When my school told me that the faculty of the two branch schools was going on a two day vacation to Weifang over the Tomb Sweeping holiday, my first reaction was that I probably wouldn’t go. I don’t speak Chinese, I told myself, and I would probably feel alienated and unsure of what was going on. As the days passed leading up to the holiday, I spoke to a few people who encouraged me to go–it would be a unique experience, traveling with Chinese people, and I would get to explore a new city. I had to ask myself, why wouldn’t I go? Just because I might feel a little uncomfortable was a terrible reason to back out of an opportunity to experience something new–that was the whole reason I had come to China: to experience the world and the vastly different people who live in it. When I learned that Joel, the English teacher at the other branch, was going, that officially made up my mind.
7AM Saturday morning, I packed onto a bus full of my Chinese coworkers and their families as well as our tour guide, ready to head out to Weifang, a small city about a three hour bus ride from Qingdao.
The tour was a package deal–the bus, six different destinations, all our meals, and our hotel were all included. Sometimes its nice to travel this way, because though you have less freedom and time, you have no stress in figuring out how to navigate, etc.
Weifang is a tiny city of only a million people (believe me, this is tiny in China), and there were few tall buildings like there are in Qingdao, so it kind of reminded me of Ann Arbor. The landscape was flat, and the city included free bikes you could rent and ride around the city. Weifang was like a breath of fresh air after the two cities I’ve experienced in China so far–Qingdao of 9 million, and Beijing of 23 million. I felt like there was space because there was fewer people, even if the air wasn’t so great.
The first place we visited was a museum of ancient Chinese history. The museum is considered one of the top museums in China. Seeing the artifacts dating from 4000 years ago reminded me just how ancient China really is. Miraculously, all of the artifacts in the museum were discovered after the 1970s, and if you know anything about recent Chinese history, you will understand why.
Our tour guide led the group through the museum, explaining about the history of the items in Chinese. Joel and I hung back and waited until the group moved ahead, then read the English explanations on the signs around the museum and looked at the artifacts ourselves. I love museums, and as I know very little about China’s ancient past, I was excited to be able to catch a brief glimpse of its extensive history.
Our next stop was lunch, which, as it was a Chinese tour, was very Chinese, more so than the Chinese meals I’ve experienced on English speaking tours in China.
After lunch, the bus drove an hour outside the city to a famous scenic river valley and gorge.
Which included delightful sign-age like these:
We had two hours to explore this area. Most of our Chinese coworkers meandered along, so Joel and I joined them for the first 45 minutes. Finally, we reached a point where the gorge rose, and wooden steps plunged upward. We were told that to climb to the top would take 30 minutes, which we didn’t really have if we wanted to make it back to the bus in time. I took this as a challenge, and so Joel and I ran up the mountain while everyone else meandered back to the bus.
Reaching the top, I was exhausted and panting for breath, but I was treated to a great view of the gorge, which would have been much better if it weren’t for the pollution blanketing the area.
With only forty minutes to climb back down and get back to the bus, we basically had to run. We finally made it to the bus at exactly 4PM, and I was exhausted, red faced, and my legs were shaking, but it was completely worth it.
Our next stop was a valley of Confucian and Buddhist temples. I was really tired by now, so I paid the money to join my coworkers in riding a golf cart around to the different locations on the route.
The most amazing thing at this site, however, was the biggest Buddha in Asia. It was truly massive, and I absolutely was not expecting it, especially because I couldn’t understand the tour guide, so I had no idea what to expect when we went anywhere. It was an amazing sight though.
Now thoroughly exhausted, we ate dinner at a similar place as lunch, then went to our hotel. Laura and I shared a room and bonded over a Chinese game show on TV that was simple for me to understand because it included a lot of physical challenges. One of the best parts of this trip was bonding with my Chinese coworkers, and really experiencing a Chinese way of life.
Day two to come in my next post.