offered us hot water and told us about their two children, one boy and one girl. The daughter was 20, so right around our age, and had left for university in the city. She is studying music and piano and has concerts that run expensive tickets and usually sells out. The family was very proud of her and insisted on having us listen to her recorded music – very beautiful! Afterwards we returned to our courtyard where we were served traditional Shanxi food which wouldn’t be complete without numerous noodle dishes.

Next we visited the ancient city of Pinyao where the area was very well preserved and still enclosed by an ancient Chinese wall. There were plenty of shops, temples and restaurants. Our hotel was a converted traditional Chinese mansion and the beds were a traditional kang style (one large bed elevated off the floor). Every evening there would be a group of Chinese girls dressed identically that would pass through the streets with a man carrying a speaker blasting traditional Chinese music. It was amazing to be sitting in the lobby with wifi and then look out and see this hundreds of years old city light up with a mixture of traditionalism and modernism! 

 

Our last two nights were spent in a village in the Taihang mountains, which are located in the very southern part of the province. We were the first group of westerners to visit this village so we were welcomed with open arms, county and village leaders, and a news crew!  After our television debut, we visited a local school with children in the first through sixth grade. We introduced ourselves and they returned the deed. Unfortunately our first day and a half it was rainy and the village was encased in a giant cloud. So, many of the beautiful peaks were invisible. But, on our last morning in the village, we had blue skies and it was as if the entire area lit up. The mountains and peaks were marvelous, varying colors and dramatic drops.

 

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