Destination China Journey to the Far East

By: Charlie Colasurdo

China. Over three million square miles. Upwards of 3.3 billion people. A mere 15 hour flight from Newark to Pudong International Airport, but truly a world away from Westport—and a trip of a lifetime for Staples students who had the opportunity to embark on a 17-day excursion with Mandarin teacher Chris Fray this past July.

For those students who didn’t get to go on the trip yet who are interested in discovering more about China, Inklings spoke with a few Staples students and Mandarin teachers, who offer some insider travel tips to whet your appetite and spark your interest in a visit of your own.

shanghai | 上海

The futuristic skyline of Shanghai

According to Stanford University Press, “Shanghai is China's ‘Gateway to Modernity,’ whose urban history continues to be redefined, retold, and resold." For Shanghai's 14 million inhabitants, the rapid transition from a burgeoning, ex-colonial city into a sleek, Manhattan-like metropolis is evident everywhere from the buildings to the the fashion.

Shanghai street life

For Mandarin teacher Lili Yang, who grew up in Shanghai, “It's worth a visit just for the food." Visitors can get their first taste of traditional Shanghai cuisine with "Xiao Long Bao" Shanghai soup dumplings. These minuscule morsels can be found at small roadside eateries as well as larger upscale restaurants. The dumpling, which hides its steaming soup within its delicately pinched wrapper, has reached cult-like status. Even though it burns the mouths of novice dumpling eaters (Note: you have to puncture the dumpling wrapper to let out the steam, and then slurp the soup slowly before digging into the xiao long bao), this Shanghai classic is a must-try. For the tourist, a visit to Shanghai’s teahouses, food stands and vast brunch eateries represent just a small sampling of the diverse and rich food culture of China. The key here is to be adventurous and put yourself in the hands of your local hosts. You may find that you actually enjoy eating Stinky Tofu, certainly the smelliest food in the city (it’s fermented and truly stinky) and one of Shanghai’s favorite snacks, and one many foreigners love to hate, and drunken chicken, which is marinated overnight in hard liquor.

小笼包-Soup Dumplings

Chengdu | 成都

Flying into Chengdu (located within China's western Sichuan province) provides a stark contrast to the organized chaos of Shanghai. But this city of 4.3 million plays host to more than just humans. The stars of the show here are Chengdu’s lovable giant pandas, which draw thousands of visitors every year. At the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, visitors can get up-close and personal with nearly 100 of China's furriest national treasures. These endangered bears live and frolic in natural surroundings, and their tiny offspring are on display in incubators throughout the park.

Chengdu Panda Base

For Eden Schumer '18, traveling to China this summer with Mandarin teacher Chris Fray, his husband Chip, and 21 Staples students was more than a dream come true. A major highlight of the excursion was visiting the Chengdu Panda Base, "I feel really lucky to have gotten to see them in person. They have been my favorite animal since I was little," Schumer said.

Xi'an | 西安

Xi’an, one of China’s oldest cities, boasts some of the most fascinating historical sites in the country. Surrounded by ancient city walls that tower over traffic, Xi’an’s most famous attraction lies outside the city proper. According to National Geographic, one of the world’s most significant archaeological sites — a Terracotta army built for the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang Di — was an accidental find discovered in 1974 by a farmer attempting to dig an irrigation well.

Terracotta warriors both big and small in Xi'an

Over 6,000 intricately designed ancient soldiers have been unearthed in Emperor Qin’s tomb, on display in their excavation pits, where they have rested undisturbed for centuries. Home to a museum where the warriors and other artifacts are on display, many portions of the necropolis have yet to be discovered. For Max Zimmerman ’17, who also travelled to China this summer as part of Staples’ Mandarin excursion, remarked, “I didn't realize there were so many, and it was crazy how well maintained they were after all those years.”

Beijing | 北京

No trip to China is complete without a visit to its bustling capital, Beijing. Located in northeastern China, this city of 11 million is certainly more than just a political center—it's a cultural one, too.

Looking a popular shopping street in Beijing

Must-sees include a trip to Tiananmen Square, which is the site of the bloody 1989 protests against a repressive regime that, according to TIME, ended with a death toll "in the thousands, and smothered a democratic movement." Surrounded by the monolithic buildings, like the Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the Square evokes the power and nationalistic fervor of the Chinese government.

The largest building in the Temple of Heaven complex - The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests

The Temple of Heaven, in Beijing, is another relic from China's past, a massive complex of temples, described by the site's official website as a temple originally used by the Emperor to "worship the god of heaven and pray for good harvest." The vibrant hues of blue and towering edifices of the temple are sure to both delight and inspire awe of the ancient religions and customs of Imperial China.

Summer palace

Outside the city, Beijing's Summer Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site complete with palaces, gardens, and lakes, offers a tranquil respite from the tourist havens. The sprawling palace offers stunning views of the city, and gives visitors an authentic glimpse into the elegant lifestyle enjoyed by Chinese royalty.

To wrap up your trip to China, nothing is more awe-inspiring than a day-trip to The Great Wall. Just a few hours from Beijing, China’s most famous attraction is more than a mere spectacle: it’s a symbol of the nation’s immense scale and breathtaking beauty. Thousands of miles of manmade fortifications have, according to History, stood since 220 B.C. Travelling to a lesser-known section of the wall is a sure way to obtain a historic and interactive experience, by climbing one of the 'Wonders of the World' and peering across the mountainous landscape, a spectacular ending to a cultural tour of China that will not be soon forgotten.

Panoramic views from atop the Great Wall
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Charlie Colasurdo
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Photos by Charlie Colasurdo

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