University of North Florida’s contribution to CLI Perspectives continues. This week Allison Gordon and Katherine DeJong share some of their favorite moments while studying in China. From toboggan rides down the Great Wall to biking in the magical city of Yangshuo, both made fantastic memories that will not be forgotten anytime soon. Check out their stories below!

Seeing history in Beijing

By Allison Gordon, CLI Study Tour student

This morning we visited the Summer Palace here in Beijing. I have to say the palace grounds were quite beautiful. As we were waiting for our tickets to enter, I noticed some humorous things to say the least. As our group was talking among ourselves to kill the time, many Chinese tourists began taking our picture. Some would just come up and stand in front of our group as their picture was taken, while others would ask for a picture with the group and then pose. It just struck me as hilarious, that some Chinese want a picture of a Western foreigner. My funny moment came when we entered the palace. Once inside two sweet, elder Chinese women grabbed me by the arm for a photo. They had a very strong grip so all I could do was smile and laugh for the photo.

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Allison taking in the beautiful Zhouzhuang water village.

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Allison at the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum.

After the Summer Palace tour, we drove an hour and a half to visit a section of the Great Wall that wasn’t too crowded with tourists. Once we arrived, a small group of us rode a cable car to the top which allowed for beautiful scenes of the wall and surrounding mountains. The sights from the actual top of the wall were breathtaking.

As a child, you hear tales about the Great Wall of China but you never imagine in your wildest dreams of actually having the opportunity to visit. But, there I was on top of the Great Wall of China! I was immediately humbled and in awe. To think about the incredible amount of rich history that is involved in the wall and how the wall has truly stood the test of time blew my mind. I must admit that since I am a history major, the history nerd in me shed a few joyful tears while walking along the top.

After a few hours of enjoying the wall and views, we rode a toboggan down the side of the wall. The toboggan was basically a small cart in which you could control how fast you go down a long slide that takes you to the bottom. I have never ridden in a toboggan before and how neat that my first toboggan ride was down the side of the Great Wall? So neat!

Overall, it was a fantastic day full of rich history and breathtaking views. I am incredibly blown away by how friendly, helpful, and hospitable most Chinese are to foreigners. They are an incredibly sweet group of people that are working their way into my heart. Also, how awesome will it be when anyone asks me what I did with my summer and I can say, “Well, I visited China and climbed the Great Wall!” I don’t think anyone will be able to top that!

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Katherine looks on as Allison takes her turn at ping pong.

Slip and slide of a ride

By Katherine DeJong, CLI Study Tour student

When I woke the sky was kind of dark even though it should have been light out. There was a light sprinkle as well. At a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, our teachers decided that the bike ride was a possibility if harder rain did not come down. If it poured then there would be more class, several hours more of class. I far preferred the first to the later.

In a break from the rain, our teachers hastily settled on the bike ride. We were rounded up and guided down the West Street. In truth, I should have brought my rain coat. I purposefully left it behind in hopes that if I brought it, it would be useless. Yet, due to the fact I didn’t bring it, rain was of course in our future.

We walked farther down the West Street than I had been before. Just before the street’s end we turned down an alleyway. Hidden in the alley was a bike rental shop. I promptly selected a Giant mountain bike. It was most similar to my bike back home and I figured that the bikes with gears would be better. Although I initially found the seat extremely high, my chocolate brown bike soon became comfortable enough.

As we got everyone’s bikes and rain ponchos sorted out, a shower came down on us.  Most people shuffled around on their bikes to find cover under the umbrellas that were covering the rental bikes. The ponchos that were handed out were mainly green and yellow. We waited quite a while for a break in the rain.

Once the rain stopped, we went off following Danny, our guide. We followed him as he crossed busy streets and dodged cars, scooters and other bikes. We weren’t going nearly as fast as I wished. We had to wait often especially in the beginning. Many from the group weren’t sure they would remember how to ride a bike. But, it came back to them. Cory and Robyn rode a tandem bike. It seems I was one of the few who regularly rides a bike back home. I guess that is what happens when you don’t have a car.

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Katherine had the opportunity to bike in Yangshuo on atop the city wall in Xi’an.

Ryan, Michael & I were generally speeding along at the front. Once in a while, Maria would come blasting through almost causing me to crash. After she told us she could drive (bike & car) well, but chose not to, we jokingly poked fun at her. It gave us all a big laugh. During the ride to the mystery destination, the rain continued to come down on us at random intervals. On a sharp corner, Michael took an elegant fall and popped back up. I was impressed with his smooth derailment.

We eventually found our destination. While being surrounded by old women selling their wares, we were told that we were going to have a raft ride. We left our bikes in the parking lot and started walking towards the rafts. While walking to the rafts, old ladies kept trying to sell us things, but we continuously called out, ”bù yào, bù yào, bù yào (I don’t want any)!” We were thinking on hiring a kid to shout it out for us or having a T-shirt with the characters for bù yào printed on it.

On the raft, I was paired with Kevin. It was absolutely beautiful & quite relaxing. I probably talked Kevin’s ear off a bit, but I didn’t really want any awkward silence. There were these little falls that were no more than 3 feet tall at the largest. The raft would go down and water would flood the raft. The falls were fun to go down, but on the last fall I forgot to pick up my shoes. Thankfully, they didn’t float off; however, they were soaked completely.

When the boat ride ended, our bikes were there to meet us. It was rather convenient. The one hiccup was that Michelle’s bike received a flat tire along the way. Cory stayed behind with the bike guy while we rode ahead to lunch. At this point in time, my too high bike seat was becoming particularly uncomfortable. I raced ahead to try to get off of it quicker. Once we found our lunch place, we ate until the plates were licked clean.

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Katherine posing inside one of China’s many unique temples.

After lunch, we hiked to a spectacular rock formation. I dashed up the path with Maria following until there was a fork in the trail. Instead of waiting for the main body of the group, he went up the path called Vanity. When the rest came to the fork, they veered to the other path called Moon Palace. At that point, I ran up the other path to go with Lyndon since it wasn’t wise to walk alone in case someone slipped and needed help. Soon after catching up to him, we learned why this path was called Vanity.

The most beautiful view of the valley lay before us. After studying the scene below us and taking some pictures, we were off. The path started to lead downward to a bamboo forest. Following it some more, we came across the others. Together we climbed another peak that looked over the same valley Lyndon and I saw earlier. We saw more of the surrounding mountains since we were on a much higher peak. We rested there for a bit before going down.

When walking back down the mountain it started to rain again so I slowed my pace. With the steps slick with water once more, I couldn’t dance the steps in the usual manner without the fear of falling. I gripped the hand railing when it was there.

At this point in time my poncho was torn and ripped along the bottom and the arms. My whole lower half was soaked, including my just recently dried Ed Hardy’s. I had only realized that my shoes had dried once they were soaked again. When the hand railing grew sparse, I found a bamboo stick. Long and thin, it was useless as a walking stick, but I used it to concentrate on walking. Swinging the stick around hitting the ground two or three steps before me kept me focused on the ground ahead of me and the rhythm of the motion kept my balance. The people I passed probably thought I was insane. Reaching the establishment where we had lunch, I found my chair and fell asleep.

When I woke we were readying to leave. Only three or four went back by bus while the rest rode our bikes back to the alleyway rental shop. I was among the bikers. I tried solving my seat issue in several different ways, but nothing worked so I sped ahead of the group. Constant pedaling helped with the discomfort and it also made me go very fast.  Once we reached the city, we waited for Danny to show us the way back. Going around people, cars, scooters and other bikes once more, we manage to get back to the rental shop. All of us made it back safe and sound to the hotel.