Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Historical and Cultural Xi’an, China

April 18, 2020


If you are seeking places to visit in China, I highly recommend visiting Xi’an, particularly if you enjoy history. Currently the Upper Primary Art Teacher for Xi’an Liangjiatan International School, I have had the opportunity to visit many of this ancient city’s sights. While it is not one of the top cities in terms of population, it ranks near the top in terms of historical importance. For over 1,000 years it served as the capital of China under thirteen dynasties and 73 emperors. Some of its notable dynasties included the Qin, Tang, Han, and Zhang. Even today, construction efforts of this rapidly expanding city continue to be interrupted by archaeological discoveries.

Terracotta Warriors and Emperor Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum 

 Most people come to Xi’an to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Terracotta Warriors, located about 20 km east of modern Xi’an. Despite the large crowds (over 1 million visitors annually), this site is a must. Don’t forget to visit the Exhibition Hall and the Qin ShiHuang Mausoleum, both of which are included in the entrance fee. Just as with any popular destination in China, avoid going during any Chinese national holiday. In winter, crowds are less, as is the entrance fee. Getting your own transportation there (such as a taxi or Didi – China’s version of Uber) will be more expensive, but it will enable you to arrive early and before the tour groups. After being one of the first people in line for tickets, I immediately headed to Pit 1 and had it to myself for over five minutes. Pit 1 and the Exhibition Hall were the most impressive ones for me. Cheap, local buses will take you back into Xi’an. Tour guides are available, but I opted to conduct my own research prior to visiting. You will find many people selling souvenirs; you can find similar ones in Xi’an at a much better price.

Xi’an City Wall

One of Xi’an’s most recognizable landmarks is its city wall. This massive well-preserved structure (much of which dates back to the 14th century) is surrounded by a moat. Rent a bike or walk on top of the wall, for all or part of the 14 km (8.7 miles) length. Around the time of Chinese New Year, a lantern festival is held here. To experience fewer crowds during this time, I recommend going while it is daylight and observe the changes to the lanterns and watchtowers as nightfall descends. For photography of the wall and surrounding city, you have a greater chance of clear skies outside of late fall/winter. Air quality in winter can be quite bad.

Drum and Bell Tower

Centrally located within the confines of the ancient City Wall are the Drum and Bell Towers. Built in 1384, Xi’an’s Bell Tower is the largest and the best-preserved in all of China. Nearby is the Drum Tower (1380), also one of the largest in China. Both structures are beautifully illuminated at night. For a small fee, you can ascend the structures and also see some artifacts. From the Drum Tower, you can also see the immensely popular Muslim Quarters.

Muslim Quarter

If you follow the crowds near the Drum Tower, you will find yourself in what is known as the Muslim Quarter. Foodies (particularly meat-eaters) will rejoice, with the plethora of tasty offerings in this crowded area. Snack your way along or rest your feet in one of its many restaurants that serve up signature dishes such as hand-pulled noodles (one of my favorites), steamed dumplings, or Yangrou Pao Mo (pita bread pieces soaked in lamb soup). The Xi’an hamburger also makes a tasty snack. The Muslim Quarter is also a fun place for photography–if you don’t mind the crowds. While in the Muslim Quarter, you can take in a short shadow puppet show in Gao’s Grand Courtyard. 

While in the Muslim Quarter, don’t miss the Grand Mosque. The largest and one of the most important mosques in China, the Grand Mosque dates back over a thousand years. Enjoy its beautiful traditional architecture while you get a respite from the bustle of the crowded food streets. Its minaret and the Phoenix Pavilion are particularly noteworthy.

Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street

Located just to the east of the South Gate of the City Wall is the Shuyuanmen Ancient Cultural Street. Many of its well-restored buildings date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It is pleasant to wander the street and peek into the small shops selling calligraphy supplies, papercuts, shadow puppets, jade, paintings, and other souvenirs. During the Chinese New Year, the street is even more lively. At the end of the street is the famous Stele Forest.

