NSB China 2018
Friday 9th February saw the departure of this year's trip to China. Sixty-two excited students and seven staff were off to discover what it was going to be like visiting one of the world's most exciting countries and see the sights of its mega cities. We have been travelling to China for twenty years now and it is amazing to see how much this vibrant and colourful country has changed in that time. This year was the largest group we have taken for some considerable time and I was apprehensive as to how well it would go. It was Chinese New Year week and New Year's Day would fall on the Friday and this would welcome in the year of the dog. All travellers were loaded onto the buses by 9.00am, we had our visa and tickets and off we went.
The flight from Heathrow was a long one at 10.5 hrs, but due to wind directions being favourable, not as long as the scheduled time of 11.5 hrs. It was a night flight so by the time we arrived in Shanghai it was 9.00am Saturday morning. The students were tired but, as is our normal routine, we stopped for our first Chinese meal and then went straight into our first day of sightseeing. This way the effects of jet lag and travel fatigue are kept to a minimum.
To see a web gallery of images from the trip: Please Click Here
After lunch we went up to the viewing platforms in the Oriental Pearl TV tower overlooking the Bund on the Huangpu River. The afternoon was cloudy, but visibility was still good. We could see the city stretching out into the distance and the boats going up and down the river. In the evening, having checked into our hotel, we went on a river boat cruise to see the skyscrapers lit up before returning to the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Sunday morning was bright and sunny. The students were up on time and off to a calligraphy lesson at one of Shanghai's colleges. I was pleased to see how much fun they had learning to write in Chinese characters. Later on we visited the Jade Buddha Temple which has been greatly extended since my last visit two years ago, followed by a visit to the Yu Yuan Tea Gardens, which is a must-see place during Chinese New Year. The gardens and surrounding shops and alleys were busy with shoppers and Chinese tourists all there to see the New Year decorations. As ever, it was a very colourful place to go. We rounded off the day with a bit of shopping in a local market followed by dinner. In the evening we went to Era, an exciting acrobatic show which has, as its finale, half a dozen motorcycles spinning round inside a small metal cage.
On Monday we visited Suzhou and the Master of the Nets garden, a quiet, tranquil place about an hour and a half from Shanghai. We stopped overnight in a local hotel before moving on to Nanjing the following morning.
Nanjing used to be the capitol of China under the Ming dynasty before Beijing became capitol as we know it today. We visited the Porcelain Pagoda in the morning - a glass pagoda built on the site of an old pagoda from the Emperor Yong Le era. We were first to arrive so we had the whole place to ourselves, which is really unusual as the queues are normally enormous. In the afternoon we visited the Mausoleum to Dr Sun Yat-sen and the Nanjing Massacre Museum, a moving place dedicated to the 300,000 Chinese who were killed when the Japanese invaded in 1937. We said farewell to Nanjing, having stocked up with snacks, as we boarded the bullet train that would take us to Beijing and the climax of trip: The Great Wall of China on New Year's Day.
Being Chinese New Year, we were not all able to travel on the same train. Mr Edwards and our national guide travelled with one group whilst the rest of the staff travelled with the other. It was a tight squeeze on the trains. Oddly they didn't design them with a view to providing enough luggage space for anyone with a suitcase. The trains travel at just over 300km/hr so it would only take 4hrs or so to travel the 1000km between Nanjing and Beijing. That's the same length as England. It left on time and arrived on time, to the minute.
Our first day in Beijing began with a trip to Tiananmen Square, one of the biggest public squares in the world with a capacity of around 1 million people. We took a group photo before entering the Forbidden City. This is a huge complex but we're kept to a narrow route and ushered through. Lunch today would be one of the highlights of the trip: a ride on a rickshaw followed by freshly cooked food in a Hutong, a traditional Chinese courtyard house. We squeezed in and had one of the best meals on the trip. After lunch we went to a local tea house to sample the different teas, which is always popular with the students, even those who don't drink tea. We rounded off the day with a trip around the Temple of Heaven before having our evening meal and a trip to the Red Theatre to see a Kung Fu show.
The oddest thing for me was that even though this was Chinese New Year's Eve, there were no fireworks or big public celebrations to be seen. The government had banned the fireworks in 2000 to reduce the pollution, so everyone just seems to go back home for a family reunion dinner.
The following morning was New Year's Day and our trip to the Great Wall. The weather was bright and sunny but cold. We visited the Juyongguan section which has been well restored. The steps are really steep so it was good that the weather was in our favour. It was hard work but many of the boys managed to get to the top. It really was a great way to bring in the Chinese New Year. On the drive back to Beijing we stopped at the Ming Tombs at Changling before heading back to Beijing for a quick visit to the Bird's Nest Stadium followed by dinner nearby.
Sadly, this was our final night in China. We headed back to the hotel to pack and get ready for the long flight home. This was a truly great trip. The staff and students with me on the trip were excellent. I hope that some of them might now think that in years to come, China is a place that they might want to visit again and see more of this amazing country and its people.