Hello USWIB and greetings from Shanghai!
Prior to studying abroad at NYU Shanghai, I had only seen the countryside of my parents’ hometown in Fuzhou. Given the opportunity to study in China for an entire semester, I wanted to improve my speaking and writing abilities in Chinese, while doing something outside of my comfort zone: challenging myself to use my Chinese while traveling to new places in China. Currently, besides Shanghai, I have visited Beijing, Hangzhou, Wuxi, Suzhou, Zhangjiajie, Xi’an, and also got to see family in Fuzhou! Every trip I’ve taken so far has been wonderful, but there are a few memorable sights and attractions that I think are must-sees in China.
Before coming to China, I really anticipated going to Zhangjiajie, which is located in the Hunan Province of Central China. If you have seen Avatar, then you would probably notice that, in fact, the shots of the Hallelujah Mountains were taken within the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. Zhangjiajie is a great place for people to appreciate nature and a great escape from the daily bustle of urban life. I was awed by the beautiful scenery of this city. The three main attractions in Zhangjiajie are: Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianmen Mountain (or Heaven’s Gate Mountain), and Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge. Since we only had a weekend there, we unfortunately did not get to see the National Forest Park, where the mountains and peaks shown in Avatar were modeled after. To get to Tianmen Cave, we had to take a bus up a road with 99 bends, which was a scary ride but with beautiful landscapes to keep my mind off the winding roads. After reaching the bottom of the cave, there were 999 steep and narrow steps up to the cave, which is a huge hole in between two peaks, and is known as the “Stairway to Heaven.” As you can probably tell, Chinese people really like the number “9” as it has the same pronunciation as longevity. After reaching the top of the cave, we had to take several escalators to the summit, which had spectacular valley views, and thrilling glass and cliff path skywalks.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province, and is just under an hour train ride away from Shanghai. There’s a saying in Chinese that “just as there is paradise in heaven, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” The views at Hangzhou do live up to the saying. Our day trip in Hangzhou was spent around the West Lake, a landmark known for its beauty that blends well with the historical and cultural sites within it. We began the day by visiting Lingyin Temple (AKA Temple of Soul’s Retreat), which is on the northeast side of West Lake. It is known as one of the ten most famous Buddhist temples in China. For our next stop, we went further into West Lake and took a sightseeing car that traveled full circle around the scenic places within West Lake. The highlight of the trip was seeing the beautiful views around West Lake. We wrapped up our night by visiting Qinghefang Ancient Street, just several hundred meters away from West Lake. This street is the only well-preserved part of the ancient city. Qinghefang was filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, teahouses, street vendor stalls, and of course, lots of people, every block of the way.
I visited Beijing during the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is one of the peak seasons for tourism. Despite how crowded the city was everywhere we went, I was fascinated by Beijing’s ancient past. Specifically, I really enjoyed walking around the Forbidden City Palace, which was home to the imperial family for more than 500 years and has an extensive collection of relics, paintings, calligraphy, and bronzes. We spent 3 hours in the Forbidden City and yet still did not see all of the halls/palaces. Another highlight of our Beijing trip definitely was trying authentic Peking duck at Quanjude, one of the most well-known restaurants in Beijing that serves roast duck.
Of course I can’t forget about my study abroad site! My two favorite attractions in Shanghai thus far have been Zhujiajiao Water Town and the Bund. Zhujiajiao is an ancient town located close to the outskirts of Shanghai. It is a very beautiful water town and was a great change of pace from the bustling, metropolis city I was used to. The Bund (or Waitan) is also a must-see in Shanghai. Walking along the Bund at night, you can see the four highest skyscrapers in the city across the Huangpu River and all of the buildings’ lights reflected on the water creates a pretty view. Along the Bund walkway, there are also clusters of colonial-era buildings. It was really interesting to see the contrast between the century-old history and the futuristic buildings of Shanghai as I walked along this waterfront.