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Exploring China

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

view from the Great Wall

I had the best time exploring China! We went in a group of 50 classmates and teachers from my school and did everything from climbing the Great Wall to walking on the edge of a skyscraper, two things I was looking forward to from the itinerary. I was anxious about being with the same people 24/7 for 7 days and whether I was truly going to enjoy all the activities. However, throughout the trip, I realized that I had nothing to be worried about. Over the course of the trip, i've made some of the best memories and know you will too if you ever decide to visit.

Our journey to China: US to Beijing

I woke up at 6:30 AM on Friday, March 1st to take a 13 hour plane from Dulles airport (Washington DC) to Beijing, China. I watched 3 movies (Crazy Rich Asians, Crazy Stupid Love, and Ferdinand) and 2 episodes of Blackish and 2 of Modern Family on the plane ride to pass the time. We arrived around 3:40 pm Beijing time and went out to dinner for our first Chinese authentic meal. It was very different from Chinese food in the US and lets just say Casey M and I ate a lot of Broccoli, being vegetarians.

Food: Breakfast was really good and I tried many different Eastern authentic foods like shredded potato strips, edible fungus, purple sweet potato dumplings, hami melon, and more. Lunch varied from day to day because it wasn't included in the trip price. Over the course of the trip, I had a tofu dish, noodles with a mushroom compote, a MCflurry (we were all ready for some fast food by then), and lots of veggies. For dinner, Casey M (my vegetarian counterpart) and I usually had rice, bok choy, cauliflower, and broccoli. At the first restaurant we visited in Shanghai, we not only had what we were usually offered, there was tofu, delicious green beans, potatoes, and more.

(from left to right) Casey, Kennon, and I in the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City: After breakfast, we went to the border of Tienanmen square (couldn’t go inside because of government council meetings). Tienanmen Square has great cultural significance within China, but is best known for the pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Then, we went to the forbidden city (the Palace Museum) which included three main halls: the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohe Hall), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghe Hall) and the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihe Hall). There, Casey M, Strummy, Kennon, and I had a great photo shoot in front of the gorgeous buildings.

Temple of Heaven Park: Afterwards, we went to the Temple of Heaven park where there were more gorgeous architecture and more photos were taken. At the Park, we visited a senior citizen “playground” which was one of coolest and most amazing concepts I’ve ever seen or heard of. They had pull up bars, stretching areas, massage rollers, and more. Many of them were playing Hackensack and practicing tai-chi. I went on the pull up bars and tried some tricks, tried to play some Hackensack but realized that I was pretty awful at it, and then finally ended with some Tai-chi, definitely the best part. The lady who was leading the tai-chi exercise was extremely flexible and so, of-course, we were being flexible together (not to mention, she was at least in her forties possibly fifties, so I was even more impressed). It was astounding to see the amount of talent, hard work ethic, and energy the senior citizens had.

A photo I took of the Great Wall

The Great Wall of China: All 50 of us got on the bus for a one hour car ride to THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA! I climbed to the top after much struggling. It measured 42 stories going up and 42 going down, so in total we climbed 84 stories. It's similar to climbing an 84 story building except outside in the freezing cold or burning sun with a heavy backpack on. It was amazing to see one of the 7 wonders of the world and the sense of accomplishment I felt afterwards is indescribable.

Jade Factory: After climbing the Great Wall, we went to a Jade factory where we learned about the importance of jade in Chinese culture and jewelry and then had a chance to buy some for family and friends (our tour guide was great, but we also went to a lot of factories probably because of her connections to the store owners. Basically, we were often times convinced to buy unnecessary and overly expensive items because we were taken to these stores and persuaded by the workers to buy as many items as possible). I almost bought a pair of earrings for $120, but I texted my mom and she said no way; there’s no guarantee that it will truly be real and pure. It was still cool to see how Jade is extracted and used though!

Yongle: Ming emperor

The Ming Tombs: After the Jade factory, we visited the Ming tombs where Yongle, a Ming emperor, was initially buried (probably not anymore). We also saw the type of ship which Zheng He took on his voyages to South and Southeast Asia as well as the east coast of Africa. Greg, of course, had to test all the AP World students. The tombs were decorated beautifully and it was cool to see an actual replica of the type of ships Zheng He used on his voyages.

one of the teas we tried

Tea Factory: After the Ming tombs, we went to a tea factory, but this time we got to actually taste 8 different types of tea, a unique and fun experience. Then of course we could buy any type of tea or other product that they had if we wanted. Strummy (a classmate and my roommate) saved me from buying the whole pack of tea for $45, especially because I don’t drink that much tea.

Acrobatic show: After dinner, we went to an acrobatic show which I was very excited to see. I’m really interested in acrobatics/contortion so this was right up my alley. At one point, there were seven people each with their own motorcycle racing each other in a small sphere, as shown in the video.

Steward kids with Chinese students

Visiting a Chinese public high school in Beijing: We woke up at 5:30 AM (WAY too early) in Beijing in order to finish breakfast and be ready to visit a Chinese public high school before getting on a flight to Shanghai. We learned about the Chinese schooling system (WAY harder than ours), had a tour of the school, and got to talk to some Chinese students around our age. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences between us and them. First, we sat in a classroom and learned about/memorized a famous Chinese poem. Then, we watched a video on something similar to “China’s got talent” of an old man and children singing the poem. We then performed the poem in groups in front of our classmates.

Beijing to Shanghai: After leaving the school, we took a flight from Beijing to Shanghai. We took Hainan airlines, one of the best domestic airlines I have ever been on. I listened to music on the TV screen while reading more than half of my required reading of the Alchemist (reading was much better because of the wonderful hospitality and surroundings). We landed in Shanghai around dinner time and went to one of the best restaurants on the this trip.

