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China

February to June 2010

Spending a semester abroad always is a crazy experience – but spending it in China without ever been there before was just awesome.

Arriving in Qingdao

The whole semester was a speedy decision right before the application deadline. Having still some exams to do at home at that time, I was arriving in China even without a travel guide. Kept it like that.
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Language gap

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 is in German (due to the history as a German colony in the early 20th century), just a handful of people are speaking English.
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Shanghai

We were a small group of foreigners at the Ocean University of China and all pretty curious to discover the country. Thanks to the very cheap flight tickets this was pretty easy. With three friends our first trip led us to Shanghai, just two weeks after arriving in China – and still with early bookers discount from the airline…
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Marriage market

Parents meet in a park in Shanghai with vitas of their children to set them up. Annual income usually was mentioned in the biggest letters. They weren't amused to get photographed…
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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 is changing faster right now than Shanghai.
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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. The middle class in the cities at least can afford scooters.
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Markets

You can buy almost everything on the various markets in Shanghai. Exotic animals (animal protection doesn't bother anyone, unfortunately…), communist kitsch, all kind of faked clothes and electronics. Wouldn't wonder if there would be way more crazy stuff if you just speak the language good enough.
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Street Life

Like in most parts of Asia, daily life takes place on the streets. No one bats an eye in Shanghai if you walk down to lunch in your pyjamas.
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Old and new

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Temples

Despite any religious activity was persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, some temples still exist and are more than just a tourist attraction nowadys.
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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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What else?

The water fountain show was sort of strange, but at least nice to cool down. And there are even some muslim mosques to visit. Then we learned how to deal with a cancelled flight back home…
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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 you didn't even have to leave the great old campus to discover crazy 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 our "Golden Hotel" student dorm (don't ask, I have no idea what was supposed to be golden…) there were periodic events, for example a talent and a cosplay show. Also, don't ask me about the leek… At least our 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 every tourist expects 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 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 Hannover long time ago – but probably that's just because I was a child then. At least I could take some abstract pictures there.
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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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Agriculture

My first contact with Chinese agriculture after several months there. Or at least, what has been agriculture back in the days (like cormorant fishing) and is now a tourist attraction.
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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, still is far away from offering basic human rights and freedom to 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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© 2017 Benedikt Altschuh