China Trip Review

15 Lower Sixth and Hundred pupils joined five adults on a breathtaking journey through Sichuan Province between July 1st and 12th.

The journey began and ended in Chengdu, a dynamic and fast growing global mega city. Traditional Tang dynasty Du Fu Cottage and Gardens, Kuang-zhai Alley, Han dynasty Jinli town and the mesmerizing Sichuan opera contrasted with ultra-modern, down town Chengdu. This features the New Century Global Centre – the largest building in the world, by floor space, when constructed! 260 0f the Fortune 500 companies now have a base in Chengdu.

Particularly memorable was our day as Panda volunteers at the Dujiangyan Research Base; there was an opportunity to learn about, look after and feed the Pandas. 80% of the world’s 1500 Pandas are found in Sichuan Province. Further highlights were visiting Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, including Anjue and Tagong; the spiritual power, colour and importance of these religious centres were clearly evident. Exploring the Tibetan Danba villages of Jiaju and Suopo -designated as some of the most beautiful villages in China – was a delight, whilst ascending one of the 12th century watch towers of Suopo was particularly intriguing. 80% of the inhabitants of Garze and Abe prefectures, where we travelled, are Tibetan in origin, making this area “more Tibetan” than Tibet itself. It was fascinating to experience the contrast between Han Chinese and Tibetan cultures and aspirations.

Our journeys in Kham Tibet were challenged by the heavy Sichuan monsoon rains and the most fllooding since 1949, all river levels were high and landslides were common. We were fortunate to complete our Tibetan itinerary as the areas we visited were closed to tourist groups soon after we left. We enjoyed two days in the “Oriental Alps” in the Geopark of Mt Siguniang where the highest peak rises to 6250m. We were blessed, one day, with sunny weather which brought out the colours of the Buddhist prayer flags and the valleys grazed by yaks. On the second day, it rained non-stop but with sufficient light to enjoy the waterfalls and mist covered lakes and mountain slopes.

Back in the Sichuan Basin we joined the tourist masses to take in Li Bing’s 256 BC Dujiangyan Irrigation Scheme and the ascent up Taoist Mt Qingcheng, 1260m high. China has 20% of the world’s population and travelling was nearly always intense and busy. The community spirit was evident wherever we went. In Danba we joined the evening dancing on the town square. We felt welcome wherever and whenever we walked around. There is indeed a sense of optimism and energy in Sichuan. Foreigners are very welcome, if closely monitored. The Dalai Lama’s birthday on 9th July meant that the police were keeping a close eye on the foreign presence; few western groups go to this part of Tibet. No less that 12 police cars with flashing lights were patrolling one night in Danba; they were “looking after” their guests.

In all locations our hosts looked after us well; smiling, welcoming faces were the norm everywhere. One remarkable fact is that we were rarely asked for anything by anybody yet people were so grateful for any contact or gift we made. It was a wonderful trip with many insights and adventures, the journeys were often long and challenging but always rewarding. The high altitude added an additional dimension to our visit. We were captivated by both the traditions and the modernity of China; it is, indeed, a future world as the country moves forward with engineering and technological spectacles of magic and defiance. The face changing within the Sichuan opera is the allegory for Chinese transformations, re-inventions and invisible shifts from ancient to modern. A special thank you to Qingwei Li, Head of Chinese, for inspiring this visit to her home province, to Jim Pel of Tibet Vista travel agent for his excellent planning, to Steven, our guide and to all adult and Marlburian team members for their energy, enthusiasm, curiosity and sociability.

Kevin Richards
Head of Geography

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