Withington in China 2018
Eighteen pupils and three staff went on the trip-of-a-lifetime to China during the Easter school holidays. The itinerary included Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. Below is a daily blog written by various contributors.
The most recent post is at the top.
Wednesday 4th April
We are safely home!
Miss Bruce, who led the trip, said: “We saw all the highlights of China, visiting three contrasting cities.”
Mrs Clark said: “Everyone thoroughly enjoyed their travels in China , learning about the history and experiencing a different culture. As always, the girls were an absolute pleasure to be with and a credit to Withington Girls’ School.”
Tuesday 3rd April
By Tara P
On our final full day in China and second day in Shanghai we woke up from a well-deserved rest in a real bed and enjoyed a breakfast with many treats from home such as fruit juice, coffee and even waffles! It was then time to visit the City God Temple and the Yuyuan Garden in the old city. We learned the Buddhist history of the temple during the Ming and Qing dynasties and had an opportunity to each make a wish using burning incense. Then just we were guided around the gardens in the glorious sunshine taking many photos of the bridges, flowers and a 400-year-old tree. Having a chance to explore the rest of the gardens and the local commercial area many people bought souvenirs whilst others took shelter from the sun in coffee shops.
After lunch in a local Chinese restaurant we were taken to the Shanghai Museum where we had the opportunity to discover ancient Chinese artwork including furniture, seals and calligraphy similar to the type we had seen and attempted to recreate earlier in the week.
We then got back in the bus ready to venture to another Chinese market which this time it was underground! With many people haggling and successfully purchasing items at very low prices we set off for a river cruise with hopes of getting stunning pictures of the Bund which we had seen the day before. The sun set as the boat took off and there was a fantastic view throughout the 50-minute journey ranging from a beautiful sunset to the lights of the buildings lit up in the dark. We even spotted the bottle opener shaped tower that we had been up the day before.
Our final evening meal in China was in another local Chinese restaurant with us all enjoying for the last time what had become our regular meal of sticky rice, chicken and green veg. Everyone then got back on the bus and we headed back to the hotel so we could pack all of our new purchases and everything else ready for the 5 o’clock wakeup call the next morning.
Monday 2nd April
By Millie O
Arrival in Shanghai
We started the day with an early start after a patchy sleep on the overnight train and arrived at Shanghai, China’s financial hub, at about 8:00am. We met our guide for Shanghai, Andy, and went to find some breakfast at the station. We decided rice would not be our first choice this early in the morning, so we ended up at McDonald’s for a coffee and breakfast sandwich! After breakfast, we took a short coach trip to the Bund, the waterfront in central Shanghai that looks over the river to the huge modern skyscrapers on the other side, a contrast to the very European style architecture behind us.
Almost as soon as we arrived at the Bund, it began to rain so we soon jumped back onto the coach and rode to Huangpu District of Shanghai, one of the main shopping centres. With all the western shops, it would be easy to imagine we’d been dropped into London and, while many of us braved the rain in order to do some shopping, some of us ended up camping out in the massive Starbucks or Haagen-Dasz to stay dry, before having more sticky rice at a Chinese restaurant in the Huangpu District.
After spending an hour or so shopping, we finally took the coach back to the hotel where we were able to have a much-needed rest and shower after the sticky train! Two hours of relaxing later, we took the coach to the French Concession area of Shanghai. It was definitely the most European area we’d found so far, with many leafy boulevards and bistros with many different cuisines and lots of boutique shops. This was the favourite part of Shanghai for a lot of us and we ended up spending an extra half an hour here and wandering over to the neighbouring park where Shanghai Fashion Week was taking place and had many pictures of us taken by the photographers and interested locals!
We then arrived at Shanghai World Financial Centre, the second tallest building in Shanghai, to take the lift all the way up to the 94th floor to take in the view and watch the sunset. After a short ride, we soon arrived at the top floor to be greeted by the amazing view of Shanghai from above, and while the sunset was mostly dampened by the smog, we were still able to see Shanghai at night and watch all the skyscrapers around us light up! Finally, we enjoyed another traditional Chinese dinner before settling down to prepare for our final day in China!
Withy girls have attracted the paparazzi!
From the 95th Floor!
Sunday, 1st April
By Jess N
After a nice lie-in till 7.45 am, back in a proper bed, we had breakfast (including toast!) and then checked out of the hotel before making our way outside of Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. These warriors were commissioned in 221 BC by Emperor Qin Shi Huang as part of his tomb, as it was believed they would protect him in the afterlife, especially since he had been a ruthless ruler who had made many enemies.
At present almost 8000 pieces have been excavated, 7000 men and 700 horses. All 8000 warriors were made in 11 years- some of them even reach 2 metres tall! There are three pits to view the warriors, the first, and largest, which contained 6,000 warriors then the second which was for the reserve army and finally the third for the command base. These warriors were sealed 2000 years ago and hidden away as part of the emperor’s tomb until in 1979 when farmers discovered them and since then they have been restoring all the warriors, of which only one of the 8000 warriors remained completely intact – kneeling archer which was on display.
