Friday, 6 September 2013


A view of Shanghai financial centre from Bund
On New Year 2013, I made a resolution to visit at least three countries this year. Not once I had China on mind but it came as a beautiful surprise. It didn’t occur to me that I was selected to participate in Study in China programme until I stepped out of the plane and the humidity of 42°C hit my face. The signs of directions were in unrecognisable but beautiful characters. Then, I realised I had stepped on the land of people who are the models of 21st century and who understand the values of education, time and family the most. Welcome to the People’s Republic of China!

Someone said travelling is one of the best ways of educating yourself. Also, since travelling is one of my hobbies, I already had my heart on this trip. More than anything, I was privileged to have this opportunity, which not only taught me about China and business in China but also the origin of Chinese characters. Going to China was like going home from home. Being Asian myself, people there assumed I was Chinese too. May be that’s why, not once I felt like I was in stranger’s place. The time I spent there is more memorable than any, and I loved the place.

I was placed in Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, which used to be the capital city of China during Song dynasty. Hangzhou welcomes 74 million Chinese and 2 million foreigners every year. It is the third popular place to visitors after Beijing and Shanghai. I didn’t take time to understand why Hangzhou is popular among tourists.
Warm welcome from Zhejiang University in international hostel
We were accommodated in the international hostel of Yuquan Campus. First few days, I suffered from insomnia, I guess it's due to the time difference in UK and China. It also took us while to get familiar with bus routes and getting taxi was like catching a flying bird. Traffic was horrendous but I must admire the skilful taxi drivers though most of the time, I sat inside it with my mouth open and eyes closed.

     -       Tai-Ji and Kungfu
While in China, we also got an opportunity to experience some Tai-Ji and Kungfu. Until now, I didn’t know the difference between them though I learnt some Kungfu while I was in school. It was quite a while ago so I don't remember that much apart from wearing black Kungfu dress and staying in 'Mafu' position most of the time. I don’t remember why I joined that activity then, whether I was just following friends or was suggested by teachers but until I went to China, I had no idea why we greeted people the way we used to. In Martial arts, people greet each other by standing with the body straight, joining the left palm with right fist in front of the chest. The left palm has 4 fingers in plane, and thumb slightly bend which symbolises virtue, wisdom and health whereas the clenched right fist symbolises head. The whole practice essentially means 'I respect you'. Kungfu is specially used for self-defence but Tai-Ji is a slow movement meditating activity.      

It was about 40 degree celcius but we did enjoy some martial arts
-       West lake
There are about more than thirty West Lakes in China but the one in Hangzhou is the main influential that appealed Chinese to name other lakes West Lake as well because of its beauty. It is made up of slow mud and is located in the western part of the city. It is one of the most beautiful natural lakes I have seen in my life. Apparently in initial time, there was just a lake but now there is a river connecting to it, from which the water is pumped regularly into the lake through the hill. It has three islands but only one of them is visit able. During our first visit to West Lake, our guide called ‘Tony’ told us Chinese people normally get about 20-25 days blue sky per year and it was one of those days. West Lake looked at its best. ‘Fewa taal’ in Pokhara was on my mind all the time. 

Panorama view of West Lake

The south central part of West Lake contains three pear-shaped pagodas arranged in triangle. The significance of it is related to the Mid- Autumn festival, which is the main festival Chinese celebrate after Chinese New Year. During this festival, when moon is bright in the sky, locals come here and place candles in each circular holes of each pagoda. These holes are then covered with sheets of thin paper that causes the beams of light to reflect on the water through the holes. The moonlight, candles and lake lights add radiance to one another, which looks magnificent from far off. This is quite interesting. This festival is so special that they even put the picture of three pagodas on 1 RMB note. While I was enjoying the peace around West Lake, inside I was regretting for not coming in autumn but there is always next time!

Three pear-shaped pagodas making triangular shape 
West Lake has a reputation of making people fall in love. I don’t doubt it. It was a romantic place after all. There is a story called ‘White snake lady’, where a snake was too impressed with the beauty of Hangzhou and wanted to settle down there, and then converts herself into a beautiful lady and falls in love with a boatman of West Lake. That story is still popular and fresh in people’s mind. West Lake was near to our University. So it was our daily routine to go there. The tale of West Lake can be visualised further every night when the moon is high and bright up in the sky, and the lovers born and died in this area are remembered by singing the song of their love story with water dancing.

