Article by Luana Borges
Lots of people feel the need to leave the city, their homes, once in a while. Routine can be quite suffocating, boring, even disorienting. Living in Xi’an also brings some other variables, such as pollution and the inevitable distance from the ocean…So what if we gave different meaning to our holidays other than ‘doing nothing’ ?What if we thought about them as a whole experience? A transportation to a different environment that can – in many ways – help us with some struggle? I know the ‘sunny beach with an umbrella cocktail’ is a very attractive option but let me tell you about my experience.
While summer holidays approached, I caught myself thinking about what I would do with a 2-week gap I’d have off. There are many common destinations such as Shanghai, Beijing,Sanya or some other beaches alongside the coast. All of them seem like amazing options, and I couldn’t decide until I got, from a Wechat group of excursions, the one that made the ‘excitement butterflies’ kick in: A two-week immersion program in Chinese language and Culture in Guilin, south China.
Guilin is an amazingly scenic city (yeah you read it well, the whole city is scenic) well-known for its karsts (rock formations that are as high as a 30-story building), and for the nearby view that all of you can find at the back of any 20 Yuan bill. I loved it from the moment I was on my way to the school I was hosted at. Another very interesting thing for us, Xianease foreigners, was the absence of traffic (!) which would remain like that for the whole trip, even rush hours. You can also ride one of the many Alipay e-bikes strategically placed around the city.
What I signed for, besides taking a breath of much needed fresh air, was an intensive Mandarin course at CLI, a school hostel-like facility in which we were separated according to our Chinese comprehension level and every morning, for three hours, we would have our lessons. Half of the time we were in class, and the other half outdoors, practicing what we’ve just learned. During the afternoons, we had smaller activities, such as visiting beautiful caves (a Buddhist temple, restaurants, and baijiu storages), going to Chinese medicine open markets, visiting touristic hikes up the karsts and exploring the city on our own. On the tours, we always had one of the very supportive teachers with us, which made the experience much more enjoyable than if I had done it completely by myself.
Every single day we had something to do as a group or individually, and when we wanted company, we could simply make an open invitation to our “current students” group – I shared this holiday with more than 15 other foreigners coming from different cities, mostly from Shenzhen, Guangzhou, and Shanghai. It felt great to be around the hostel vibe… It’s been such a long time since we could have these experiences as we pleased!
Besides, we had three one-day trips to nearby places, which in my opinion was the jewel of the package: first, to the rice terraces; then, to the oldest village in the province with houses built more than a thousand years ago; and lastly, to Yangshuo, the most famous river in the province (the 20 Yuan one.) Because of the small village environment, everyone in those places (including Guilin) is welcoming, trying to do their best to be understanding with us and with our poor oral Chinese. All that surrounded by the most delicious food, for example its famous local oil tea (a sort of broth that is eaten with crunchy rice and peanuts), homemade tofu (in almost every single restaurant),beer fish, caramelized potatoes and many other dishes that, of course, I was too busy eating to take note of their names.
I don’t have enough words to express how this trip has helped me in many aspects of my mental, physical and emotional health, as well as it served as a dazzle for my eyes. I had an experience of a lifetime, so I hope that by sharing that with you, dear reader, you can also be inspired to do it yourself… As soon as possible, add meanings and experiences to your trips!