Today was our last full day in Xi'an before we leave for Beijing early tomorrow morning. Consequently, Sheung and the team devised a slightly different routine from the one we had become accustomed to, as after breakfast we were going to head straight for the stunning Qin mountain range for a group walk. I too changed my usual routine, opting for a glorious chip butty covered in ketchup for breakfast rather than my normal coffee with a piece and jam (that's a jam sandwich for non-Scottish readers). After breakfast, all of the four schools in the hotel piled into two coaches, as we made our way on the hour-long journey to the Cui Hua Shan mountain.
Travelling out of the busy city with its row-upon-row of ordered tower blocks, it's quite an experience to then be greeted with miles-upon-miles of lush green farmland. It is noticeable (but not surprising) how quiet and unpopulated the areas are when leaving the city and when on the rare occasion you see . The other remarkable thing about the countryside is just how wide, open and flat it is - like the great American plains that make the backdrop in the films of countless Westerns.
After an hour's drive, the flat countryside soon gave way to the dramatic Qin Mountains, as gradually the road began to twist and turn and became much steeper. We were dropped off at the bottom and it dawned on me that this would probably not be the leisurely stroll that I had naively envisioned at breakfast. Thankfully, the air today was much cooler and the sun's heat wasn't as intense as it has been on previous days.
The steep climb at Chi Hua Shan started right away and I immediately regretted my decision to have chips for breakfast. With the stoney track narrowing and angling upwards, it began to skirt around waterfalls and huge drops. It was beautiful. Unsurprisingly, the more senior members (i.e. teachers) of the group flagged way behind our students, who would gleefully pass us without breaking sweat. Half-way up and we reached a viewing platform and the views were spectacular. Continuing our climb we eventually reached our destination, a secluded mountain village that led to a giant mountain lake (created many years ago by a huge earthquake) and a network of caves.
Before entering the cave, inevitably my thoughts quickly turned to the most recent high profile incident concerning a school party and some dark caves...but our guide assured us that these caves contained few dangers. And he was right: aside from a number of passages where the ceiling was low, the caves were completely safe. In fact, the greatest risk inside was from the drop in temperatures; it was freezing in parts and provided a stark contrast to the searing heat of the open mountainside.
Walking back down the mountain towards our coach we were once again struck by the beauty of the scenery. This particular outing made the students see that China isn't just made up of densely populated city areas, that it does have a diverse climate and some exceptional scenery. It was the perfect way to end our stay in Shaanaix province before we take the bullet train to Beijing tomorrow morning.
By Mr Rafferty
At 3am in the morning the world's loudest alarm woke me and my roommate up. We swiftly packed our bags and preceded to attempt to wake up and organise everyone for our upcoming train journey.
After a small yet perfectly balanced and delicious breakfast of "bread and milk" we headed off on the coach towards the station through the bustling roads of Xi'an.
We arrived at sunrise and all seemed peaceful... until swarms of tourists and travellers surrounded us and we were forced in through security. After a long wait in what seemed like an airport due to its size we grabbed our luggage and clumsily tumbled down the stairs and onto the bullet train...
After 5 hours, where we hit speeds of up to 400kph, we arrived in a noticeably cooler Beijing; feeling tired and famished yet excited. Eventually we reached the restaurant and had a pleasant meal but we all devoured as if we hadn't eaten in months.
Next we visited the 'Silk Market', Beijing's famous shopping temple for counterfeit goods and haggled the hell out of the people trying to rip us off - most of us came away with one or two fake items that we purchased for a reduced price.
After a filling dinner at a fancy pants restaurant, where you could choose to watch the chef prepare the duck, we headed to the luxurious hotel - well it was luxurious for some people as they had a mini fridge and a sofa (cough cough Evie and Yogi, cough) - to have a well needed night sleep, ready for the next day.
Overall it was an exhausting yet brilliant first day in Beijing and a great start to our short time in this incredible city.
By Bruno Baker
We woke in our new hotel, and were quickly treated to a breakfast buffet. As well as the usual Chinese food (noodles, rice, dumplings etc..) , a small number of western breakfast foods were also available: sausages, eggs, cornflakes and more.
After a coach ride to the foot of the ‘Mu Tian Yu’ mountain, we took a chair lift to the top. The view was unbelievable. The huge distant mountains as well as the smaller towns looked incredible; though the Great Wall was the the most amazing of all. Winding throughout mountains and valleys - China’s most beautiful creation was obviously used for photo opportunities. The wall was bustling with tourists and natives alike, and we split into groups and began walking.
We soon regrouped and decided to take the toboggan slide down. It was essentially a big winding slide, and you would travel by sitting yourself on a small kart. It was slightly terrifying, but so much fun- until SOMEONE (Callum) crashes into the back of you -wanting to go faster.
After lunch (usual Chinese food , though also serving a weird fish and chips), we left for the Chinese Confucius museum, where we looked at and used many artefacts relating to Chinese life and culture.
Next we visited the 2008 Beijing Olympic Park, where (after buying some ice cream) we found a group of dozens of people longboarding. Using the classic British combination of simple English, bad Chinese and hand gestures, I asked and had a short go on a board, which was nice because longboarding was something I missed from England.
After dinner at a very fancy restaurant, we traveled back to the hotel and some of us spent some time at the gym. Having never been to a gym before, I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually quite fun. This gave a perfect (though tiring) ending to a great first day in Beijing.
By Jude Pickford
Day 12 & 13
I'm writing this post while waiting in the departure zone at Beijing airport. It's currently 6am here. It's been a very long morning already, having to wake at 1.30am to prepare for our 3am coach to the airport. Most of us have had very little sleep and a few of us are nodding off at this gate. Its been an incredible two weeks here in China but it is now time to go home.
Yesterday, we headed into central Beijing to walk around Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Like similar attractions in China, what strikes you first is the sheer size of the area: It stretches for miles and miles. The dynasties that shaped China's historical past certainly did not have conservative ambitions when it came to architectural structures. The Forbidden City itself is made up of a series of imperial palaces, built at the start of the Ming dynasty (1420) that covers over 180 acres. It's a phenomenal experience that epitomises the astounding palatial architecture and detail that is synonymous with China. It took us a full 40 minutes to walk from the South Gate to the North Gate and was packed with tourists.
After the Forbidden City we had our (last) supper at a picturesque restaurant in the city. The food was once again delicious and considering it was to be our last meal here we all made the most of the generous servings! From there we made our way back to the hotel one final time to pack our bags be ready for the (very) early start in the morning.
Our trip in China has been one of incredible experiences and discoveries. We have seen, participated and explored so much; from the perfectly preserved clay sculptures of the Terracotta Army in Xi'an to the imperial grandeur of the Forbidden City in Beijing, it has been the trip of a lifetime.
Mrs Qiao and I have been particularly happy with how our students have conducted themselves on this trip. They have shown themselves to be mature, inquisitive and open-minded individuals who were always willing to try new things (especially food!) and have immersed themselves in new and unforgettable experiences. Moreover, they have behaved impeccably throughout and have been a credit to Hove Park School. It has been privilege to be on this trip with them.
By Mr Rafferty