                                                           Water Show in West Lake

Once, we cycled around the West Lake. That was the best experience. Another time, we went on boating. I was bit scared but I took my thoughts away to the lovers who committed suicide here when their families refused to accept their marriage. I don’t know whether every love story has tragedy or only tragic love stories are remembered. Whatsoever, their sacrifice had made West Lake even more memorable and meaningful. You can see it as far as you can take your eyes. For instance, I wasn’t sure whether I was in West Lake or 'Fewa Taal' in Pokhara but I was certainly boating on the slow mud lake without any safety procedures. I was scared to death.

Boating experience! I was sitting in the middle but was still scared.

The day I enjoyed the most. Cycling around West Lake.
-       Family visit
On our first weekend, we were given opportunity to spend time with Chinese families to get an idea of how they spend their daily life. Becky and I were chosen to go with one family. I must admire the hospitality Chinese people show to their guests. First, we were shown their house and we were taught how to make Chinese dumplings. Me being dumpling lover, I couldn’t have asked for more. When we had our lunch together with all the family members in round dinning table, I seriously felt like I was having dinner with my own family. They were genuinely nice and very easy to get along with.

We are a family!

Showing off some dumplings we made.
Later in the afternoon, we were taken to the Leifeng Pagoda. The pagoda is 5 stories tall, situated bit higher to the ground level, overlooking Hangzhou and beautiful West Lake. If you ever get chance to get to that height, you will understand why Hangzhou is called ‘The paradise on earth’. It was so peaceful there and I was falling in love with a place in every second I was there.

View 1 of Hangzhou and West Lake from Leifeng Pagoda
View 2 of Hangzhou and West Lake from Leifeng Pagoda
Leifeng Pagoda
Temple that rings bell 108 times twice a day

The original Leifeng Pagoda was built 1000 years ago when Buddha’s hair was found in this location. The building was later collapsed in 1920s but was rebuilt in 2002 AD. The building still contains the foundation of the old pagoda covered by the new one. The architecture of the building is mind blowing. From the ground level, 108 stairs takes to the Pagoda situated on the hill. The 108 stairs was built in the concept that there are 108 worries of human and when you visit Pagoda and go home, stepping down 108 steps means you are leaving all your worries back. There is a temple opposite Pagoda. That temple rings bell 108 times twice a day, 4 am and at 8 pm. Very interesting theory indeed.

Family outside Leifeng Pagoda
     -       Song dynasty town and night show
This is one of the night that will remain in my heart forever. Song dynasty is the most popular dynasty of China. According to my research, this is the time when the China passed through the stage of urbanisation, commercialisation and industrialisation. Population increased, and rice and tea became their dominant food and drink. The houses were made with roof as we see in present time. Apparently, this is also the first government in the world to issue banknotes. The show particularly focused on how emperor were entertained by different dances. Second half of the show was the glimpse of popular tragic love story in West Lake.
Getting ready for the show

Glimpse of Song Dynasty Show
     -       Day trip to Mo’gan mountain
When I first landed on China, the temperature was 42°C. It was just too hot to get enthusiastic about hiking but Mo’gan Mountain was something you must see if you are in Hangzhou. Luckily, the temperature dropped down to 35°C on this day but still hot for people coming from UK. The mountain is located 60 km away from Hangzhou, towards Shanghai. Apparently, it used to be the popular holiday destination for the rich people from Shanghai. When I first heard word ‘mountain’, I was expecting something with snow but it wasn’t anything like that. It was a mountain covered with bamboo forest. It was still beautiful in different way. We passed through smallest possible roads while overlooking tea plantation fields at each side. All I could think about is, this is the country that has everything. Even if you don’t travel whole world, explore China and you will get the taste of what other part of the world is like. After about one and half hour journey, we reached the highest stage where sunrise can be seen just before your face but unfortunately by the time we reached there, it was already far away from the morning. Other top activities of the day included visit to 20th century villa of former leader Chiang Kai-Shek. It was interesting to see how leaders that time lived. We finished day by visiting the big waterfall. To reach there, we had to walk half an hour down hill. By the time we reached there, I was too tired and starting thinking how I am going to go back up but I would have regretted if I hadn’t touched that waterfall.
Sunshine view from this spot!

