Thursday, December 26, 2013

China's Cities Offer A Captivating Blend Of History And Culture In A Modern Setting

Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
The people of Shanghai making their way to work in the morning, with enormous skyscrapers towering overhead.
By Robert Guthrie
Senior Reporter
CHINA - Enthralling views, sublime skylines and captivating stories – these are just some of the wonders that a trip to China’s historic, yet still evolving cities of Beijing and Shanghai boasts.
When I returned from a recent visit to these Asian culture capitals, I had enough vivid experiences to last a lifetime.
It all started for me when I arrived with my school group at Glasgow Airport to catch the first short flight down to London. Arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 at around lunchtime, after milling around it was time to catch the next nine-hour flight which would take us straight into Beijing International Airport.
The views from the plane were spectacular, especially as we flew over Russia and, with a clear sky and a brightly lit full moon, we could look down and catch a rare glimpse of the mountains and streetlights below.
Once we landed, we took a bus to our first restaurant, where we sampled the Chinese cuisine which was different than anything you’d expect from a takeaway.
We had green tea, soup which you could say was of an acquired taste, pork, cauliflower, beef and onions, and sweet and sour meals.  The rest of the meals we had in China were very similar to this one.
After the meal, our first stop was the Temple of Heaven, a significant Beijing temple where many Chinese people come to socialize and pray.
The intricate design work on the traditional buildings was stunning, and was all original – these massive and tall buildings were held up by only wood, showing the sheer skill in old Chinese craftsmanship.
We carried on to the restaurant for dinner and were treated to special dough balls which are eaten only on the first day of the Chinese Lunar Year, the day we had arrived. Fireworks also continued all night – bad news for those who needed their sleep at our hotel, the Beijing Suyuan Phoenix. The quality of accommodation and friendly staff made for a sterling visit, nonetheless.
Throughout our journey, we were continually immersed in the Chinese culture.
Breakfast was very different than anything we would normally have. There were noodles, vegetables, salad, cake, spring rolls and rice.
After very slowly winding our way through the Beijing morning rush hour, we arrived at The Summer Palace, where Chinese people come to pray. It is also home to the longest corridor in the world, stretching over 700 meters, or nearly half a mile.
Our next treat was to see the pandas at Beijing Zoo, pandas being the national animal of China.
One of the most interesting parts of the trip was going to a tea ceremony one afternoon.
Many Chinese people drink tea and we had the opportunity to see it being prepared in the traditional Chinese fashion. We also got to sample different varieties.
Finally, we went on a Beijing Hutong Tour.  Hutongs are the old and traditional narrow streets of Beijing. We paired up and went in rickshaws around the old streets and we also saw some children our age who were very keen to have their photos taken with us.
The following day we saw The Great Wall of China, and we couldn’t have picked a better day. It had snowed the day before and it created a beautifully picturesque scene in the sunshine. Some of us climbed to the top and an astounding view awaited those who made it.
Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
The Great Wall of China.
The Wall does stretch over 13,000 miles, and while we obviously couldn’t see that far, the clear day made for great sightseeing.
That day culminated with a trip to the Olympic Park – home of the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We saw the “Bird’s Nest” and “The Cube” where China held athletics, ceremonies and aquatics events.
Seeing it on television doesn’t do it justice – the stadium is colossal.
Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
The National Stadium, more commonly known as the Bird's Nest, that was used for the 2008 Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games.

On the fifth day – our last in Beijing – we visited two more of the most famous places in the world – Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City.
Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
An image of Communist China's first leader, Mao Zedong, hangs over the entrance to the Forbidden City.
First, we all went inside the mausoleum of Mao Zedong, the first great dictator of Communist China. Supposedly it’s his body lying on the grand table, but you can make up your own mind about whether it’s real or not.
We also saw the Chinese Great Hall of The People and many monuments commemorating war dead.
After The Square we traveled under one of Beijing’s eight ring-roads to The Forbidden City.
With a 15-meter-deep floor to stop intruders and nine protective gates, the Forbidden City was, as the name suggests, out of bounds to all commoners and only the Emperor was allowed into the vicinity.
It was a lot of walking, but it was brilliant to see such a historic and significant site.
Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
Some of the intricate and ancient architecture of the Forbidden City.
The trip to Beijing culminated with a gratefully received McDonald’s meal (just just like the ones in Britain) and we then made our way to the Chinese Bullet Train station. There, we caught our five-hour train to Shanghai in order to continue our Chinese globetrot.
After we’d been on the bullet train – the fastest train in the world traveling at 300km/hr, or 186 mph – we arrived in Shanghai, an amazingly illuminated city with skyscraper lights everywhere. After our 30-minute introduction to the city from our new guide, Mary, we arrived at the Shanghai Magnolia Hotel where we would spend the next few nights.
The next morning, after breakfast – similar to those of Beijing – we traveled to the Bund, the city’s financial district. It may not sound very exciting, but it was surprisingly picturesque.
Many of the buildings look very European as the city was colonized by people from Britain, France, Germany and other countries. Afterwards, we made our way through the midday traffic to our next destination – the Jade Buddha Temple.
Jade is the famous Chinese stone which many ornaments are made of, and at the Temple there was a massive jade Buddha which many come to worship. The temple was very ornate and we saw some Chinese people saying midday prayers with incense, which produced a very pungent smell indeed.
The afternoon saw us venture up the famous Pearl TV Tower which is one of the tallest buildings in the world, comparable with the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada.
We went up in the high-tech lift at a rate of 10 floors a second until we got up to the 264th story. There was a massive glass floor there where you could stand and look straight down, which was daunting for some.
After dinner we went back to the Bund where all of the skyscrapers were lit up – one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever had the chance to take in.
Robert Guthrie / youthjournalism.org
The iconic and breathtaking Shanghai Bund skyline.
The next day’s highlight was Nanjing Road which can be likened to London's Oxford Street. All of the major high street names had a presence. We went into one of the largest food halls in Shanghai where we saw tons of Chinese food, some of which was unknown to us and some, to our relief, we had seen before. We also traveled to the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party – where Mao Zedong had the first meetings with his party.
The following morning was an early wake up at 5 a.m. so we could get on the MagLev train to Shanghai Pudong Airport.
The train works by 'floating' on repelling magnets and is all on a bridge, meaning you get a good view of the city. The train took us to the airport where we said goodbye to our guides and after a few hours, boarded our first flight back to the UK from Shanghai to Heathrow.
After a 12-hour flight to London, we boarded a plane to Glasgow and eventually made the journey home. We met up with our parents and were able to reminisce about the brilliant time we had enjoyed in Beijing and Shanghai, with photos and souvenirs to show to everyone.

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