China has been quite the thrill. The many warnings of homesickness and culture shock that I heard prior to leaving have been fruitless... So far. Our first stop was in Beijing, where we jousted with the immense crowds, and digested a great deal of Chinese history at the Forbidden City. Of course, we took part in the exhilarating climb of the Badaling section of the Great Wall of China. The wall was definitely one of the peaks of visiting Beijing, alongside the authentic and delicious peking duck dishes that we indulged in.
The Great Wall of China
Then, we packed our bags and rode the overnight train to Guilin. There, I combatted my fear of rats, bats, and giant spiders. The critters of Guilin have been the most challenging aspect of China for me. However, the calm tropics and beautiful scenery were a much-needed break from the crowds and metropolis of Beijing. From Guilin, we rode bamboo boats down the Li River to a small town called Yangshuo. For Canadians, Yangshuo is pretty much the Banff of China. It's a scenic mountain town with tons to do. The best part of Yangshuo was renting mopeds and riding through the countryside. We got used to handling mopeds and dealing with the insane traffic. There were a few moments where I thought I would die... But somehow I managed to stay upright and dodge pedestrians, trucks, cars, and other bikes. Getting onto the narrow highways beside the villages where water buffalo lived was pretty unreal.
The Li River
After two weeks of travelling, it was finally time to fly to Xi'an and start the real TAB adventures. The Shaanxi Normal University Campus was built in 1943, and has 40,000 enrolled students. Living on campus has been a pretty cool experience. It is interesting to observe university culture and mingle with both Chinese and foreign students. We have Chinese class every morning from Monday to Friday. It is quite fast-paced, but our laoshis (AKA teachers) are wonderful. Twice a week, I commute to an English-immersion middle school where I teach grade 8 physics. This has been a challenge for 2 reasons. First, my specialization is social studies. Two, the students' English is still developing... So, I feel like I am teaching both physics and English at the same time. Finally, Xi'an boasts an interesting fusion of cultures and religion. The city has a rich and ancient history... There was one day that I went shopping, and did not intend on sight-seeing, yet I came across a 700-year-old bell tower. Another time, I was enjoying the sweets at the Muslim Street Market, and stumbled across a 1,300-year-old mosque. The history here is incredible. Below is a photo of the Great Mosque of Xi'an, as well as myself and Reggie on our way to our first day of teaching!
The Great Mosque of Xi'an
Our first day of teaching!