Beautiful pathway inside denser looking forest 

Chinese drink tea all the time but its nothing like we drink in other parts of the world. Green teas are more popular there. The best one I had was called barley tea which I tasted when I visited Chinese family but it was too difficult to get in market. May be the problem was more of language rather than its existence. If you don't visit tea house in China at least once, that means you haven't experienced China well. Especially Longjing tea is the product of Hangzhou. You must try it. 
Trying Longjing tea in tea house
Again, me being dumpling lover, there isn’t a better place to go than China. During our first week, we mostly ate in University canteen. The food there was really cheap but you have to be there before 11:30 am to get more selective and hot foods but it wasn’t possible in most of the case as we always finished at 11:30 am for lunch. In first few days, I managed to find out where to get the best dumpling. It was in main gate, not far from where I lived. Since then, I visited that place at least once a day and by the end of the three weeks, I was a well-known customer there and even though there was a language barrier between us, restaurant manager always gave a friendly smile.

My favourite dumpling near main gate
End of first week, I wanted to be more adventurous in terms of food and went to the small pizza place next to University canteen. For some reason, I wanted to see if European food taste different there and thought of having pizza for dinner but what struck me was a food called ‘Bamboo shoot pork in flower’. The name was too appealing for me not to try. I ordered it and I wasn’t disappointed. It was a fried rice with bamboo shoot and pork, and served in pumpkin leaf. 

Another food that amazed me was 'black burger' from McDonald's. I had never seen that in UK and what else, I had to try it. It was too good that I was fighting with my friend for his portion and of course I won. I ate most of it. When you order a meal, you get black and white burgers. White burger contains pork whereas black contains chicken. It was an interesting combination and I really enjoyed it.

While visiting Shanghai, we came across one street in Nanjing road, which sells lots of food in local style. Someone said, you are not learning about the country until you visit those streets and try their food. I was tempted and jumped on it. I don't actually know what they call it but the ones I tried were flour balls and roasted pork in stick. It made my day. If you are around that area, you must try it. 

On day 2 of Shanghai, we went to see Jade Temple. On the way, we were so hungry that without thinking, we just entered into one restaurant. Later on, we came to know that the restaurant is quite popular among tourist. On the menu, one of the dishes was named 'Mao style pork'. I had to try that. Not sure if Chairman Mao really used to eat that but I was thinking about him while eating. 

While still in China, I really wanted to try snake. Snake is one of the reptiles I am really sacred of but there I was, getting exited about trying it. Firstly I hesitated. I was even scared to go near to the shop but again, I would have regretted if I hadn’t tried it. I went with a friend. He was braver than me. He bought it and I tried small piece. I couldn’t take it more than that. Whole night, I imagined snake dancing around inside my stomach. That is probably the last time I eat snake.

Bamboo shoot pork in flower
McDonald's in China

Fried flour ball. It was amazing!
Roasted pork. So delicious!

Mao style pork
Snakes of different varieties

One of the skills you should acquire before going to China is negotiating. I guess that’s same in most of the countries. If you are a foreigner, it’s very likely that your buying price would be different than for locals but if you are good at haggling, you can reduce 85% of the asking price. I have done it! So it’s possible. To buy souvenir, there are markets called Silk Market and He Fang Ancient Street in Hangzhou, and Yu garden tourist market and Tianzifang in Shanghai. Markets in Shanghai are very expensive so its better to do all the souvenir shopping in Hangzhou and only leave Shanghai for sight seeing. The markets have shops at two sides leaving the middle way for visitors to walk. The scenario reminded me of Christmas market in Manchester. Just that there was no snow. 

Yu garden tourist market

The weekends were left free for us to do our own travelling. In the first weekend, I chose to go to Suzhou, the place of pagodas, temples and canals. Suzhou is about more than 160 km away from Hangzhou. It was my first trip out of Hangzhou and I was more excited than ever. We caught a train and were overly impressed by the way they have managed train station. It looked like an airport to me. They have baggage and passenger screening monitor, exactly like airport. We also needed our passport to book a train ticket. The train was huge and enough space inside. Once the train started, steward came to sell foods but since we were in first class train, we were given free cookies and drink, exactly like in plane.