Our first full day in Shanghai was super busy and a lot of fun!

Evil and good Buddhist statues

Jade temple: At the Jade temple, we saw detailed statues of Buddhist gods, saw the peaceful and nature filled temples, and had another smaller photo shoot. It was gorgeous and such a peaceful area.

Visiting a school in Shanghai: Afterwards, we visited a school in Shanghai and it was interesting to see the difference between the kids and the school as a whole in Beijing and Shanghai. I definitely noticed that the kids in Shanghai were much more talkative and they asked me a lot of questions instead of me only asking them questions. We talked about favorites movies, places i'd been in Beijing, favorite colors, and interests, among other things. They gave us many presents/ mementos that are unique to China and I was so surprised and thankful for them.

Nanjing Road: After visiting the school, we drove to Nanjing road. Nanjing road is a famous shopping area in Shanghai, but it is filled with high end stores like Rolex so I didn’t buy anything. It was still pretty fun to go in and admire all the expensive stuff that i’m too broke to buy lol. We also had MCdonalds on Nanjing road. It was great to finally eat some non-Chinese food (I get tired of eating one type of food for so long no matter what type of food it is). I basically had a MCflurry for lunch and it was absolutely delicious.

All the kids in my group posing on the skywalk

Skywalk: After “lunch”, we went to the Jin Mao tower, an approximately 88 story building which has the skywalk. I decided to do the skywalk even though it costed around 300 Yuan ($45)! I was such a fun experience especially because I got to do it with some of my best friends (Kennedy, Casey, Strummy) and of course Greg (Mr. Young), Ms. Dwelle, and Mr. McKee made it eventful. Strummy slipped on the deck which was hilarious and Greg and Strummy were constantly insulting and fighting each other. At the end of it, we all got one free picture, a medal, and a certificate!

a (blurry) photo of Shanghai nightlife from our night cruise

Night Cruise: We finished eating quickly in order to make it to the 8:30 PM night cruise. We saw Shanghai nightlife on the cruise and it reminded me a lot of New York city because of all the flashy lights and huge unique buildings. Later, I learned that Shanghai can actually fit many New York Cities and is the most populated city in the world.

Chenghuang temple

Chenghuang temple: The garden/temple was absolutely gorgeous and so fun to explore. In the pond (which has historical significance), there were the largest fish I have ever seen and a lot of us spent some time looking at them. The temple reminds me of an oasis in the middle of a desert because you can see sky high skyscrapers in the background of photos, but the temple itself it feels like you are in the countryside, surrounded by nature.

Silk Factory: It was really interesting to see how the Chinese make silk, especially because silk was and still is such an important part of Chinese culture and society. Just like I had never really thought about where pearls come from, I never really thought about how humans take the silk from silkworms and process it into silk for use in everyday items.

Shanghai Museum: The museum was one of the only parts of the trip which I did not find amazing or very enjoyable. Most of us ended up spending the majority of our time in the cafe because it was difficult to stay engaged without a physical guide. Also, it was inevitable that a group of 40 teenagers were going to get very bored very fast in a museum. But, there always has to be improvements to be made for a trip occurring for the first time.

A celebration: After the museum, it was time for dinner. Although we had Chinese food again at yet another Chinese restaurant, this dinner was special for 2 reasons: a) it was Sam’s birthday and Li, our Beijing tour guide, got him a cake and got us all to sing for him which I thought was super sweet. b) It was our last dinner in China and it was bittersweet. Although I was getting bored of Chinese food (it happens to anyone if you eat one cuisine too many times in a row), I was also going to miss these fun dinners.

Shanghai - Newark - Dulles - Home: The day to go home had finally arrived. I was sad, excited, and dreading the looooong flight (s) back home. By 11:30 we were all ready to pile into the bus. We arrived at the airport around 12:30 and went through security. After security, we had about an hour to grab something to eat, so we set off in a huge group.

Lunch that turned into a funny story: Quickly, Casey M, Kennon, and I branched off, with Casey and I trying to find some vegetarian options. The search proved to be IMPOSSIBLE. We walked to SO many gates searching for some restaurant with something vegetarian. Both of us, and Kennon, were becoming frustrated FAST. We asked ourselves, “why does everything have to have meat in it?” “Why can’t you just save some damn cows?!”. Finally, with 20 minutes to spare, we found a Chinese looking restaurant that seemed to have a vegetarian option on the menu. Casey and I showed our obnoxious yet extremely helpful card (it says: "I am a vegetarian. If I eat meat, I will die." Of course that statement is very extreme, but it’s the only way to make people take our request seriously.). Surprisingly, they didn’t freak out upon reading the card and got us a table. Our noodle and Mushroom medley ended up being absolutely delicious, but then we realized that we were running out of time. We saw some teachers and asked them if we could come a little late because of the difficulty we faced finding vegetarian options and they said that was fine. We finished eating in time. However, Casey and Kennon still wanted to get snacks for the plane. Ultimately, Kennon and I had to convince stubborn Casey that we weren’t going to have any time and that they would just have to borrow snacks from other people. Eventually, they both got their snacks, but boy am I thankful to live in a place where there are many vegetarian options.

The actual Flight: After lunch, we boarded our 13 and a half hour plane to Newark. I watched 2 episodes of Modern Family, 2 episodes of Blackish, and The Book Club (a great movie; you should watch it). I also slept for a good 3 hours and ate lots of airplane food. Our Friday lasted around 36 hours which really weird to think about because we sort of "went back in time". Then, we took a flight from Newark to Dulles and took a bus back home. 

The Jin Mao tower all lit up at night

Although I loved every minute of China, I have to admit I was ready to be home and definitely excited to see my parents! I've told them all about my experiences and now I can’t wait for the next trip!  

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