Big Wild Goose Pagoda

Also known as Dayanta, the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is one of the most famous pagodas in China. Originally built in 652AD, the present 7-story brick structure was built without any cement. It was constructed to house Buddhist relics brought from India via the Silk Road. Visitors can pay a small fee to climb up the UNESCO World Heritage site to see some statues, paintings, poems, and great city views. While there, visit some of the structures within the Da Ci’en Buddhist Temple (648 AD). At the spacious North Square is the largest fountain square in Asia. At night, the fountain shows (set to music) are illuminated, as is the pagoda. The fountain show is particularly enjoyable on a warm late spring/late summer evening.

Small Wild Goose Pagoda

Located five kilometers away from its bigger brother, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda was erected in 709AD. Like Dayanta, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda is architecturally significant and well-preserved. On the same park-like grounds is the Xi’an Museum (free admission with passport). It houses over 130,000 relics and historical artifacts. Elsewhere in the park is a visitor center. I enjoyed learning more about how shadow puppets are made.

Shaanxi History Museum

This world-class museum houses over 370,000 exhibits, of which many of the items were excavated within the province. Exhibits within the three main halls are dual-sign-posted in Mandarin and English. Some of the museum’s signature pieces include several TerraCotta Warriors, Tang Dynasty tri-colored pottery (my favorite), and Tang Dynasty mural paintings. Admission (with passport) is free, but the Tang Murals Hall requires a separate, paid ticket. Any lover of history/art should visit this museum.

Han Yang Ling Mausoleum of the Han Dynasty

Otherwise known as the Tomb of Emperor Jingdi, the joint tomb of Liu Qi and his empress Wang covers an area of 20 square kilometers. Built in 153AD, the emperor’s tomb is at the center. The Outside Pits Exhibition Hall is the first underground museum in China. Transparent walkways enable visitors to see excavations of his tomb in progress–a very cool effect.  It contains over 50,000 terracotta doll-size figures and life-like animals arranged as if it were an army formation. 

Tang Paradise

Located just north of the original Tang Dynasty Lotus Garden site, this theme park is built in the style of the Tang royal garden. While it is pleasant to wander the beautiful grounds and admire the beautiful Tang-style architecture, it is especially beautiful during the Chinese New Year. During this period, huge lanterns and illuminated sculptures are a sight to behold in the lake and throughout the park. Indoor and outdoor cultural performances entertain visitors, along with the world’s largest movie on water-screen. I enjoyed the dragon dance outside the Zihyun building and some mini-concerts inside. Tang Paradise is also a beautiful place for photography in the spring.

Qinglong Temple

If you happen to be in Xi’an during the cherry blossom season, be sure to visit Qinglong Temple (originally dating back to 582 AD). Opening hours are extended, so try to be there very early in order to avoid the hordes of people. Bring your passport and camera. The area around the main Buddhist temple buildings is full of cherry blossoms. The area around the bridge is also very picturesque.

Getting Around

Many of Xi’an’s other popular sites are located fairly close to each other. The subway, signposted in English, is continually expanding, making it easier to get around to some of these sights. Taxis are available, but be sure to have the address written in Mandarin, because few drivers understand English. For expats living in China, DiDi is convenient. iPhone users will be able to use Apple Maps VPN-free to navigate, including subway and public buses.

This article was submitted by guest author and ISC member, Melissa Enderle.

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Traveling Around

Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China (The life of an international school teacher is good!)

June 11, 2018


Traveling Around: Zhouzhuang, China

Can you relate?

  • If you visit Shanghai take a day or two side trip to an ancient water town, there are many.
  • Take a canal cruise and have the boatswain sing to you.
  • Use a driver from Zhouzhuang 600RMB (Tom 150-5166 5990, lives in Zhouzhang and has a family), a driver from Shanghai 2000RMB.

  • Zhouzhuang makes it’s own beer and has a local distillery!
  • This town is difficult to find a C-Trip hotel. Anyplace to stay in the city is listed as a Historical Site. After we booked a hotel under construction the Mayor came to our rescue!
  • The lady in charge of tourism found a room for us with an older couple in the center of the preserved district for about 75RMB per night (including hot tea morning and night!)