Suzhou was beautiful. We only went there for a day. So, there wasn't enough time to explore everything. Being selective, we chose to go to The Humble Administrator’s garden. This is the top tourist area in Suzhou. The Chinese architectural houses, the lake that contains lotus leaves kept reminding me that I was in China. It was so beautiful and peaceful that we didn’t even realise how we spent two hours there. After lunch, in agenda was to see 76 m tall Pagoda, called Beisi Pagoda, right in the middle of Suzhou. 

Humble Administrator's garden

Beisi Pagoda
Praying inside the temple of Beisi Pagoda

Next weekend, we went to Shanghai, The place where the finance of the world lives. I was very excited as I had planned about visiting Shanghai long before while I was still in UK. Our first destination was Yu Garden. It was similar to Humble Administrator’s garden in Suzhou. So, we didn’t spend much time there. The Bund was the next in line. The Bund is something you must see if you are in Shanghai. It is a pathway by a river, in walking distance from Yu Garden. Opposite it, you can see big buildings that include financial centres. Long and peaceful walk in the bund brings you to Nanjing road. Nanjing road looks beautiful at night. The big buildings were flashing attractive lights, which made the area livelier. It was bit crowded and you could see all the international brands like Zara and H&M there. I was happy to see them. People were dancing in the street and it became more enjoyable when I joined them to dance. It was tiring but I didn’t want to go home.

On the way to Bund from Yu garden

Nanjing Road looking livelier than me 

This is the first time I have formally learnt any other language in institution apart from English obviously. I learnt English since school so it wasn’t that much of difficulty but experiencing different characters is something interesting. I have always been interested to know how Chinese write their character and on what basis? After spending three weeks learning it, I am proud to say, I have that answer.  

As an academic course, I chose business culture in China. This course is suited if you ever want to do business in China. When I first looked at the course description, I knew it was for me and I jumped on it. While learning business, it was also interesting to learn Chinese culture. Chinese people value family the most. So, even when they write their name, they write surname first. They like to invest in next generation and there is always hope that their offspring would do better than them. If you want to learn business, go to China! They even find business in Chinese character. 
I am not sure what that means but it was ready to be sold
It was interesting how Chinese assume number 8 to be their luckiest. People there pay millions to get number 8 in their telephone and vehicle numbers. Don't be surprised if you see number 8 everywhere in China. There is a reason for that. Here, I am glad to announce I was born on 8th month of the year. It all makes sense now why 2008 Olympic ceremony in China was conducted on 08/08/2008 at 08:08:08 hours.

Chinese class was one of the most interesting classes I have had in my academic career so far. The teacher made it so enjoyable and informative that I never realised when two and half hour of the lecture finished everyday. On the second day of the Chinese class, we all were given our Chinese name. My name is Zha Xia Guang, which means sunrise. I loved my name but it took a while to get used to it. We were called by our Chinese names in the class but until final week, I wasn’t sure how my name was pronounced. Whenever teacher called out my name, I didn't know she meant me until she kept staring at me, waiting for my reply. Sometime I would just ask –‘Me?’. It was hilarious but we all enjoyed it. While I was getting used to my new name, it was time to leave. It didn’t occur to me until when the teacher called me by my real name. It was a last day of the course. I became emotional. The name ‘Zha Xia Guang’ was more familiar to me than ‘Parva Chhantyal’ by then.

Leaving China was very emotional time. Three weeks of fun and adventure had come to end. I remember myself looking through my window from plane as the distance of more than 4800 miles to UK was getting shorter. The other part of the world, where Mandarin is replaced by English, Chopstick is replaced by knife and fork, and where I never complain about day being so hot, was waiting for me! I was sad and asked myself- ‘Will I come here again?’. I shall definitely come again!

I am greatly thankful to Manchester University and Zhejiang University for giving us this opportunity, and also UK Government for sponsoring us. Also, thank you to all Chinese volunteers, teachers and my Study China peers for making my time more enjoyable.
Renshi ni Hen Gaoxing!