I have been at JUFE for over one week and classes are now in full swing! This semester I am taking mostly Chinese language courses including reading, speaking, listening and comprehensive Chinese. I did take some comprehensive Chinese classes last semester, however, despite this, the classes this semester are proving to be equally challenging, especially listening and speaking classes as many words sound similar but have different meanings depending on which of the four tones they are spoke in!! Our teachers have suggested that the best way to practice improving on these skills is to become immersed in the Chinese culture and what better way to do this than for a group of newly found friends to take a short weekend trip!
My new friends from Germany, Lena and Sebastian, and my new friends from Czech, Sophia and Lenka, decided that it would be nice to experience some traditional Chinese culture by exploring the villages of Wuyuan together. Wuyuan is located in Jiangxi province, north of Nanchang and is renowned for picturesque landscapes, rapeseed and tea leaf crops and architecture that dates back to the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1911) dynasties.
Our journey began on Friday where we took a high speed train from Nanchang to Wuyuan which was such a unique experience! These trains travel at over 300 km per hour however being inside felt like you are flying in an airplane or taking a casual drive down a country road! It was so smooth and cut our travel time in half from over 5 hours to just over two and a half hours.
On arrival at Wuyuan the first village we visited was Likeng where we strolled the winding streets built over creeks, saw traditional homesteads and visited a Taoist temple where we lit incense and gave thanks….a truly humbling experience! We each brought a “wish” that was written on a red ribbon and blessed by a Taoist monk and then tied our wishes to the “wishing tree” outside of the temple. In Chinese culture the colour red symbolizes good luck and joy and it is believed that tying the ribbon to the “wishing tree” will make the wish come true. The higher the ribbon is tied, the more likely it is that the wish will come true.
After our tour of Likeng, we needed to check into our hostel and this brought about the first opportunity to test out our new found Chinese language skills as we negotiated the size and price for the rooms and also to have breakfast included the next morning! While this was a rather difficult task as our Chinese was very limited and the residents of Wuyuan spoke with a different accent to those of Nanchang as they belong to a different minority group and no English, we felt very proud of ourselves once we reached our end result!
The next two days were spent exploring Xiaoqu, Huanling and Guankeng villages where we saw rapeseed crops, tea leaf plants arranged on terraces and local crafts such as calligraphy and rice wine making, all whilst trying our best to order food, ask for directions and organise transportation all in Chinese language! While we are far from expert level, I believe that these experiences have increased my appreciation and understanding of the role history has played in the shaping of Chinese culture and have greatly assisted in the continuing improvement of my Mandarin abilities and I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity where I can put them into practice!