  • Remember, no parking in this ancient city. This place was not designed for cars! Commercial hotels are outside the ancient boundaries.
  • Many artists with high quality artwork on sale on the streets of town. We got a great calligraphy by a struggling artist.
  • Fishermen use cormorants to fish in Lake Taishi thus the reason so many boathouses as boats and birds come to roost.
  • Zhouzhaung is known for the “double bridges”.

  • Chinese Opera House on the “Ancient Platform” rebuilt in the year 2000.
  • Many great silk shops, ties three for 60RMB
  • Shops that spin their own cotton and make clothing of all sizes!
  • Fantastic teapots made from stone!

  • Shen Wansan, the first millionaire in the Lower Yangtze is from Zhouzhuang!
  • Lot’s of walking around, many bridges, shops everywhere!
  • Many places to eat, traditional Chinese food with reasonable prices.

Currently, we have 197 international schools listed in China on International School Community. 132 of them have had comments submitted on them. Here are a few of those schools:

Access International Academy (Ningbo) 48 Comments
Beijing BISS International School67 Comments
Beijing International Bilingual Academy53 Comments
Canadian International School (Hong Kong)134 Comments
Changchun American International School 111 Comments
Concordia International School (Shanghai) 166 Comments
Guangzhou Nanfang International School – 163 Comments
Hong Kong International School – 127 Comments
Kang Chiao International School (Kunshan) – 81 Comments
Keystone Academy – 94 Comments
QSI International School of Dongguan – 64 Comments

If you are on a trip right now, away from your host country, write to us here with your “Can you relate?” traveling experiences.  Tell us where you are traveling in the world, what you are seeing and how you are coping with any culture shock.  Once your Traveling Around experience is posted on our blog, International School Community will give you 1 free year of premium membership!

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Overview of an Int’l School

New Opportunities to Teach at a National School in China

April 14, 2018


You may not have heard of Cixi – it’s a city close to Ningbo and not far from Shanghai (about 1 ½ hours by fast train, 2 hours by car) – but it’s a really interesting place. It is at the centre of the ‘Golden Triangle’, the area between Shanghai, Hangzhou and Ningbo, and it ranks in the top ten of the richest county-level cities in China and is considered to be one of the happiest. Maybe there is a link there! Or it could be to do with there being no pollution and lots of blue skies!

Chinese Schools

We have a new school opening in Cixi at the beginning of September 2018, and we think it is going to be quite different from both traditional Chinese schools and international schools. Let me explain……

The name of the school is Cixi Wengu Foreign Language School, and it is aiming to provide all that’s best about the Chinese National Curriculum, but to combine that with some of the best features of international education. Chinese parents have become very discerning – they have a clear idea of what they are want for their children and what they want includes access to foreign languages, especially English, and exposure to a dynamic, international-style education. At the same time, they want the best features of the traditional education (like they experienced as children) to be maintained.

Chinese Schools

In Cixi, we intend to provide both. We are recruiting (would you be interested?) qualified foreign primary teachers who will work alongside their Chinese colleagues. For some of the time the foreign teachers will lead lessons, with the Chinese teachers supporting, for the rest of the time their positions will be reversed. We fully recognize the challenge this will present, particularly in relation to the communication and professional understanding that will be necessary for it to work well. We also recognize that it will have to be a gradual process of introduction, as both children and teachers get used to a new way of working.

We anticipate the school will open with four classes of grade 1 students, and a grade will be added each year. This, we feel, is a manageable way of introducing this new way of working, and it should allow plenty of time to consolidate everyone’s understanding and practice.

Chinese Schools

For a foreign teacher, it will certainly present new challenges. For that reason, we are offering our teachers salaries and benefits more like Beijing and Shanghai than like other second tier cities. What is it they say about offering peanuts and getting……….? For our plan to work, we will need really high quality teachers who are up for the challenge of being part of something new and who are flexible enough to embrace this new way of working.

