It’s all about survival

It’s been seven days since we arrived in the Middle Kingdom. It still doesn’t feel quite real that we’re in another country. It’s easy to forget that you’re in China. In a much shorter amount of time than I anticipated, I’m used to the sounds of China – the sharp Mandarin language, horns beeping all the time, the general business of a city.

We’ve located the local cafes both on and off campus – 1897, Grandma’s, Panini and Gecko to name a few. We’ve survived our first party on Saturday night, and even made it through our first day of classes.

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Delicious honey, lemon and rose tea at Gecko Cafe

I feel like the first week here has been all about taking risks and making it through. We took the bullet train to Shanghai. Kay set up a Taobao account so we can buy internet. We negotiated mobile phone contracts, taxi prices and some people have even bought bikes. The limbo of waiting for class to start has ended today, as we begin our first real week of timetables and learning.

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Welcoming ceremony for International Students

I’ve now got more tea in my room than I know what to do with. I’ve also discovered a love for Innisfree cosmetics and I’m slowly getting used to the haze that hangs around the city (pro tip – it’s easier if you just tell yourself it’s a lovely morning mist).

Today we had our first class. It was just an orientation with our teacher so we could meet our classmates. My class has 22 people in it, and they seem very friendly (we’ve already got a WeChat group). I’ve sort of worked out which textbooks are for which classes, which is more difficult than you’d think – they hand you a stack of seven textbooks, all the titles are in Mandarin, you have to work out which class they align to.

For the first time on Saturday we visited Hefangjie, one of the local marketplaces. Everyone bought little waving cat keyrings with our Chinese names engraved on them, to hang in our rooms. We went into a tea shop because Kay and I wanted some longjing green tea (a local specialty which is grown in Hangzhou), and ended up having a full morning tea with the shopkeeper.

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My waving cat keyring
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So much tea, so little time

One thing that consistently surprises me about China is how many people smoke. In Australia it’s unusual to see someone smoking, in China it’s unusual if you don’t smoke. It’s legal to smoke inside bars and clubs, so everywhere you enter has a haze of smoke. As if the air you breathe isn’t already bad enough, add a constant haze of cigarette smoke to it and it gets even worse. On the upside, it’s frowned upon to smoke in cafes and restaurants so people generally don’t.

Overall the first week has been quite nice. I’m getting used to dorm life and the millions of steps that you have to go through to achieve anything in China. Everything is a constant negotiation and the simplest things, such as switching your bedsheets over, take four or five steps to do. Tomorrow is our first full day of class with all of our teachers, hopefully it goes well!

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7 Days to go…

Well, the time is here. Only one more week until I on the adventure of a lifetime in China. The main question I’ve been getting this week is ‘how are you feeling?’

It’s surprisingly hard to answer. As I said to someone today, I don’t think the realities of living overseas for a year will really hit me until I step off the plane at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport. I’m excited, obviously, because I love travelling and seeing new cultures. I’m scared, because I’ve never visited China before so really have no idea what to expect. And there is a little bit of sadness mixed in with the other emotions because I’m leaving everything I know to go to China.

There’s only so much you can pre-plan before a trip like this. Being me, I’ve written a detailed packing list and got my passport, visa, insurance and extra passport photos ready. I’ve got a VPN lined up so I can still get on Facebook and (most importantly) Netflix this year. I’ve decided which bags and shoes are coming, and sorted out a good winter coat for the 6 degree weather I’m heading into.

Yet there’s still a feeling of nervousness. I’m definitely not as excited as I was to go to Europe – that was a touristy trip, even though I did study at Cambridge while I was there. I went into that trip looking forward to making new friends and getting to see new places.

This trip feels different. Even though I’m lucky enough to be going with my three best friends from uni, I still feel quite alone. In a fit of honesty the other day, I said to a friend that if it was Europe there’s no doubt I would be excited. China is a bit more challenging – the language barriers are higher, and the cultural differences could be overwhelming.

Well, only one more week to go before I begin my new life in China. This time next Friday I’ll be at the airport waiting to board the 10pm flight to Hong Kong, and on to Hangzhou. I’ve got a lot to do in the next week, and saying goodbye to everyone will be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s important to keep looking forward and thinking about all the great things that I’ll experience this year, with my best friends by my side.

ICS 2016: I’m going to Hangzhou!

I have just been told that next year I’ll be going to study in the beautiful lakeside city of Hangzhou, on the eastern seaboard side of China!

West Lake

To convince you all that you should come and visit me in sunny China, I thought I’d post some fun things about the “small city” of 2.5 million people that is Hangzhou. Also, you can get Facebook in China. So no excuses.

1. It rarely gets below 4 degrees in Hangzhou

Hangzhou has a very mild climate by Chinese standards. Forget Beijing, Hangzhou has balmy summers and barely cold winters. Plus, it’s super close to the beach! Summer is around 30 degrees and it rarely snows in winter.

Current weather in Hangzhou. To prove it to you all.
Current weather in Hangzhou. To prove it to you all.

2. Scenery

The beautiful West Lake is a UNESCO World Heritage listed site. It not only has it’s own cultural square, it has inspired hundreds of paintings. Hangzhou also has the Jade Springs and the world’s largest tidal bore races up the Qiantang river. And, as a final scenic drawcard, the housing development of Tianducheng has a subscale replica of the Eiffel Tower. Who needs to go to France anyway?

Jade Springs
Jade Springs
World's largest tidal bore. Handy hint; don't Google this. The results are terrifying.
World’s largest tidal bore. Handy hint; don’t Google this. The results are terrifying.
Tianducheng: it really does look like Paris.
Tianducheng: it really does look like Paris.
National Silk Museum
National Silk Museum

3. Culture things

Interestingly, Hangzhou houses two national museums: the National Silk Museum and the National Tea Museum. There’s also a Zhejiang Provincial Museum. But personally I’m keen for the tea museum – bring on the oolong! Hangzhou also houses the Yue Opera, the second-largest opera company in China.

4. Food!

Hangzhou is the foundation of the Zhejian cuisine, one of China’s eight fundamental cuisines. Who can go past dishes like “West Lake Vinegar Fish”, “Beggar’s Chicken” and “Sister Song’s Fish Soup”? According to Wikipedia, locals describe the cuisine as “fresh, tender, soft and smooth, with a mellow fragrance”.

National Tea Museum
National Tea Museum

5. It specialises in making tea!

Tea is the most important part of Hangzhou’s economy and culture! Hangzhou makes Longjing tea, and the best type is Xi Hu which is grown in (you guessed it!) Xi Hu, Hangzhou. They also specialise in making Chinese hand-held folding fans. Because no visit to China is complete without one of these souvenirs.

So basically I now expect lots of visitors next year, because this is just five small reasons why you should come visit Hangzhou. Also, expect lots of post spam next year.