By Aleen Mankerian and Eri Aguilar
Day 1 (Aleen)
After a weekend spent settling into Fudan University and exploring the surrounding area, on Tuesday afternoon, we hopped on a bus for a 6-hour drive for our first trip to the city of Huangshan. It was a long and tiring commute but we were excited and had no idea what to expect upon our arrival. An interesting aspect about the ride was that we had the chance to see a drastic difference between urban Shanghai and the villages and small towns right outside of the city. We finally arrived in the main city of Huangshan, and it definitely wasn’t hard to miss because neon lights flooded the downtown area. They must not worry about their electricity bill! After stopping in the city for a delicious traditional Chinese meal, we drove another half hour to one of the most luxurious hotels we’ve ever seen. Our first night in Huangshan was spent at the Howard Johnson Macrolink Plaza, or what we liked to call “The Bellagio” because of its resemblance to a Las Vegas resort. Perhaps the strangest part about the hotel was the fact that it was completely empty. It was quiet and a bit creepy but we still had fun running through the huge halls and bonding with one another during our stay. We finished off the night in our comfortable, spacious hotel rooms with exciting adventures to look forward to the next day.
Day 2 (Eri)
The trek to the top of Huangshan Mountain, the fifth wonder of the world, began with our departure from this amazing hotel. The lobby was decorated with marble floors, the rooms were opulent, and the service men and women prided themselves in offering us a high degree of hospitality. This being my first time ever traveling abroad, my expectations did not have a standard for comparison. But I was definitely eager to be exposed to novel experiences. I can vividly recall being unable to sleep the night prior, as I imagined the immense beauty of standing on the top of the mountain. Growing up in the city, the only view of nature that I had ever experienced were the hills that are behind the skyscrapers in Los Angeles when driving down the 110 North.
Day 3 (Eri)
Thursday morning on the Huangshan Mountain top was perhaps one of the most beautiful mornings I’ve ever had. Our group had the opportunity to watch the sunrise, so we set set our alarms to 5am to see the stunning view. It was very breathtaking and even though there were a lot of tourists around us, it was still a wonderful experience. Later that morning, we headed back down the mountains to the main city of Huangshan, where we had the chance to walk through Tunxi Road. This specific part of the city is known for its cafes and shops selling both globalized products and products that reflect very traditional Chinese culture. We explored the colorful and cultural streets and interacted with many foreigners during our visit. But at the end of the day, we were sore and tired. So after a nice dinner in the city, we returned to the Howard Johnson Hotel where we had a nice relaxing evening and an early night’s sleep.
After taking a 2-hour bus ride from the hotel, we arrived at the base of Huangshan Mountain. Immediately upon arriving my heartbeat intensified as I witnessed the majestic beauty of the clouds being split by the mountain peaks. Being terrified of heights, my skin began to tingle as we took the lift up to the top of the mountain, but the view was so pulchritudinous that I completely forgot about my fears. My lungs had never had the pleasure of inhaling almost-pristine mountain oxygen. But the most delightfully surprising moment derived from seeing a basketball court in the middle of the mountains. Being an avid basketball player for 13 years, I could virtually hear a basketball bouncing and echoing… “Eri, Eri, Eri.” I could not resist myself, so I respectfully requested my roommate to ask for a basketball from one of the stands. Much to my chagrin, the woman in the stand said there wasn’t a basketball around. However, immediately after that, 3 gentlemen stepped on the court with their own basketball. I fervently tapped my classmate’s upper arm and conveyed my intentions with my stare. His smile was a confirmation that he was contemplating the same thing. We initiated a conversation with them and began a 4 on 4 game in the middle of the mountains! I was stupefied that the game I love the most also takes place in the middle of a mountain thousands of miles away from the city courts I’m accustomed to. After the match, we began our hike up Huangshan Mountain. Aside from experiencing the most exciting moments of my life during my hike up to the top of the mountain, I also had the most humbling experience ever. Among the tourists with their professional cameras and name brand clothing, there were the laborers who bear the burden that comes with developing a tourist attraction in a mountain region. The sight reminded me of driving through the fruit fields of Bakersfield, CA – many men pushing their bodies to do so much hard labor so we can have a moment of enjoyment. It rekindled my passion to participate in the fight for social justice. It reminded me of the struggle for survival in a globalized world.