Initially the school will be operating in a separate wing of the enormous kindergarten next door – this will be until our amazing new buildings are completed. The pictures attached will, I hope, give an indication of the quality of the facilities we will enjoy.

This article was submitted to us by Roger Fisher, one of the recruiters for a new school in Cixi, China.

If you have any comments / questions about any of this, if you have worked in a school offering a similar way of working, or if you fancy being part of what we are planning, do please get in touch using roger.fisher@xueda.com.

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Discussion Topics

5 Reasons You Should Live and Travel in China 🇨🇳

February 26, 2018


China is a country full of culture and history. It is a place that everyone should travel to at least once in their lives, even live there if you are interested. Not convinced? In this article, we are going to take a look at just 5 of the reasons that you should consider living and traveling in China.

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1. Rich History

China has a rich history that you can only really comprehend by seeing it for yourself. Throughout the centuries, China was ruled by dynasties, each coming with their own unique era of Chinese history. Now known as the People’s Republic of China, this switch wasn’t made until 1949 with the Chinese Revolution, a piece of history that can be felt in the country even today.

The point is, there’s a lot about China that you don’t know until you’re there. If you are just traveling, take some time to visit one of the many museums the country has to offer or even historical landmarks. If you are going to live there, take some time to study your new home country. What you find won’t cease to amaze and surprise you.

2. Beautiful Language

Mandarin is the most widely spoken version of Chinese in the world, especially the People’s Republic of China. It is also a very old language, showing up as early as 4,000 years ago! The sound of the language is beautiful but the history and story of the language is gorgeous as well.

The language consists of an excess of 40,000 symbols, each one representing a syllable or concept rather than a phonetic sound, like in English. This is how it has been throughout its history and it is only recently that it has been attempted to simplify the language and give it a more phonetic approach. Still, to be considered literate in the language, you have to be able to read and use 3,000 of the language’s symbols.

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Another interesting fact is that Chinese is a tonal language. This means that words may have different meanings depending on the tone used to say them. The language uses four tones and each one gives certain words new meaning. However, other dialects can feature up to nine tones, so in this case Chinese is slightly simpler.

3. Diverse People

China is full of diverse people as well. Home to more than 55 minorities, you will meet many different kinds of people as you travel about China. This allows you to make friends of different ethnicities with no problem and learn from the people around you as well as from museums and studying.

4. High Standard of Living

China has relatively low wages for work but don’t let that deter you from living there. This is because the cost of living is so low that you don’t need to earn high wages to live comfortably like in the United States or elsewhere.

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To give you an example, an average (and filling) Chinese meal out costs around $1.50 in US dollars. This makes living and eating out on a budget much easier in China than in other countries thanks to the higher standard of living.

5. Try Something New

Finally, you should move to or travel to China to change up your routine. Moving or traveling to a new country is a great way to learn new things and experience things you have never experienced before. Even if it is just to travel there for a few days, China will give you an experience you won’t forget anytime soon.

This is further expanded by all the new people you’ll meet. With the rise of social media, this is becoming easier and easier. You can join Facebook groups or find out about groups and meetings in your area to learn new things and experience things you might not have thought to do before or just couldn’t do in your home country.

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Conclusion

There are plenty of reasons why visiting or living in China is a fantastic option. From new things to learn to experiencing China’s high standard of living to learning Mandarin by total submersion, there is no end to the opportunities it offers you. So, travel to China and stay for a few days or a few years, you won’t regret your visit or the years you live there. There is plenty to see and plenty to do to teach you about the history of China or even just entertain you in your day-to-day life.

This article was submitted by guest author and ISC member: David Smith
“David Smith is a blogger and world traveler, with experience in China’s manufacturing industry, as well as social media marketing in his hometown of Los Angeles, California. When not staring at a computer screen, David is an avid badminton player and photographer of natural landscapes.”

