My scholarship is funded by a Chinese government organization known as Hanban (colloquial abbreviation for Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a foreign language). Basically they aim to promote the learning and experiencing of Chinese language and culture all over the world. Every year they require all Universities offering Hanban scholarships to organize an educational field trip of some sort for Hanban students. This academic year our trip was to a city called Bazhou here in Hebei province 2/3 hours from Baoding by bus. Bazhou has a population of just over 130,000.
Our day started with an early morning bus ride that took about 2 -3 hours and ended in rainy Bazhou city center where we stopped to visit the bicycle museum. China is infamous for it’s wide use of bicycles (electric and nonelectric) and surprisingly has an incredibly long history with them. I honestly thought it was a recent obsession but the museum put that theory aside.
They did not invent the bike however they have adopted it and it’s now a big part of Chinese life. The height of bicycle culture was in the 1960’s and 1970’s, with car culture only becoming more prominent in the 2000’s. (Click here and here to read more on China’s bicycle culture). The perception of cycling has of course changed over the years with cars stealing the limelight, however with serious traffic congestion problems and pollution, the Chinese government is trying to encourage people to depend on cycling and other “green” transport methods for day to day movement. As stated previously in my post about getting around in Baoding, I have also taken up the bicycle for travelling short distances. The museum was only interesting for so long, they have a lot of bicycles! So at some point it just became monotonous.
After our museum trip we were treated to lunch at a local restaurant then ascended the bus and headed towards our second destination; a large Buddhist temple. The temple is I think the largest I have visited so far in Asia, containing various worship rooms for different statues.
The monks there were also very friendly and welcoming, I don’t imagine they deal with foreign tourists much given their location, we were the only foreign faces there at the time. We became as much of an attraction as the temple itself with people staring or asking for pictures or just taking them secretly-or what they thought was secretly. I didn’t I know much about Buddhism at the time and though some of it was explained at the time it was all in Chinese so a lot of it went past me.
Our final stop was a small ancient town called Shengfang also within Bazhou. Shengfang can trace its history to China’s Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). It has a few locations of interest which we visited including a museum, Wenchang Pavilion and ancient noble houses. It also famous for it’s locally produced festive lanterns which are exported all over China and outside China including Hong Kong, Macao and other countries in Southeast Asia. Again we had a Chinese tour guide but unfortunately it all flew over my head because I was tired and I couldn’t keep up with the guides quick tongue.
In retrospect the outing probably would have been had more of an impression on me if I had been able to follow what was been said but my Chinese was just not good enough at this point and no one was translating for us either. Now I think if I did the trip again it would make more sense and be more than just a day out “looking at old things”. I am however always impressed at how well kept these places are for the most part and how much knowledge the locals have of their own history. The schools certainly do a good job of making sure the future generations know enough Chinese history to be able to teach a class of their own, it’s so effortless and practically second nature for them. Puts the rest of us less knowledgeable people to shame really.