China

China

February to June 2010

Impressions from an amazing semester abroad at the Ocean University of China in Qingdao.

Arriving in Qingdao


The whole semester was a quick stomach decision within hours before the application deadline. Applying for visas and getting things organized here and there in the following days and weeks, I was eventually arriving in China without any language knowledge, not even a travel guide. Thanks to the jet lag, I spent the first early mornings exploring the city on foot – or a least the very little walkable piece of this 4-8 million people (depending on where to draw the line) town.
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Without knowing a single word in Mandarin the beginning wasn't easy. Although some signs were in, well, sort of English and some stuff even in German (due to the history of Qingdao as a German colony in the early 20th century), just a handful of people were speaking English.
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Shanghai


We were a small group of freshly landed foreigners at the OUC and all pretty curious to discover the country. Thanks to the very cheap flights this was pretty easy. With three friends our first trip led us to Shanghai, just two weeks after arriving in China – and still qualifying for early bookers discount from the airline.
While managing the language gap already pretty well, we failed badly selling ourselves at the Shanghai marriage market. Was it because we weren't promoted by our parents or because of the lack of proper annual income? We probably will never find out…
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Smog

Wow. The first day in Shanghai was heavy, you could cut the air with a knife. Even the huge skyscrapers of Pudong across the Huang Pu river were just barely visible.
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Construction sites

The whole country is a construction site. Everything is moving, growing – everything is getting taller, bigger, brighter. Old and new buildings are demolished to make space for new and even newer appartment blocks, offices, industry. Probably no city was changing faster than Shanghai at that time.
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Traffic

In a country moving so fast, there are always the left-behinds. Those are the ones carrying garbage on old tricycles between huge skyscrapers and brand new Mercedes cars.
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Markets

You can buy almost everything on the various markets in Shanghai. Exotic and protected animals, communist kitsch, all kind of faked clothes and electronics. It quickly become clear, why bargaining was the very first chapter in our university's language textbook – even before introducing yourself. I will never forget bargaining for more than 30 minutes over 50 cents discount for a 2,50 EUR fake belt…
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Street Life

Like in most parts of Asia, daily life takes place on the streets. Walking down the street in pyjamas was much less sensational than walking it down as a "long nose" back at those days in some quarters.
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Temples

Despite any religious activity was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, some temples still exist and are highly frequented by locals. But like anywhere else in the world, most of the modern day deities are praised in 60 story buildings of concrete, steel and glass – especially in Shanghai.
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Xi'an


From the coast to China's heartland. Xi'an is famous for its Terracotta Army, the huge city wall and being the starting point of the legendary Silk Road.
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Spring

It was way colder than expected in China. In Xi'an, for the first time after weeks, it felt like spring is coming up.
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Street Food

Our first experiences with excessive street kitchens. Not so popular in Qingdao and Shanghai, in Xi'an streets at were full of small stalls offering all sorts of food at night.
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Qingdao


After the first trips through China, I started to discover my hometown: Qingdao. A German colony from 1898 to 1914, then occupied by the Japanese, this one is quite different from other Chinese megacities. Actually it doesn't even feel like a huge city – until you climb the TV tower and get an image of where its 8 million citizens live.
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University


Sometimes I haven't even had to leave the great old campus to discover exciting things. One day I left the dorm in the morning to find myself in the middle of a huge university sports day.
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Talent Show & Cosplay

Just across the street from my "Golden Hotel" student dorm (not much golden about it) there were periodic events, for example a talent and a cosplay show. Don't ask me about the leek, but my Chinese fellow students loved it!
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Beijing


The capital. And way more interesting to discover than it's counterpart Shanghai. While Shanghai is built on money, the Skyscrapers of Beijing still leave some space to discover the old culture beneath. But first I started of with one of the newest parts of the city: The Olympic Park and its most iconic piece of architecture: the Bird's Nest. What a pity they forgot to put some more nature beside it in the Olympic Park.
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Tiananmen Square

More important, especially for Chinese tourists – a lot of them soldiers on offical holidays – is the Tiananmen Square. Mao is omnipresent there, looking not only from a huge portrait at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, but also resting in peace in person (they say…) in his massive 'Maosoleum'.
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Street Food

I don't know if this has ever been considered a delicacy or speciality anywhere and anytime in China – or if they just sell it because tourists expect to eat crazy stuff in China?
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Beijing Zoo

While the Panda, China's secret heraldic animal, at least has plenty of space to live, other creatures in Beijing's Zoo aren't treated that well…
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Great Wall


If you are to Beijing, the Great Wall is just an easy day trip. As winter was long in 2010, even in the end of April the landscape was all grey and scant.
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Shanghai Expo


Coincidence, that the World's Fair took place in Shanghai during my stay. Had a better reminiscence of the one in Hanover, Germany, long time ago – but probably that's just because I was a little child back then.
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Nanjing


The ancient capital now is a relatively calm place an hour away from Shanghai. The seniors' hobbies seem to be Xiangqi – the "Chinese Chess" – and… birds. They sell and buy them everywhere on the street or just take them out for a walk.
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Hangzhou


Also just an hour away from Shanghai, Hangzhou is a relief from the megacity madness. The West Lake is just an amazing place to hang out.
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Guilin


My last trip in China took me to the South: Gulin. Famous for its karst scenery around, I luckily came there right before the main tourist season started.
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River tours

A Li river cruise is what everyone does in Guilin (so did I). But way more interesting are the small valleys starting in Yangshuo and behind. Unfortunately the weather was typical Chinese while I was around: Foggy and grey.
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The End


What an amazing time in China. Don't get me wrong: This country still has a lot of problems to solve, still is far away from offering basic human rights and freedom to all its citizens and still leaves huge parts of the population behind in poverty while others don't know where to spend all their money. And even we foreigners experienced censorship and surveillance, although they tried their best to make it inconspicuous. China is far away from being the paradise. But despite all, it was amazing to discover a country moving so fast, growing so big. I met wonderful people there, Chinese as well as other students from abroad. A lot of them I can luckily still call my friends. I learned so much about a culture so different from mine. I saw so many beautiful places. So yes, I had an amazing time!
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