September 2012 issue

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Dragon adventures

As China’s growth continues unabated, more and more dynamic study travel destinations are opening up across the country, as Matthew Knott discovers.

China itself is attractive to international students because it’s still in the process of opening to – and being explored by – the outside world,” enthuses Nathan Power, Business Development Manager at iMandarin Language Training Institute, which has 18 campuses across 10 Chinese cities. “Everything is alien – the landscape, the fashion, the food, city infrastructure, culture...even writing has no connection whatsoever to the Romanised alphabet that is taken for granted in the Western world,” he continues. “There’s a constant tingling excitement that comes from being aware that when you’re here you’re riding the crest of a growing wave,” he continues.

One city that typifies this emergence is Guangzhou, a bustling city of 13 million people. Jasmine Bian, Founder and President of Mandarin House, which recently added a school in Guangzhou to its Shanghai and Beijing centres, observes, “More and more international students are going to Guangzhou, also known as ‘city of flowers’ to learn Chinese and take advantage of the city’s prosperity.” The Mandarin House school is located on the 10th floor of the Victory Plaza in the city’s new Tianhe business district, and Aaron Duff, Business Development Manager, explains, “Students can discover modern and ancient China just by walking through its streets.”

Duff lists some of the city highlights: day and night cruises along the Pearl River, the third longest in China; spectacular views from Canton TV Tower and nearby Baiyun Mountain; Yuexiu Park, China’s largest urban park; Guangxiao Temple, established in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420AD); and the amazing recent discovery of the Tomb of the King of Nanyue, dating back 2,100 years.

Power similarly recommends the city. “We recommend all learners coming to Asia to think outside the generic Shanghai/Beijing box and tread off the beaten path a bit – Guangzhou is a great starting point for such an excursion.” The iMandarin campus is located near the Pearl River in the new Central Business District (CBD). “Guangzhou has many excellent opportunities for sightseeing and day trips,” says Power, adding the Panyu Mountain, zoos and amusement parks to the extensive list. “Besides these attractions, Guangzhou makes an excellent jumping off point for seeing the rest of Guangdong Province and also is a short train ride or bus to Hong Kong and Macau.”

Another burgeoning tourist spot is the southern tropical island of Hainan. Dominic McDonagh at CRCC Asia, a company that provides study/hospitality internship courses in partnership with Hainan Normal University and some of Hainan’s five star resort hotels, advises that the island wasn’t always so desirable. “Throughout China’s imperial heyday, Hainan was known as ‘the gates of hell’, a place where dissidents were banished.” China’s smallest province is now lauded as the country’s Hawaii and “its appeal lies in the fact that it offers an escape from the polluted skies, freezing winters and bustling cities of mainland China”, enthuses McDonagh. “In appearance, the island paradise can look more like Thailand or Vietnam than it does Beijing or Shanghai, yet Hainan retains a truly Chinese spirit.”

As well as spectacular beaches and one of the world’s largest golf complexes, McDonagh attests, “Visitors can also take time out to explore the central highlands where the climate is cooler, and explore thick canopies of forest and visit the Li and Miao villages.” He also notes the greater levels of religious freedom on the island and “the breath-taking statue of bodhisattva Guan Ying”, which stands at some 108 metres tall. William Wang at Hainan Premier Language School, located in the city of Haikou on Hainan, concurs, “Hainan is an international tourism island which is famous for its sun, sand and sea.” He continues, “Foreigners can enjoy modern life and relax in the nature. Students can go swimming, diving, surfing, rafting, biking and climbing. They can visit volcanoes, rain forests, temples and minority villages.”

Naturally, the capital city of Beijing retains its appeal, not least, Duff argues, as the home of standard Mandarin and with a culture seen everywhere through its architecture and everyday life.

Hutong School has two locations in Beijing, explains Haike Bruneel, Sales & Marketing Officer. The first, in a traditional courtyard in one of the city’s most authentic areas, is “the perfect place for students to experience the old Beijing feeling”. A second branch was opened in the CBD to allow students access to the countless business and internship opportunities. “Needless to say, the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square, to name but a few, are must-sees!” enthuses Bruneel. Camping on the Great Wall of China is also an unforgettable experience, Duff adds.

