It’s hard to believe that my Shanghai abroad program is more than halfway over. I feel like I just arrived in Shanghai, but at the same time it feels like I’ve been living here forever; time really does fly by when you’re having fun. Looking back on all that I’ve been able to see so far, I wanted to share my experiences during weekends I’ve traveled outside Shanghai.
Xitang – Our first trip outside of Shanghai was organized by IES Abroad to Xitang. Xitang is an ancient water town in Zhejiang Province around two hours outside of Shanghai. When we arrived, we hopped onto river boats and started our day getting a general view of the area as our driver slowly paddled us through the canals. Most of the shops and residential buildings are built along the riverside. In ancient times, Xitang was a popular place for trading handicrafts, which is why there were tons of different stores selling all sorts of goods, from lighters and trinkets, to clothes, shoes, and purses. Our tour guide led us through cultural museums and preserved houses and then IES Abroad hosted a large lunch for us ordering various unique dishes to allow us to try different cuisines and characteristic foods of the area. I found myself trying different snacks, checking out different stores and making conversation with the owners, and taking millions of pictures. After Xitang, I was ready to explore more places outside of Shanghai.
Hangzhou – Using Ctrip to book our 高铁票 (gāo tiě piào, high-speed train tickets), a few of my friends and I planned to head about an hour and a half outside of Shanghai to Hangzhou. When we arrived, the beautiful West Lake greeted us. It was a brilliantly sunny day, a perfect day to escape the city and be surrounded by nature and new experiences. We boarded a small boat that took us to the other side of the lake. We headed to the Leifeng Pagoda to get a view of the city from the top of the Pagoda, after having a delicious lunch on the water’s edge. The top of the Pagoda had such an expansive view over the lake; it was like nothing we had seen before in Shanghai. We wanted to visit the Lingyin Temple later in the day, but didn't think that we would have enough time to make it there before our train back, so instead we wandered through the streets, spent time people-watching, exploring the flora and fauna, and observed as a few newly married couples posed for photos along the bridges in front of the lake. After this trip, we realized that if we wanted to truly explore other places outside of Shanghai it would be best to spend two days and book a hostel to stay in over night.
Suzhou – Our first destination was the Lion Forest Grove, a garden with rock formations and temples surrounding a pond in the center with various trees and other shrubbery. This was the first time we had seen natural stone statues within parks and they were shockingly stunning to look at. Each rock had its own shape and character to it. They formed various caves and pathways to walk through and created a jungle gym-type vibe. I felt like a child again, running through the tunnels and rock structures. We headed to a few other gardens that day to get a full range of the traditional gardens and learned a lot about the different uses of these gardens. Because we booked a hostel, we were able to explore the night markets and enjoy a leisurely dinner along the water’s edge before heading to sleep. The next morning, we visited a Buddhist Temple and another neighboring garden before boarding our train back to Shanghai. It was the perfect amount of time and we were still able to catch up on rest and homework before classes started.
Nanjing – Nanjing is the farthest my friends and I have traveled via high-speed train, but it was definitely worth the two-hour trek. We spent the first day exploring the Purple Mountains. When we arrived, we climbed an enormous amount of stairs to the top of Sun Yatsen’s Mausoleum. The Temple was beautiful, but the view of the city all around the area was even more stunning. Next, we headed down the sacred path to the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, adorned with huge stone structures of animals and soldiers. Before we left the Zhongshan Park area, we also explored the Linggu scenic area. After a long day of travel, we headed to our hostel, which was located right inside the ancient city wall. We walked around the area at night to find some foods and trinkets before heading to bed. In the morning, we took a boat ride along the city river, then we headed to the Chinese Imperial Exam Museum to learn about how emperors’ historically picked their government employees and how rigorous this process really was. Before we boarded our train back to Shanghai, we were able to spend some time at a Confucius Temple near the museum. We had just finished learning about Confucius and Confucianism in our Chinese Philosophy & Religion class, so it was even more exciting to walk around the Temple.
I certainly haven’t been able to go everywhere I want to yet, but the places I’ve had the opportunity to explore have been amazing and have expanded my eyes to the different cultures, religions, scenic areas, and more that are all housed within China. When studying abroad in Shanghai I would definitely suggest staying close to home, spending time within Shanghai, and engaging in the culture, but also taking time to get a taste of other areas outside of Shanghai.
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<p>Ever since I was a child, my life has always been linked to helping other people. I founded Kids Helping Kids when I was in sixth grade after I was in a serious car accident. While in the hospital, I heavily relied on the support of my friends and family as I had recovered. As I reflected on my accident and the serious injuries I had suffered, I saw the incredible power that I was shown as everyone came together to help me heal. The idea to start KHK was inspired by the small acts of kindness I witnessed from so many. I was so moved by the generosity of my peers that I wanted to harness that energy and share it with others, who may not have the same access to support. Kids Helping Kids has changed the way I view the world and others around me. I love volunteering because of the experiences and lessons I gain. It has shown me the power I have to make a difference in another person's life, and the impact that the people we serve have on my life.</p>