Shanghai, Suzhou, Pingyao, Xi’an and Spring festival visitors

A long title for a long blog – so much happened this past few weeks that I hope you have the patience to read it all!
I was delighted to receive visitors for the Chinese spring holiday- my mum, her friend and my best friend with his mum took the long flight from Austria to meet my life in Beijing. Through their eyes, re-experienced many of the things that struck me first coming to China. I noticed how life in China has changed my perspectives – instant coffee is an acceptable alternative to cappuccino, and 1 hour to get somewhere means you live “just around a corner”, the definition of what is a packed roads or subway trains.
One has to admit that they saw Beijing under special circumstances: Many of the shops and bars closed, no people in rush-hour subway, forbidden city closing at noon, but crowds at the lama temple and summer palace and especially at the train stations- Chinese New Year! I was so lucky to celebrate this special holiday with my own family, as this is how Chinese people celebrate it as well: Having a big family dinner with yummy dumplings on New Year’s Eve, watching the New Year’s gala on TV, enjoying each others company. On the days that follow, they enjoy themselves at temple fairs, public parks and attractions and go to worship their ancestors. It is quite an experience to soak up the festival atmosphere, with buildings and streets decorated with red lanterns, good luck wishes and chickens (it is the start of the Chinese year of the rooster), seeing people dressed in their best and laughing together. However, I do not recommend planning a trip to China during that time if you want to travel around the country and visit sights – because thousands of people will want to do exactly the same thing. It is the only long holiday most Chinese get, and they want to use it to visit their families, often travelling immense distances. Of course, they want to have a good time and praying for a good year is compulsory for many- that lead to huge crowds, long lines for tickets, and even closed subway stations as police tries to bring order into the chaos. It is amazing how well they manage, actually, especially at train stations where all passengers have to go to security and ticket checks before getting on their train. Still, taking a bath in the crowd whenever you want to visit a sight, fair or another city takes some getting used to.
Still, we made our way to Shanghai, Suzhou, Pingyao and Xi’an, four great destinations with very different appeals.
Shanghai is and was China’s port to the west, as you can clearly see on Bund, Shanghai’s riverside with colonial buildings facing Pudong, its unmistakable skyscraper-skyline. We even went up the second largest tower in the world to see the night lights from the top. However, the city’s old town feels like the heart of China, loaded with tea houses, food vendors and gardens. If Shanghai were a person, it would be an elegant lady- one wearing a shining black dress and sparkling jewelry for a night out, with a handbag full of secrets and an aura of exotic mystery.
Suzhou, about half an hour train ride from Shanghai, seems like a small town, although it also has more than 1 million inhabitants. Its relaxing atmosphere invites you to stroll along its many canals, take a break at one of its cafes or gardens or marble at its museums and towers. Our half-day stay there turned out to be one of the most relaxed days of our trip.
Pingyao is China like you would find it in movies(The famous movie Raise the Red Lantern was actually filmed there) – colorful temples, streets with red lanterns, food vendors selling everything from sweet potatoes to local beef or dumplings filled with sweet bean paste. It is of course crowded with tourists, but you can easily spent hours just wandering along its alleys and soaking up street life.
Xi’an is of course home to the famous Terracotta warriors, a collection of ancient masterpieces you can’t help but feel amazed by. All those man-high figures look different in expression and body postures, and they are thousands of them still underground, waiting to be found. Xi’an also is the end of the Silk Road, making it a hot spot for Chinese Muslim minority. You just have to walk the streets next to the Great Mosque- all life seems to happen outside, people cooking steaming soup, baking bread, roasting whole lamps (just hanging on hooks in front of their shops) or sticks, making noodles or offering you sesame crackers to try. Turning a corner, you enter a bazar with vendors offering china teapots, silk, Mao’s red books, Kashmir scarfs and little Terracotta warriors to take home.  It is this great mix of cultures that makes this area so unique.
It’s hard for me to close this report, but I guess I can tell you more details on another occasion. If you want to know anything specific, just comment on this post and I will be glad to answer.
Yours, Resi


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