To conclude our stay in the city of Huangshan, I humbly asked our tour guide for a recommendation to an establishment in which we could further enjoy ourselves. Not only did he recommend a location, but he also offered to go out of his way and take us to one of his favorite places for nighttime entertainment. We drove through the city from the hotel. The voyage over to the karaoke place was one of the most colorful light shows I had ever had the pleasure of witnessing. After the drive, we made our way into the karaoke establishment and had 2 hours of non-stop Chinese and American singing. The experience definitely enhanced my cultural awareness and provided me with the opportunity to begin a friendship with someone who took me out of my comfort zone. After my session as an “American Idol,” we made our way to an arcade place to play some billiards.
The following day, we arrived at Xidi Village. My experience there bestowed upon me a sense of responsibility as the village dwellers gazed at me with a curious look in their eye. The most frequent question that came up was “Where are you from?” I happily explained that I am an American, but my parents are Mexican. Their tender smiles made me feel as if I was representing a part of the world that is still somewhat unknown to China. Moreover, I was elated to convey that I come from USC and that I was in China as a scholar of EASC Global East Asia. This experience served to enhance my driving force to practice international law.
Day 4 (Eri)
As I moved through the city with the utmost fascination I experienced the sensory overload that comes with traveling to a different world. Xidi Village was definitely a trip back to simpler times. During my excursion, I met a woman who relished the opportunity to practice her dance moves. Being an avid dancer, I could not resist asking her for a dance. As we moved in sync I internalized the importance of aesthetic expression to cope with the human condition. In addition, I also had the beautiful opportunity to pick up a paintbrush and relive my days as an urban painter. I felt honored as the young ladies who were painting asked me to make a contribution to their masterpiece. I was sincerely overwhelmed with joy to have the opportunity to express my self through the global language of art. My hopes, dreams and pain were incorporated in every brush stroke I made. Feeling very grateful for their welcoming spirit, I offered my testimony of the circumstances of life in Los Angeles, CA.
Aside from the spectacular scenery and the exotic cuisine, my favorite part of this educational experience is my enhancement of cultural awareness. With every excursion comes a rich lesson about the history of a place and its culture. In Xidi Village I learned that these structures are at least 400 years old! The elaborate details of the furniture and houses that we saw were mesmerizing. I believe it’s possible to spend a whole day just eyeing the designs and not experience a second of boredom. The locals are very responsive to a kind smile, which is something that I cannot ever get tired of. In Los Angeles, it’s difficult to get some one to reply when you greet them. It’s a very refreshing experience to know that there are still beautiful people with beautiful attitudes.
Day 5 (Aleen)
On the last day, we officially checked out of our beloved “Bellagio” (Howard Johnson) and took another three-hour-long bus ride to the final stop of our trip. We went to the famous Hangzhou West Lake area, where we had a delicious Chinese lunch and, shortly after, we took a boat ride across the lake. The lake was so crowded with tourists because it was the weekend of the Dragon Boat Holiday! It was interesting to see so many Chinese families and tour groups, and it definitely made me realize how important the Hangzhou Lake is for Chinese communities. Our 45 minute ferry ride took us to two sides of the lake and gave us the chance to enjoy peace and tranquility on the water, along with light showers of rain. Hangzhou was a great place to end our mini-trip, showing us a different side of China that we weren’t used to seeing while in Shanghai. Our three-hour drive back to the city gave us the time to reflect on China’s diversity and on how globalization plays such a huge role on the country’s various regions. We are looking forward to the next trip outside of Shanghai, which is right around the corner!