Just after I found out that I will be spending one semester in Shanghai three of my best friends from Germany who I went to school with started planning a visit to China. We were all really excited to go on such a great trip together after so many years and they actually booked their flights before I even did. At the end of November the day finally came where I went to Pudong Airport once again to pick up my next visitors. Since I was very determined to share all great places with them that I have gotten to know during my semester, our touring program started right after they had dropped their luggage in our apartment. The first night we went to the Vue Bar located directly on the river with that stunning view on Pudong – still definitely one of my favorite places in the city. The next days we did the typical sightseeing tours through Shanghai’s main streets, the old part of the city etc., went to the fake markets and my university campus, had lots of social time and tried different local dishes.
After five days of sightseeing in Shanghai, the girls took an overnight train to Beijing, where they stayed for three days. Since I had just been there a few weeks before with my mum, I didn’t join them during this part of the journey, but then we met again in Taiyuan. Taiyuan is the capital and largest city of North China’s Shanxi province and one of the greatest industrial cities. We didn’t see much of it as we just used the city as a transit point to get to Pingyao. The girls and I had planned to meet at the hotel in the evening we all landed in Taiyuan but instead they waited for me at the airport which was a great surprise. Thanks again for that girls and for not letting me sit in one of those taxis by myself. Thinking of this situation I could write a lot about issues with taxi drivers again… but oh well let’s just say we eventually made it to our hotel. After overcoming some more language barriers with the hotel staff who had a very hard time giving us directions to the train station for the next morning although it was just a few meters down the street, we just went to bed after a late dinner at McDonalds and were happy that we hadn’t planned on staying in Taiyuan as the first impressions weren’t that good. The next morning we took a train to the ancient city of Pingyao. The train ride was a really interesting experience since the whole cabin was packed with Chinese who kept starring at us, took pictures and tried to start little conversations in English. By the way people were dressed you could tell that we were in the middle of the countryside in China – a completely different picture compared to the outer experience of people in big cities. The only thing I didn’t like about the train ride is that all guys were smoking on the train wherefore it smelled very bad especially since there were so many people on there. But the ones sitting around us were all friendly, kept asking questions and helped us to get off at the right train stop. Those are the times during which I really don’t mind if people keep taking pictures of us because they all showed a great interest. But others who treat us like monkeys in a zoo are a bit more difficult to handle depending on my mood ;)
Pingyao is located about 80 kilometers from Beijing in Shanxi Province and used to be a financial center of China in the late Qing Dynasty. It still retains its city layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties and is famous for its city wall that is very well sustained. Pingyao is also called ‘turtle city’ as the wall has six different gates that are distributed in a way that the pattern reminds of a turtle. Besides the old part of the city that is surrounded by the wall there also is a new part outside of it. We decided to stay in a hostel right in the center of the old part. During our visit we explored all the streets and little stores around the historic places and walked on top of the city wall more than half way around which were about four kilometers. Pingyao is definitely worth seeing. I really enjoyed the architecture which seemed to be typical Chinese. It just would have been nice if it was a bit warmer, but considering that we visited at the end of November we were still lucky to have a blue sky and sunshine on all days.
Our next stop on the journey was Xi’an. We had planned on taking an overnight train from Pingyao. This worked out but instead of the soft sleepers we were hoping for, there were only seats left. So we sat on another crowded train with lots of locals and this time not for two hours as on the way to Pingyao but for eight hours during the night. That definitely also is an experience I will never forget! It was a bit exhausting, but we saved lots of money and we had organized a pick up from the train station for our arrival in Xi’an. This way we got to the hostel right away and luckily we could check in the room although it was very early. So we slept for a few hours before exploring the city. Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China with more than 3100 years of history. It is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The city is also surrounded by a city wall. But this time we decided not to climb it since we had already seen the one in Pingyao a few days before. One of the best places in the city is the Bell Tower, a symbol for Xi’an, which was built during the early Ming Dynasty. It is located in the middle of the main roundabout traffic that all big streets lead to. From the top of it we had a great view over Xi’an and also discovered a German Christmas market that we explored right afterwards. It was cute but the different stalls didn’t really sell anything that reminded of Christmas. They were offering Chinese products like a rice cooker and different makeup brands. But something we really enjoyed about it, were Chinese girls singing different Christmas songs on a little stage. Another interesting place was the so-called Muslim quarter with different souvenir stores and lots of different kinds of food of which we especially liked some sweats and bread.
On one of our days in Xi’an we went to the Terracotta Army. We were accompanied by a Chinese who we got in contact with over a friend of one of the girls from Germany. At first we had some difficulties to find topics to talk about as he seemed a bit nervous about speaking English. But this got a lot better after a while so that we actually spend the whole day together and found out that we were the first foreigners who he spoke English with and that he will therefore never forget about us. He is a landscape architect ant took us to one of his big projects in the area of Xi’an on the way to the Terracotta Army. I’m glad we combined these two things and also had some great cultural contact that day as I was a bit disappointed about the Terracotta soldiers. There are big halls in which tourists can just look on the soldiers from the top instead of getting close to them. Before our trip I actually already knew that it would be this way as some friends who went to see it earlier during the semester told me about it. So the disappointment wasn’t that big. It just proved to be right what I had heard before. It still was a great day as we got to know this Chinese man. I always appreciate getting in contact with locals as this happens very rarely. After our days in Xi’an the girls flew to Guilin where I have already been during one of my first weeks in China, so that I returned to Shanghai while they kept travelling. And this way I also didn’t miss any of my courses at university ;) After Guilin, the four of us had another day in Shanghai to do some final shopping before the girls flew back to Germany. Thanks a lot for visiting Maria, Ina und Judith! I had a great time that I will never forget about!