Friday, October 14, 2016

Traveling to Shanxi Province

HNC students often use their holiday breaks to travel to other parts of China and Asia. One of the HNC student bloggers, Amanda Bogan, spent the National Day holiday exploring Shanxi Province.

One of my favorite parts of life in China has always been traveling to different parts of the country, easily and affordably, by train. This past week we had our first major holiday, a total of seven days to celebrate National Day (国庆节). I took advantage of this opportunity to journey north, up to Shanxi Province.

Although travel during the National Holiday can be notorious for large crowds and sold out tickets, I was lucky enough to book round trip tickets only a few days in advance, thanks to my wonderful and patient roommate, Wu-Ye (吴叶), who helped me purchase the tickets online.

By standard train, Shanxi is roughly 16 hours from Nanjing. This may sound like a long trip at first, but we got on our train in the evening and had tickets for a sleeper car, so at least half the time was spent sleeping.  The other half was spent watching the changing landscapes, reading in my cozy bunk bed, and making friends with other travelers.

Catching up on some assignments while enjoying the scenery
 Train travel, particularly on longer trips, is unique because there is plenty of time to chat with and get to know the other people in your car or cabin. Although living in Nanjing also provides ample opportunities to get out and talk with locals, it’s definitely easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger when you’re sitting in the same cabin as them for several hours.

During my trip out, I made friends with a young woman employed at an electric company in Shanghai, who was traveling 25 hours to Ningxia Province to visit her family. We shared snacks and talked about the differences in climate and culture between southern and northern China. Our conversation led to a larger conversation with other members of our cabin, many of whom had questions about my impressions of life in China having grown up in the US. A mother traveling with her daughter had many questions about the American education system and teaching methods, while others asked my opinion of the current presidential election.

Hiking with friends in the Loess Plateau (黄土高原)
Talking with people of different backgrounds and from different regions in China is also a useful way to practice Chinese, especially because of the wide range of accents and dialects across the country. In HNC classrooms, teachers speak standard Mandarin, generally with a Nanjing or Beijing accent, but on a train accents will vary significantly from person to person. Increased exposure to different accents and dialects makes it easier to communicate with people from different regions, an important practical skill when living in China.

Tradition cave dwellings (窑洞) in Lvliang (吕梁) City, Shanxi
During our conversations, I particularly enjoyed hearing other passengers’ opinions and thoughts regarding issues they found to be important. Although my hours put in at the library and note-taking during classes are obviously major assets to my education in China, some of the most valuable learning experiences I’ve had here have come directly from conversations with people in everyday, casual settings.

My time in Shanxi went by quickly and happily, filled with long meals, catching up with friends, and trips scenic areas and historical monuments. The ride back to Nanjing was just as long, but I had more than enough reading to keep me busy. Even though a bustling train car may not be the most tranquil environment to study in, it is certainly one of the more exciting and memorable places to learn.

Written by Amanda Bogan, HNC Certificate 2017