Trip Interview with Liz Southern UK
| Name: Elizabeth Southern
Purpose of Trip: Holiday and attendance at Tai Chi/Qigong course
Visited Places: Beijing, Wudang, Xian, Shanxi province - Pingyao,Taiyuan and Datong
Thanks for coming to China with SCIC Beijing!
1: Was this your first time in China?
No. This was my fourth trip with SCIC
2: Which trip were you participating in?
I visited the tourist sites in Beijing, including the great wall. I attended a Qigong class at Wudang and visited the local sights there. I then travelled to Xian to see the Terracotta army before returning to Beijing from where I travelled by train to Shanxi province to the towns of Pingyao, Taiyuan and Datong to see the local sights. Finally, I returned to Beijing to do last minute shopping before catching my flight home.
3: How long was your trip?
4. What did you think of China?
I love visiting China. There is so much to see and many of the sights and landscapes are truly impressive. I also like to spend time watching the Chinese people in the parks performing their exercises, games and dance routines. They really look as if they are enjoying themselves and make everything look so easy (this is also true when they are painting, sewing, carpet making, sculpting, jewellery making etc – very talented people). There is always a relaxed friendly atmosphere in the parks. And although we can’t converse with them (ie we don’t speak Chinese and most Chinese don’t speak English) they encourage us to join in and genuinely seemed pleased when we make the effort .
5. How were your local guides and SCIC Staff?
The guides and SCIC staff are excellent. They are knowledgeable about their subjects and are keen for us to have a good time and learn about Chinese culture. Nothing is too much trouble for them. For example, our group wanted to experience “real” Chinese food (rather than the “tourist” Chinese food). Once this was understood, they changed the eating arrangements and took care to find out the foods we liked.
I would particularly like to commend Henry in Xian who not only knew his subject well but he was great about talking about China in general (he even taught us a Chinese rap song!). He spoke excellent English and I noticed that when he came across a new word in English, he would write it down and then practise it on us. Very commendable.
6. Any tips on getting the most from the Trip?
I believe the most important thing when travelling in China is to stay curious and keep an open mind. There is so much to see there. Their culture is very different from ours – but it is fascinating and I believe the more open we stay, the more we get out of the trip.
7. What did you learn on the cultural workshops? Did you enjoy them?
I attended a Qigong workshop this year and learnt some exercises which work on some of our meridians. Watching the Master do these exercises is breathtaking - such poise. I practise them back in the UK - and my only regret is that we did not organise a DVD of the Master doing them. This would have been very welcome by most of the group. Maybe something for SCIC to think about for future trips?
8. What did you think of Chinese food there?
Great food. Local food, freshly cooked and no msg in sight! Although I am careful to ensure the plates and chopsticks are clean in the more basic restaurants, my stomach is always settled when I eat in China. I lose that “bloated” feeling. Breakfast can be more of a challenge (pickled vegetables, soup and dumplings are not to everyone’s taste including mine) but I could always find fresh fruit, eggs and steamed bread on the menu which was fine.
9. What were the meals like on the trip? And what was your favourite Chinese dish?
I enjoyed all the meals (apart from the Western 'buffet' dinner in Xian). I don't have a favourite dish but I liked the variety of food a (rice, noodles, pork, beef loads of vegetables - all beautifully cooked) and I liked eating together from the “lazy Susan”. Everything was freshly cooked – so it was good healthy food.
10. What was your accommodation like?
We stayed in 3 and 4 star hotels. All the 4 star hotels were good and some of them had sizeable swimming pools, so it is always worth having a swimsuit in the suitcase. The 3 star in Beijing was fine with good facilities in the locality (eg super market, post office, restaurants, internet cafe, massage parlours etc). The 3 star hotel in the Wudang mountains was basic (and surprisingly noisy). This is not a typical western tourist centre and I think anyone travelling “off piste” in China, would perhaps need to manage their expectations. The activities undertaken in the Wudang (training and sightseeing) were very good indeed and easily made up for the hotel experience. The hotel in Pingyao was a charming, traditional hotel and whilst the ensuite facilities were basic, the ambience of the hotel easily made up for any shortcomings with the plumbing!
11. Have you made any friends on the trip?
Yes, I travelled to China by myself but am in email and telephone contact with my fellow travellers. We have shared photos and I will probably meet up with some of them.
12. What is your favourite thing about the trip?
Very difficult to pick one thing. The sights of the Great Wall, Xian, the temples (especially the Hanging Temple in Datong and the caves with the Buddhist statues) are truly impressive, as is the landscape around Wudang. I loved the Qigong training we did in Wudang and would have liked to have done more. I believe this is an untapped market for China (ie the Chinese have immense knowledge with these sorts of skills and could market it more to western tourists).
13. Why did you choose SCIC Beijing's Travel Program ?
I like the SCIC programme because it not only offers specialist training (eg Qigong, Tai Chi, martial arts, Chinese Medicine etc) but they take us to unusual places. Previous years I have travelled to the Silk Road, Yunnan Province and this year I travelled to Shaanxi province and saw some remarkable sights. I like the attitude of the MD of SCIC (Chen Lei) who is keen for us to learn something about Chinese culture and genuinely cares about us having a good holiday. Because of this, I have found it very easy to travel by myself to China. I feel I am looked after.
14. What benefits have you gotten from the Trip?
I have seen some wonderful sights in China and have also learnt something about their ancient culture. I have a huge respect for the Chinese people who I think are hard working and skillful. I only wish I could speak Chinese so that I could converse more openly with them.
15. Any tips for other visitors coming to China for study trips or holiday?
Be open – because there is so much to see and learn. Eat where the Chinese eat – their food is good. Bring a big suitcase – but don't fill it on the way out - it will be full by the time you go back. You will be taken round the usual silk, pearl, jade factories. You can usually buy stuff cheaper outside – but you to watch the quality outside. Have a Chinese massage (especially a foot massage) - they are reasonably priced and very good. Always carry tissues with you. The public loos are getting better but you need to be prepared (my plea to the Chinese Authorities would be to put more effort here, clean, public toilets with running water, paper, soap and towels are important for attracting tourists). You can change money easily in the hotels and generally the rate in China is cheaper than in the UK Watch the Chinese at play in the parks – great fun. Relax and have a good time.
16. What other places or cities you would like to visit next time?
Southern China. I would also like to learn more about Chinese Tea (ie not more Chinese tea ceremonies but more about how it is cultivated the difference between the teas)
17. Will you come to China with SCIC Beijing again?