After viewing the pits we went to a delicious lunch and then headed to the train station for our second overnight train- this time to Shanghai! Just a short 15-hour journey until our arrival.
Saturday 31st March
by Nicola A
7.30am. We woke up to a different scene today as we were no longer in the comfort of the hotel rooms but in a sleeper train cabin! Not only this, but we left Beijing behind us, and were now in the city of Xi’an. Known for its dumplings and ‘small’ population of 9 million, Xi’an had an urban feel and we were eager to find out what the next couple of days had in store for us. Following the route out of the train station and onto the streets, we were overjoyed to meet with our long-lost friend and teacher, Miss Richards, who would be journeying with us from here on until the end of the trip. Another new member of our China trip family was the vibrant and extremely smiley tour guide, Ivy. Once we introduced ourselves and let go of our bags it was time to begin the day!
First stop in this beautiful city was the main Buddhist Temple, named ‘Wild Goose’, which included the infamous slanted ‘Pagoda’. Here we learnt about the extensive history of the temple from the founder of the temple to the foundations and tools used to build it. Fun fact – the temple was originally built using sticky and kiwi juice as the cement, and despite the early century in which it was built, it has complex hemispheric foundations! We had a chance to walk round, observing the golden Buddha and meeting a couple of monks on the way and most of this made a great opportunity for photographs.
Lunch today was enjoyed at a western style buffet. Though there was still plenty of delicious traditional oriental Chinese food, many of us were pleased to see the rare sighting of western food like skinny chips and ketchup!
Following lunch, we then embarked on a trip to a Xi’an art gallery. We looked around and were accompanied by a very informative guide who was highly experienced in this area. Later we had the chance to partake in a calligraphy lesson, learning how to spell out ‘forever’ and ‘love’ in traditional Chinese brush stroke calligraphy. This proved to be a very relaxing and educational experience for all.
Next up was the Muslim quarter located in downtown Xi’an, containing the city’s main drum tower and what seemed like thousands of souvenirs, market foods and frozen yogurt stands all in 500m! It was here that two members of the China trip family took the alternative option of an hour-long foot massage, but we all met again later on at the hotel before our evening meal out.
Our evening meal was arguably one of our best food experiences yet. (Note: it truly was an experience). We were taken to a grand restaurant in a nice part of Xi’an, where we were going to be served 17 different types of Chinese dumplings! The most impressive part of this food experience was probably when the pork with duck and sesame dumplings were literally served in the shape of a duck! The abundance of tasty dumplings and sides had us very full and definitely satisfied.
Rolling out of the restaurant, it was time to leisurely return to the hotel (via a couple of shops of course), where we could unwind, shower, and pack again for our last day in Xi’an which was to come.
Friday 30th March
The Summer Palace, Olympic Park and journey to Xi’an
By Grace L
After another ‘refreshing’ 6.45 wakeup call we spent an hour and a half traveling to the Summer Palace for our last day in Beijing. Here we explored the many beautiful buildings, most of which belonged to the legendary dragon lady. On our drive there, Richard told us several tales about the dragon lady and her immense power. Her son became emperor when he was only 6 years old due to his father dying and so she ruled the country on his behalf up until his death 11 years later. It was incredibly unusual for a woman to that have so much power in ancient China.
Once we had looked around the buildings and taken advantage of any photo opportunities, we took a boat from the south to the north side of the palace and headed for lunch. Here we were greeted by a great surprise of chips and egg fried rice, which was a great delight for Phoebe who had been craving it all holiday.
We then drove to the Olympic park where despite not being able to go inside, we stood on the bridge outside and took photos and Nicola and Miss Bruce had a race across the top of the bridge. Nicola won gold!
Following our brief encounter with such an intense sporting environment we went to release the tension with some retail therapy, not that the experience was particularly relaxing. Walking through the aisles between shops, sellers would call you into their store and attempt to persuade you to purchase their goods. Most of us managed to haggle cheaper prices – Katy did especially well, getting some headphones down from 800 to 150 Yuan.
After another jam-packed exciting day we went for our typical Chinese dinner which was eaten hastily by all, following rumours of a nearby McDonald’s.
We then travelled for an hour and a half to the Beijing train station where we were to board the overnight sleep train to Xi’an. In the station, we found a McDonald’s…. and a KFC! We boarded the train with tired eyes and full stomachs apprehensive but excited for the journey ahead.
Thursday 29th March
Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven
By Katie W
We began the day with lots of fruit and cake and then set off in the minibus to Tiananmen Square. Our guide, Richard, warned us not to ask any political questions whilst in the square as there would be soldiers and policeman on the lookout for any possible unrest. Tiananmen Square is the largest city centre square in the world, able to contain up to one million people, and it truly lived up to the accolade. We took photos in front of the iconic Gate of Heavenly Peace with Chairman Mao’s portrait taking centre stage in the background.
