China: Chengde (Group 1)

Urban Homestay

This week, we each stayed with a Chinese family in the city of Chengde in the Hebei province. It was lots of fun, and we’ll all miss our homestay families very much as we depart for Tai’an and the rural homestay.  We would like to thank our host families for these amazing, genuine experiences.  During our time in the homestays, we were able to learn things about Chinese culture that we never would have experienced on our own.

After days of anticipation and uncertainty, we finally arrived on the doorsteps of our new temporary homes in Chengde. Everybody was nervous and nobody knew what to expect, but we were greeted by friendly faces who immediately took us in as their own. Equally surprising and welcome, at least at the beginning of the week, the schedule was grueling. During the day, Experimenters and their host siblings shared culture and language, experienced the lives of city kids, and explored both rural and urban areas of Chengde. In the evenings, our new host families were so excited to see us, and they took us out again into the city for even more wonderful experiences and several adventures such as trips to the supermarket, local restaurants, local movie theaters, and a famous show about the Qing Dynasty.

Now here is a deeper look at our adventures in Chengde.

Chinese Lessons in Chengde:

Over the course of our week in the city, we had several opportunities to learn popular Chinese phrases and colloquialisms from our Chinese host-students, while also teaching them some English slang. For example, we learned that “Ni Hao!” is not a very popular greeting, and that people often say “Zui Jin Ru He?” or “Zui Jin Hao Ma?”, which have similar meaning to “What’s Up?”. In exchange, Chinese students learned words like “Same!”, “No way,” and “Lit.” These learning sessions stuck out as uniquely useful and insightful. A Chinese class in the U.S. doesn’t have the same cultural context behind it, and it was really exciting to know that I would be able to speak a little more like a native.

Exploring Local Landscapes

Halfway through our week in Chengde, we trekked up to a local landmark, Sledgehammer Mountain, aptly named for the enormous stone standing upright at the summit of the mountain. Although the hike was long, the landscape’s beauty could be seen throughout. We were also able to get a humbling perspective on the city we would stay in for seven days. Not only was the hike itself beautiful, but the natural wonder of a vertically standing stone was an amazing experience, as one could marvel at the enormous and seemingly perfectly balanced stone thousands of feet above Chengde. Although some might have wanted to explore the mountain on the way down, many were tired from the long and steep climb up and were relieved to take a re-purposed ski lift down to the base of the mountain. Although it might have been less fulfilling, the slow glide of the lift did not diminish the beauty of the varying mountains and farmlands just outside Chengde.

In between two mountains and just far enough away from the highway we got off the bus, bringing our lunches with us, and moved onto some oversized golf-carts. There were no significant settlements nearby.  We headed slightly uphill, passing a few hikers as we went, and a short time later the carts stopped some distance from the entrance. But we could already see a tower. An offshoot of The Great Wall of China already loomed stoic and ancient, high on the mountain over every one of our heads.

Maybe a kilometer later, past the entrance and gift shops, the wide and comfortable red clay walking path split off to the left, with a more traditional hiking trail appearing and staying true. As according to the map’s shortest way to the Wall, we chose the straight path, not knowing its grade. By the time the first of us reached the top, the group was spread thin even though the section of the wall we had climbed up to jutted out from the main line towards the bus. All the rest curled around us like a constrictor and it rolled with the hills on which it had stood for centuries. It provided a view that made us forget our exhaustion from the moment we stepped on weathered stone. After a short break, more to recover from the shock than the trek, we started towards the next tower. They say you can see it from space, so could there be any spacemen looking down on us as we strode across The Great Wall of China?

We were given a few hours to explore, and the group members took the time to explore centuries of history; some of the group members even reached unrevised parts of The Great Wall.