My trip to China didn’t include the typical things a tourist would do. I was able to go to China because of a program I entered: The Green Explorers, organized and sponsored by Cathay Pacific Airline. In short, a total of 42 students aged 16-18 from Australia, Canada, Korea, Germany, Malaysia, South Africa, Taiwan, US and Vietnam were selected based on the quality of their essays and phone interviews. On this trip we learned about the interface of human and natural environment in Hong Kong and the Sichuan province of China. One of the main highlights of the trip were meeting people from all around the world. The bus rides were always filled with questions to one another inquiring about the lifestyle in foreign countries. I was fortunate enough to be chosen to represent Canada on this trip along with 2 fellow Canadians from Vancouver. In a short timespan we visited many different villages and ecological resorts. There is so much more to China than the big cities like Beijing. While Beijing is busy, polluted and busy, there are parts of china where the environment is well preserved and villagers depend on agriculture as a means of survival.Although, you should be warned: the washrooms in china are very different from the ones in North America. Most common ones that you find are squat toilets.
The eight-day program started in the morning of August 13. We visited the Geo Park in Hong Kong . Geo park is protected by the government and is seen as an ecological hot spot. We would board a boat and stop by islands where we could witness nature in its purest form: rocks would be eroded by powerful waves into interesting shapes. We observed some hard-to-reach islands and amazing rocks from boats while a guide informed us about the history of the area. One of the rocks named “The Devil’s Fist” was actually shaped like a fist. Needless to say the weather was quite a change from Canada. We would hike in temperatures as high as 45 degrees Celsius and it was awfully humid.
Later that evening we flew to Chengdu, the capital city of Sichuan, where most of activities were held. The first and most attractive activity was the visit to Bifenxia Panda Breeding facility. Although there are numerous panda centers around China this was the only one we were able to visit. Near the Panda Breeding facility there is a Bifenxia zoo but that is separate from the one we went to. Essentially it is a zoo but all the staffs members (roughly 144 of them) work full time and are specialized in panda studies. The pandas in this facility are also monitored 24 hours 7 days a week. The whole facility was really designed to have pandas in mind: the enclosures are much bigger than the ones you’d see in zoos and there is no shortage of activities for the pandas. Boredom is simply not an option for them!
The most adorable section of this facility was no doubt the “kindergarten” area. The area that the baby pandas were held in a large field with rocks, ponds, streams, a bamboo playground and hills for them to play in. There were approximately 15 pandas in this one area! Although 15 pandas seem like a very large number to fit in an enclosed area, if I were to walk from one end to the baby panda area to the other side of the enclosure, it would probably take me a solid 5 minutes at a leisure pace. The pandas were adorable and seemed clueless while eating bamboo. We were informed that the pandas were given fruits and vegetables such as apples as treat. After donating 1000 rmb to the facility I was fortunate enough to be able to hug a one year old panda! It seemed to be very contented with the apple we fed him and did not mind me sitting next to him at all.
Later on we checked into the Yingjing hotel and had some delicious traditional Sichuan dishes for dinner, many of which were spicy. Sichuan is the area of China where it is known for having spicy food. While I there, I was adapting into their ‘taste’. Even though I asked the waiters and waitress to have no spices in the dishes, it still tasted rather spicy to me. Since I didn’t, and still don’t have a very high tolerance for spicy food, every meal brought tears to my eyes! Despite the spicy food, Chinese food in China can in no way be compared to the Chinese food in Canada. The places we visited aren’t usual tourist spots and many of the villagers were amazed that some people in our group had blonde hair and blue eyes! They would even ask us to show them Canadian dollars and bills. Frankly I had a lot of fun inspecting bills and coins from other countries too!
We visited different villages, temples, and different types of natural environment. We learned about Buddhism, history of tea, and the local culture and lifestyles.
Before we settled in an ecological resort at one night, the participants from each country presented their own cultures to the whole group at the resort. Being from Canada, my friends, Elianne and Jennifer, and I told the rest of the delegates about maple syrup, beavers, and about the Inukshuk. The weather was not very accommodating and during dinner there was even thunder that struck the rocks right outside our window! Living up in the mountains in an ecological resort was a very life changing experience. We were living like the villagers: early mornings, no easy access to town, severe thunderstorms, pouring rain, and of course the heat. Although I didn’t speak their dialect they were kind enough to show us around. One of the young girls showed me a couple pigs. This was a rather interesting experience because the pig was much bigger than I thought. The pig I saw was nothing like Wilbur the pig from Charlotte’s Web: this pig was very big and heavy. If I were to hug the pig (which I would never do) I wouldn’t be able to wrap my arms around him.
The rock terrain at the Dove Tree Forest was amazing, but considered dangerous. According to our travel guide, there used to be a very easy path for hikers however during a freak thunder storm (which are common in mountain ranges) the storm loosened some rocks and there was a mud slide that caused rocks to completely cover the path. While we were on our tour we could hear rumbling from the nimbostratus (storm) clouds. For fear that we would encounter bad weather we had to cut the hike short. They simply did not want to risk our well being in case some rocks were to become loose during the storm. However on some of our other hikes we came across waterfalls that were mesmerizingly beautiful. If you are a hiking enthusiast I suggest you visit some of the rural areas of China. The forests are simply breathtaking.
The final meal spent in Chengdu also came with a crowd pleasing presentation with Chinese dancers, tea pot ceremonies, fire breathers and mask changers. By this day we were already back to the core town and we were getting ready to go back to the airport. The arrival at the Hong Kong airport before we departed to go home brought tears in everyone’s eyes as the dreaded goodbye drew near. On this trip I was able to experience a different side of China; a calmer, less busy, peaceful side of China that you don’t see in big cities. I was able to learn a lot about the other delegates’ home countries. Most importantly I was able to share an eye opening experience with people my age around the world. For most people, the word “China” isn’t normally associated with a very peaceful image. In fact quite commonly the first thing people think about is the huge population, the pollution, the industries, the smog and the heat. The head was definitely present during my trip but upon returning from the trip I became more appreciative of the environment. I hope that the places that I visited remain untouched and admired by other environmental enthusiasts around the world and it saddens me that there are probably many equally beautiful places around the world that have already been transformed into a commercialized area. I encourage all who visit China to venture out beyond the busy streets of big cities such as Beijing and to find hiking places with guided tours.