China travel diary 2018
David & Lois Sykes Travel Grant diary – Liliana Barbieri, 2nd year DPhil in Biomedical Imaging (ONBI DTC, Oxford).
In April 2018, I went to China together with my supervisor and a research colleague for a scientific collaboration at the Institute of Biophysics (Beijing, China) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This trip consisted of one week of scientific experiments and two weeks leisure. To take the most out of this journey, I travelled in China with my partner with the support of the David & Lois Sykes Travel Grant. In total, I stayed for 21 wonderful days, visiting Beijing, Xi’an, Guiling, Shanghai and Suzhou.
I stayed In Beijing for 12 days from the 14th to the 25th of April. I found this period of the year ideal in terms of weather, because it was pleasantly warm, with temperatures averaging from 25° to 35° C. On the other hand, it was also quite humid, which unfortunately made long walks feel somewhat exhausting.
During the first week in Beijing my group and I were very focused on our planned experiment in a close collaboration with Chinese researchers. The great opportunity of working with them on a daily basis and having interesting conversations about their traditions and lifestyles really helped me to familiarise with the Chinese culture. For example, I found out that one of the most popular activities in China is Karaoke, which they typically perform in a club or on open streets.
Personally, I found food to be one of the most important aspects of the Chinese culture. I was positively surprised in seeing how similar Chinese food was to European, especially, Italian. Food and meals in general have a symbolic meaning in both cultures. Meals usually last at least one hour with colleagues, friends, and family. In one of the conversations with Chinese colleagues, I learned that when eating with guests, it is extremely important to order or prepare more food than the group would be able to eat. In fact, the Chinese people express their affection to other people through food, which often leads to new friendships or emotional bonding. Abundance of food portions thereby are a sign of respect for the guests. I will always be grateful to our Chinese group for the astonishing welcome and kindness. Every evening, they brought us to a new local restaurant, where we could try different specialities of Chinese cuisine. The variety of choices and the cooking style, which are so different from the European cuisine, made my experience unique and fun, although the Beijing cuisine was sometimes too spicy for me! 🙂 Tea came with every meal – hot or cold. While hot tea is unusual in the European culture during summer time, it is often offered during hot weather in China as a way to help you to naturally cool down.
After the week of experiments, my lab group and I spent three days visiting Beijing.
Great Wall – Mutianyu access
Being at the Great Wall was such a breath-taking moment to me! We enjoyed walking the Great Wall the entire day. To reach the top of the wall, we climbed more than 4000 steps and then we walked along the wall for a total length of 5 km. Although one can find food shops in close proximity, prices are relatively high compared to supermarkets. Hence, we decided to bring all our supplies of water and food with us. We also benefited from planning our trip in advance. To this purpose, there are lots of helpful webpages (http://www.tour-beijing.com/blog/beijing-travel/how-to-get-to-mutianyu-great-wall-by-bus). I felt very grateful to the many people who described the ideal travel plans using public transport to the Great Wall. Even though it was very warm and tiring, I would do it again without hesitation. On our way back, we decided to do the so-called slides. If you have the chance to go there, I really recommend it! We had lot of fun! After a refreshing ice-cream in a bar, in front of the slide gate, we took a bus and went back to Beijing. Overall, if you have a possibility, I would suggest avoiding both a rainy (the Wall becomes slippery) and a very sunny (there are almost no shady spots) day for the Great Wall. A partly cloudy day would be ideal. Don’t forget your sunglasses and sun cream or a hat for your journey to the Great Wall.
Beijing by night
On our second day, we explored Beijing by night. First, I visited the Donghuamen night market, since food street markets are one of the main attractions in China. I was very impressed by the variety of food, pleasant smells, lights, and the many colours. Later, I continued to see the public shopping area next to the food market with shopping malls and high fashion brand shops. Finally, after dinner I visited to the Olympic stadium and tower for a walk.
Read the whole of Liliana’s travel report as a PDF here.