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-Explore Southern China

Experience of Southern China  2009

Trip Title: Discovery of Southern China
Trip Date: 5th April - 17th April 09
Participants: Midlands T'ai Chi Ch'uan Coventry UK
Reported by Gee Higham

Pioneering a new trip for SCIC is always an adventure and so six intrepid students and one nervous Chief Instructor set off to discover Southern China early in April 2009.

SCIC planned a custom-made itinerary around our meditation and Qi Gong practice, with the emphasis on relaxation and training interspersed with hands-on activities.  More nights in each hotel, longer periods at scenic locations plus plenty of free time ensured the right mix of training, cultural immersion and new experiences.  We were blessed with exceptionally good weather and guides who quickly became friends and, as always, SCIC did us proud with amazing hotels to ensure our comfort. 

After twelve days exploring exquisite gardens and temples, boating on lakes, rivers and canals, climbing mountains and taking several hundred photographs we have so many highlights to share, here are just a few.

Shanghai surprised us with its dual personality of tradition hand in hand with cutting edge modernity.  We rode an elevator to the top of the Pearl Tower for a bird's eye view of the city -its commercial status growing almost as fast as its high-rises, particularly the architectural masterpieces scraping the sky along the Bund.  Our guide joked that the civic bird of Shanghai is the crane-the kind with hoists and hooks rather than beaks and wings!  Then the bustling metropolis vanished as we entered Yu Garden and another world, the sounds of real birdsong and splashing fountains accompanying us as we wandered through this beautifully maintained gem of traditional Chinese garden design.




 Yellow Mt (Huangshan)

 Tunxi Ancient Town

 Hongcun Village

Excitedly we boarded a plane ready for our next eagerly anticipated adventure - visiting the legendary Huangshan region.  Spending half a day on Yellow Mountain was the high spot (no pun intended) of the trip.  Taking the easy route most of the way by cable-car, the steps up and down the winding path around the mountain were a bit challenging, but who cares, when the scenery is so breathtaking it is surreal.  One magnificent landscape succeeded the next, almost too stunning to take in, so we took our time and relished the moment.  It was humbling to step aside for local porters carrying enormous loads in baskets slung on a pole across their shoulders as they powered past us. 

Tired legs were instantly revived by a visit to Hongcun Village, famous as the movie location featured in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, amongst others and truly an area of outstanding natural beauty.  The mirror calm lake reflected the laid-back atmosphere of unhurried daily life as the villagers went about their everyday business, unusually unspoiled by Hongcun's movie heritage.  We spent a blissful few hours lingering in cool courtyards, haggling in tiny shops and trying not to expect a sword wielding Kung Fu hero around every corner.

Our odyssey then took us to Hangzhou, famed as a tea-growing region and this being the tea-picking season we could see many figures at work on the hillside terraces.  Stopping off at a tea plantation we were given the chance to pick tea ourselves and soon realised how skilled and how arduous the job is.  The combined efforts of all seven group members barely produced enough for a teabag and then watching the tea being 'fried' and mixed by hand in heated containers definitely left us far more appreciative of our morning 'cuppa'.




 Tea-picking Experience

 Frying Tea

 West Lake in Hangzhou

The highlight of our visit to Hangzhou was a visit to West Lake every view a postcard, a photograph or a painting, particularly with the trees in full bloom.  After a leisurely boat trip on the lake, we took a gentle stroll in the park, where our guide found us a secluded, tree-shaded spot bordered by a shallow river - a perfect place to practice T'ai Chi in China.

Next stop Suzhou, famous for canals, bridges and gardens and the subject of much pre-trip Google-ing back in the UK.  A visit to the Humble Administrator's Garden definitely exceeded the internet hype.  Who could spend time in this authentic and beautifully landscaped space and not come back inspired to re-design their own backyard in classical Chinese style? 

Venturing into Suzhou's Ancient Town we discovered Marco Polo's 'Venice of China' with miles of winding canals, back-waters and thriving waterside life.  Taking the 'Tongli grand tour' in an open boat punted by a small but remarkably strong young woman, we floated along the maze of waterways, occasionally having to duck to pass under a low bridge and frequently waving happily back at local residents busy about their work, who all hailed us enthusiastically.  When in Suzhou this is certainly the only way to travel!

Suzhou also provided two extra-ordinary workshops for our group, arranged by our local guide Lilli.  For our Chinese Cooking Class we were invited into the home of 'Auntie Wong' a smiling, gracious lady who showed us how to mix a pork and mushroom filling with all the style and flair of a celebrity TV chef!  She then sat us down around her immaculate dining table and had us folding a stack of dumplings, which proved much trickier than it looked imagine origami with pancakes and chopsticks.  Auntie Wong cooked our variously shaped offerings and served them in the traditional way, in their own soup.  That was just the appetiser.  For the second course Auntie Wong whipped up an authentic Kung Po Chicken fit for an Emperor's banquet, which we devoured with relish.  The hospitality was amazing and it was a pleasure to share such a unique experience - although we were so well stuffed with chicken and dumplings no-one had much of an appetite for the evening meal!  That particular experience went down in everyone's trip diary as 'Three Dinner Day'.





 Grand Canal in Suzhou

 Adrian learning Silk Making

 Cooking Workshop

Our second workshop was a Chinese Landscape Brush Painting class and again our local guide excelled herself.  We had the rare privilege of finding ourselves in what had once been the home of a famous Landscape artist, in another of Suzhou's secret gardens.  Grouped around an ornate marble table the students got to grips with the rudiments of Chinese brush painting, surrounded by a gallery of inspirational artworks and quite a few curious passers-by another unique experience to add to the 'once in a lifetime' list.

Six intrepid students and one now not so nervous Chief Instructor completed their Discovery of Southern China refreshed, revitalised and renewed.  We all felt we had seen a different side of China and stepped off the usual tourist path slightly.  It was challenging, rewarding, exciting and memorable and so ticked all our boxes.  Thank you so much to everyone who helped organise the trip and ensure our comfort and safety throughout.  This is certainly a trip we would recommend to anyone who appreciates moving off the beaten tourist track, stunning natural surroundings and seeing more of the 'real China'.



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