We then entered the Forbidden City, just across the street from Tiananmen Square. The City was the home to the Emperor and his entire household during both the Ming and Qing dynasties and learnt from Richard that, for one Emperor, this household included over 3000 concubines. Inside the Forbidden City we saw the rooms in which the Emperor would have conducted business, dressed and drunk tea, and we also took numerous photos beside the beautifully decorated buildings.
In the afternoon, following a good lunch, we visited the Temple of Heaven which was where the Emperor would have prayed for a good harvest and a happy and peaceful life. We read about the tradition of animal sacrifice at the temple and ‘The Suffering’ when the Temple of Heaven was occupied by British and then Japanese soldiers.
Later, we attended a renowned Beijing circus show to get a real taste of the spirit of China’s capital. We all thoroughly enjoyed the show but the theatre’s toilets were much less popular! The highlights of the show were two men navigating a hamster-wheel-like contraption, balancing on the inside and outside as it spun around, and when seven men raced around the inside of a ball on motorbikes with neon lights. The skills exhibited were tremendous and we all concluded that we would only have been capable of bringing on the props.
We returned to the hotel for a quick nap and then went out to enjoy a traditional meal of sticky rice, greens and chicken dishes at a local restaurant. The day was finished by another visit to the supermarket, with many of us spending too many RMBs (Renminbis aka Yuan). in the Japanese store Miniso.
Wednesday 28th March – The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall, Hutong area, old town, the river and tea tasting in Hutong
By Viola B
After a 6:45 wake-up call and many pieces of cake at breakfast, we left our hotel at around 8:30 to head for the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall started construction over 2000 years ago during the Spring and Autumn (771–476 BC) and Warring States periods (475-221 BC), but it wasn’t until the Ming Dynasty that construction really took off. The Great Wall was completed in the mid-17th Century and the Ming Emperors built just under 9,000 km of wall.
We had the option of either walking up to the wall or taking a cable car up, and then either walking back or taking the toboggan slide down. Unsurprisingly, all the girls went for the cable car option to get to the top of the mountain. However, Mrs Clark, Miss Bruce and Mrs Hughes decided to prove they were hardcore by walking to the top instead.
It’s impossible to describe the immense beauty of the Great Wall and its views as it is truly one of those places that you just have to see for yourself. The hills and countryside surround both sides of the Great Wall, with the haze adding to the atmosphere. We spent the next couple of hours walking along the Wall (which actually turned out to be a good workout due to all the steps!) and taking photos. When it was time to leave the Wall, the majority of us took the toboggan slide down. This was a unique and fun experience, albeit a little pressurised as we often found ourselves being shouted at for going too slowly and taking too long to get on and off the toboggans. It didn’t help that Mia, who was one of the first to go down the slide, had a faulty toboggan which wouldn’t accelerate properly. This led to toboggan traffic jams and even the occasional bump!
After lunch, we headed back into Beijing to see the traditional Hutongs in the Houhai Lake area. Hutongs are narrow streets with traditional courtyard houses found in Northern China. Before doing some window shopping in the Hutong streets, we saw the Drum and Bell Towers which were built in the 1440s during the Ming dynasty. Their role was to inform the people of Beijing of the time throughout the day, signifying when the city gates would be opened and closed. At this point, we were advised to don face mask because of the pollution levels. We also had a tea tasting session in the Bell Tower Tea House in which we tried four different types of tea as well as learning the correct way to make it!
Our last trip of the day was to the supermarket located about ten minutes’ walk away from our hotel. The supermarket was huge and all of us stocked up on drinks, snacks and fruits all for a very good price.
Tuesday 27th March
Arrival, the Lama Temple, first Chinese meal and Days for Girls session at the local migrant school.
By Mrs Clark
The journey here to China was not as gruelling as anticipated but the subsequent time difference and sleep deprivation have certainly been quite difficult for some of us! I am writing at 4am – this body clock is totally malfunctioning!
We were met at the airport by our guide, Richard, and soon had luggage stowed away in coach and were on our way to experience China! Our first experience was the horrendous traffic but it gave us an opportunity to listen to some useful background information from Richard and to catch up on a bit of dozing!
It was too early to book into our hotel, so we got our first taste of Chinese History with a visit to the Lama Temple. This is the largest and most spectacular Buddhist temple in Beijing. As with many Buddhist temples it houses a Laughing Buddha. He is found in the first hall surrounded by the Four Heavenly Kings. In the last of five halls we saw a huge 18m high Buddha statue apparently sculpted from a single block of sandalwood. After this amazing introduction to China’s capital city, we went for lunch – and our first experience of sticky rice and chopsticks!
By this time, our rooms were ready so we were all thankful for showers and a change of clothes before visiting a school, where we found delightful children eager to learn some English. Another sumptuous banquet for tea and our first day in China was over.