As autumn is drifting into winter, the realization that this semester is coming to a close is slowly sinking in. Our time here in Nanjing has flown by with blinding speed. Chinese has become an integral part of the student’s lives, and each student has made friends from all over the world. Every day is a new adventure that has taught each and every one of us how to use what we learn in the classroom out into the streets.
In September and October, we had quite a few field trips in Nanjing, such as visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall for the history of Japan occupation of Nanjing during the World War II and the Presidential Palace where the democracy in China was born in 1912, although short lived.
During Chinese National Holidays, many students travelled within and outside of China. Once the students returned from their travels, the CIEE staff organized a hike on Purple Mountain, which has over 1,000 steps climbing the steep mountainside. Two of the students ran up the mountain in training for their upcoming triathlon. At the top, we met two seasoned hikers who offered to take us on a different path through the forests of the mountain. We agreed, and hiked through a beautiful, hidden trail through the woods of golden autumn leaves. An hour later we arrived at Zixia Lake, a lake in the purple mountain where local people swim year round. So, in the middle of October, all the students jumped into the lake, still warm from the summer sun. The spontaneity of one or two was contagious, and soon everyone was splashing around in the pristine lake. The students then hiked back down the mountain, sopping wet, but refreshed from the challenging trek.
A week later, our resident athletes competed in the Nanjing Man triathlon, along with Professor Plum and her family. Classmates, teachers, and girlfriends cheered them on as they ran, biked, and swam their way to the finish. Another student has been teaching Zumba classes for free at the track field of Nanjing University, and the classes have continued to grow in number each session. What a surprising activity to find in China! The Latin-based exercise-turned-dance has become very popular with Chinese and foreigners alike, and even little children love to dance on stage alongside our student-instructor.
After our weeklong trip to Xinjiang, the westernmost Uighur autonomous region of China, it seems as if we have returned from another country. If not for the Hanzi written next to the flowing Arabic script, and the occasional shopkeeper chattering away in Mandarin, it would be to forget we were still in China. Xinjiang is 1/6 of China, bordering 8 different countries, which has given China a strategic advantage, as well as an area with abundant natural resources.
There is so much to say about the places we visited in Xinjiang. In Urumqi, we visited the Xinjiang Autonomous Region Museum, where we saw the “Luolan Beauty”, a petrified mummy of a woman of Indo-European decent. The bodies that had been preserved by the dry desert and cold climate were fascinating.
The next day we took a flight to Kashgar, then drove to Karakul Lake, which was beyond breathtaking. On the side of the lake there was an ancient graveyard with high brick tombs, surrounded by patches of snow. In Kashgar, we also went to the beautiful Abakh Hoja Tombs, and watched a traditional Uyghur dance. After the tombs we visited a livestock market, where hundreds of animals were squeezed into the Bazaar, and haggled over by brusque old farmers. We saw donkeys, goats, horses, sheep and even camels being traded, but nothing could surprise a person more than seeing a group of foreigners petting sheep and bartering over small trinkets. Near the end of the day, we visited the Id Kah Mosque, nestled into the heart of Kashgar, with beautiful courtyards and simply decorated prayer rooms.
The next morning we took a hard sleeper train to Kuqa, which was a great experience that the students greatly enjoyed. With the fast-paced development in China, the slow trains will soon be replaced by the bullet trains. The students played hand games, talked with other Chinese passengers, and studied during the 15-hour trip.
Once in Kuqa, we visited the Grand Canyon, and hiked through the twisting, cavernous rocks for an hour. After the canyon we visited the Kizil Thousand Buddha Cave, which dates back to the 3rd century. The caves were stunning, although it was heartbreaking to see that many of the artifacts, and the gold gilding on the paintings had been stolen. There are truly only 269 caves, but the ‘thousand’ refers to the hundreds of Buddhas painted inside the cave walls and ceilings. Many of the paintings told stories of Buddha, and were beautifully embedded with stones. What was truly interesting, is that the Silk Road lead to Buddhism’s spread into China, and yet due to how many different people encountered it on its journey, its portrayal started to mold and transform.
On Wednesday, we drove out to the Kumtag Desert near Turpan, where the students hiked the massive ever-shifting sand dunes and rode camels through the barren desert. Amazing how college students can seem like children again when given a giant sandbox to play in! Laughter echoed through the hills, and no one person could resist the temptation of sliding down the sandy dunes.
On our last day in Turpan, we visited as many culture spots as possible, starting at the Jiaohe Ruins. The Ruins were a garrison town established by the Han dynasty, and is extremely well preserved to this day. Next we visited a beautiful Mosque called Emin Minaret that was built by a Turpan general in 1777, named Emin Hoja. Lastly, we visited the Karez (which means “well” in the Uighur language), which was a system of underground canals that brought water into the city. The tunnel system was crucial during the journeys through the Silk Road as an oasis spot that allowed travelers to survive the hostile Taklamakan Desert.
The students all agreed that the trip was an experience of a lifetime, where we were able to see such a wide variety of foods, cultures, languages, scenic areas, and ancient history combined with modern development. A wonderful trip that brought everyone closer together!