As we wrap up the month of April, I sit back and enjoy my last plane ride back to Beijing. I look at the blue sky and clouds, and remember I forgot to throw out the milk in my refrigerator before leaving (two weeks ago). Haha.
With approximately 1,400 photos in my camera (of which 200 are basically selfies), I feel as if it was only yesterday when this trip started. We had seen and learned so much, to the extent that I have to make an effort to remember what I had seen in each city. I could go on and on about everything that has happened, but instead I’ll briefly narrate my top 10 experiences.
(Because it’s too hard to rank them, I just listed them according to the order in which each was done)
Visiting the White Horse Temple (Luoyang, western Henan province, China)
The White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist temple in China. Established in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming, the temple is considered “the cradle of Chinese Buddhism.” The legend says Emperor Ming had a dream vision about a Buddha who established Buddhism in India. He then sent emissaries to search for Buddhist scriptures. In Afghanistan, they found two Buddhist monks that agreed to come to China to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. These monks carried their Buddhist books, scriptures and relics on two white horses. In their honor, the Emperor built and named the first Buddhist temple The White Horse Temple. Creative huh?
Witnessing tens of thousands Buddhist statues carved into mountains (Luoyang)
The last time I remember feeling this amazed was when I saw the Taj Mahal in India two years ago. The view of the Longmen Buddhist Grottoes was simply breathtaking, especially because you never really know when you’ll reach the most famous sculptural site of the place. The construction of the grottoes began in 493 BCE, and in 2000, the area was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With around 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas, and over 10,000 Buddhist images at the site, it is one of the most impressive collections of Chinese art from the Northern Wei Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and other periods.
Touring The Terracotta Soldiers Site (Xi’an)
Ever since I saw an exposition at Epcot, Disney of the Terracotta Soldiers, my dream was to go see “the real-deal.” These life-sized statues of warriors older than the Roman Empire are located 1.5 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of the First Emperor, Shi Huang Di. Farmers found pieces of broken terracotta in 1974 when digging a well. This is how the 14,260 square-meter pit of terracotta warriors and horses was found. Today, more than 8,000 soldiers and 100 chariots have been excavated. However, because of the “limited technology” today, most of the excavated warriors have been buried again for better protection. There are only 1,000 terracotta figures in exhibition today.
Riding a Tandem Bike on Xi’an’s Ancient City Wall
There is truly no other way to wander this 14-kilometer city wall other than riding a bike. If you’re up for spicing things up, try renting the tandem bikes. From the top, you’ll be able to see the contrast between the old and new architecture: the old referring to the construction located inside the city wall, and the new referring to the outside. The city walls form one of the largest and most complete, ancient military systems of defense in the world. They were built on the fortifications of the Tang Forbidden City.
Eating in Xi’an: Arab Street Food
From fried bananas on sticks to spicy meat over bread: when in Xi’an this street is a “must-go” to eat. Half the time you will not know what you’re eating, but the lines of people waiting will depict how good the food being sold there is.
Roaming Around the Potala Palace (Lhasa)
This palace is truly astonishing. When seeing it from the outside, you see a combination of white on the bottom and red on top. These two colors correspond to two palaces built in different time periods, but connected to form one from the inside. Pilgrims walk around the Potala Palace for hours to pay homage, so as soon as you’re near the palace you can get a feel of how important this building is for Buddhists. The 13-story palace stands 117 meters high and has over 1,000 rooms. It covers an area of 130,000 square meters.
The red palace contains jaw-dropping mausoleums of previous Dalai Lamas and the white palace contains the living headquarters of successive Dalai Lamas and their tutors. The Potala Palace is full of precious sculptures, murals, scriptures, and Buddha figures accompanied by the hums of the Buddhist prayers. It has been considered one of the most sacred places for Buddhism for hundreds of years.
Having Tea by the Barkhor Street (Lhasa)
“入乡随俗，”by far one of my favorite four-character word sayings in Chinese means: “In Rome, do what Romans do.” After walking one of the oldest streets in Lhasha called Barkhor Street, one has to make an effort to find the famous teashops located on hidden alleys. Our tour guide took my friend and I to one of these for a big surprise. These places are not the ordinary teashops you’re imagining, where you sit in an ordinary manner and have a server ask your order. These are the type of places you sit wherever you fit: there are long tables and chairs everywhere. This is a type of place locals sit and chat, do business and meet total strangers. With a whole pot of milk tea priced at $1, this is the place to end your day’s adventure.
Hiking the Leshan Giant Buddha (Leshan)
The Leshan Giant Buddha is the biggest carved stone Buddha in the world (71 meters high). Located at the confluence of three important rivers, the statue was built to bring the water spirit under control. The falling stones during the carving would also help reduce the water force there. It took 90 years to complete the carving.
Visiting the Panda Research Base/Giant Panda Breading Center (Chengdu)
The research base, which has elements of a veterinary lab, a park, a panda habitat, and a zoo, is one of the best places to see giant pandas in the world. The research base, covered in trees, flowers and 14 species of bamboo, provides a pleasant escape from city life. Red pandas (closer-looking to a raccoon than a panda) are also sheltered there, giving a twist to the whole experience.
Walking through Jinli Street (Chengdu)
In ancient times, Jinli was one of the busiest commercial boulevards of the Kingdom of Shu. Today, visitors from all over China and abroad enjoy this renovated street, as there is a lot to see, hear and EAT. WARNING: eating some of the local specialties will literally make you sweat. If you’re not into spicy food, make sure you tell the vendor “bu yao la” 不要啦 = I don’t want spicy. They’ll look at you a little insulted (they love the spice), but will make sure you get the least amount of spice in it (if possible).
With the semester completed and a month left in Beijing, I wrap my last blog post with a BIG THANK YOU. I couldn’t have done anything without the support of my family, boyfriend, and friends I made along the way. I liked having this blog for my stay in China, who knows if I’ll have another independent one in the future.
There is still so much to see, touch and taste out there. I am young. I am hungry for experience.
Till we meet again.