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Lessons From Your Country

Five Lessons I Have Learned From Living in China

June 1, 2017


China

Lesson 1: Manage your frustration

If you came from a place with an easier transition – any big expat city really – then China brings frustration to a whole new level. Other than Hong Kong, most Chinese citizens do not speak English, there are ever-changing bureaucratic regulations to stay up on, and even taking a cab is a challenge when drivers regularly reject you or change the fare.

In my first few weeks in China, I would often plan a wonderful day out to explore and end up coming home early, tired and angry.

But there’s so much to love in China and so much to see. Instead of getting frustrated, China has taught me to redirect my frustration into patient curiosity. Instead of a cab driver ripping me off and getting angry, I try to find a clever way to win the situation without letting my temper rise – that might mean using my few words of Mandarin to say childish things like “No,” “I don’t like,” or “Too expensive.” Sometimes it also means just accepting the circumstances you’re in, moving on, and laughing.

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Lesson 2: Smartphones save the day

Given the frustrations above, you need life hacks to navigate without losing your mind. There are now apps that you can speak into in English, and Mandarin comes out of your phone (and the other way as well). Google Translate can translate Mandarin characters with enough accuracy to understand the context, and there are apps for finding your way around the subway, bargaining at the markets, renting bicycles, paying at stores, and of course for learning the language.

Owning and mastering a smart phone makes your life exponentially easier. Staying up to date on blogs that showcase apps, or reading expat newspapers giving tips and tricks, is a worthwhile use of your time. And when you find out something, share it! On Facebook, in the workplace, wherever. I’ve found that many of my hacks are new to the people who have been here for a while because they just found a different way to deal with their needs.

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Lesson 3: Explore your country

China has to be one of the greatest countries to travel in. The Gobi desert, the Yellow Mountain, the Tibetan Plateau, and the Mongolian Steppe are so vastly different and so worth your time and energy. Not to mention the monuments in Beijing, the water towns outside Shanghai, the walled city and warriors of Xi’an, and the pandas of Chengdu. Did you know that James Cameron’s movie Avatar was inspired by the landscape of Zhangjijie? China is seriously beautiful and my list could go on and on.

To truly understand and appreciate China, you need to explore. Meet the Muslim cultures in the Northwest and the Buddhists in the Southwest. Visit ice castles in the North East or go to beaches in the South East. Eat Sichuan Hotpot in Chengdu or eat roasted Scorpion in Beijing. The landscape changes, the food changes, the people change, and your perspective on China will change.

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Lesson 4: Don’t always listen to what you hear about a country

I know our first source of information on a new home is to talk to those before us.   I also understand the irony of this lesson as I write a blogpost telling you what it’s like to live in China. But here me out: your experience will be different – often in a good way.

I was told, and believed, that China was crowded, polluted, pushy, and dirty. To me, none of those claims stacked up to the level I expected. Is China crowded? Yes. But not if you know where and how to avoid the crowds. I regularly am walking in downtown Shanghai thinking to myself, this sure doesn’t feel like the most populated city on Earth. Is China polluted? Yes. But my home has an air purifier, and in Shanghai from Spring to Fall, the air is similar more to a big city like LA or New York. Are the Chinese pushy? At times. But you can predict those times like when you’re boarding or exiting a plane. The rest of the time, the Chinese are thoughtful and observant. Is China dirty? It can be. But it’s much cleaner than you would imagine, particularly in the cities.

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Lesson 5: Love where you live

After moving from the glitz and glam of Dubai, Shanghai felt like a downgrade. It felt like we had lost the amazing lifestyle and the ease of living we were so fortunate to have in the UAE. That thinking held us back for several months and stunted our adjustment. A year later, we’ve finally formed a new appreciation for our new home. We’ve bought locally made furniture, hired a local to help with our housework, explored the alleys and temples of small towns, tried 1000’s of local dishes, met locals in our neighborhood, and fallen in love with the uniqueness of China. In one year, we have stories that can last a lifetime and I know after summer break we will be longing to return.

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This article was submitted by a guest contributor living in Shanghai, China

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