No city characterises China’s dynamism more than Shanghai, a glitzy, cosmopolitan metropolis that, Duff advises, a former student described as “Manhattan on steroids”. Having a drink 90 floors up in the Shanghai World Financial Centre is one Shanghai’s unique experiences, although typifying the city’s restless development, Imo Homfeld, Marketing Manager at MandaLingua, refers to the construction of Shanghai Tower, due to soar 80 metres higher on completion in 2014.

Shanghai also provides a juxtaposition of colonial past with modern dynamism, a contrast highlighted by Hutong School’s Shanghai centre, says Bruneel. “This unique location at the border of the Former French Concession, one of Shanghai’s most charming areas, and Jing’an district, one of the major business districts, is the perfect starting point for those wanting to explore and experience the international business vibe of Shanghai.” Bruneel advises that the amazing views on the Bund, a spectacular waterfront area of colonial and historical buildings are also well worth a trip.

Homfeld concurs, noting that the city was once labelled “the Oriental Paris” and describing the Huangpu River as “old colonial buildings from the early 20th century on the one side, the modern financial district Pudong with its countless skyscrapers and the Oriental Pearl Tower on the other side”. He notes the historical sites of Yuyuan Garden, Xintiandi, Nanjing Road, and Chenghuang Temple. A more modern experience is the Shanghai Expo Memorial Exhibition, relating to the World Expo held in the city in 2010. “And after the exhibition ends in 2014, most objects will be relocated to Shanghai Expo Museum, the world’s first musuem of world expositions,” he adds.

Shanghai is also famed as a “shopping paradise”, attests Homfeld. “Nanjing Road, China’s number one commercial street, is a must for all visitors; Huaihai Road, an elegant and cultural commercial street, attracts thousands of young people who search for the latest fashion; and Sichuan Road, a popular commercial street, is especially favoured by the working classes.” He also highlights Shanghai’s specialist shopping areas and artistic handicrafts.

Chengdu, in Southwest China, is another city worth visiting for international students, notes Duff. On the foothills of the Tibetan Plateau, it is home to some great remote tourist destinations, not to mention the world’s largest panda conservation effort, he says, adding that the relative lack of foreigners makes it’s a great place to immerse in Chinese language and culture.

China hosts a range of fascinating cultural events that allow students to experience its traditional culture. In Guangzhou, Duff refers to a traditional Lion Dance, “It is a dance that imitates the movement of lions, moving the head up and down to show the lion’s roar following the rhythm of gongs and drums,” the Dragon Boat Festival (see box) and a Lantern Festival, in which “trying to win the brightness of moonlight on the fifth of the first lunar month, Chinese people light millions of lanterns and send them to the sky”, Duff explains.

Shanghai is host to a range of international festivals, notes Homfeld including celebrations of tea culture, fashion, film, art, music and fireworks to name but a few. Nonetheless, Homfeld explains, “Although Shanghai is a modern and developed city, many people are still living the traditional way of life, thus many traditional customs are preserved to show the fascination of Shanghai. To celebrate the customs, numerous festivals and plentiful exhibitions are held and have made profound influence in Shanghai people’s daily life.”

Wang, meanwhile, recommends the Junpo Festival – a folk event in honour of the national heroine Madam Xian (513-603), the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival in Hainan. Bruneel advises that there is great interest among their students in the range of Chinese culture extracurricular activities offered at Hutong School, with Chinese painting, Tai Chi and cooking classes among the most popular.

Indeed, regional cuisines are one of China’s exotic delights. “Famous all over China, Guangzhou offers a wide variety of Cantonese cuisine or Yue Cai delicacies. Actually, compared with other Chinese cuisines, Guangzhou dishes use less spicy dressings in order to keep the original taste of the food,” informs Duff, who recommends Cantonese dim sum, roast suckling pig, and Long Hu Dou or “Dragon fighting against the Tiger” – a stewed snake and wild cat dish. The fiery Sichuan cuisine of Chengdu, meanwhile, is at the other end of the spicy scale.

“For the food lovers, a trip to the seafood market and outdoor seafood restaurants at Sanya is an absolute must,” McDonagh enthuses about Hainan’s culinary pleasures. “Additionally, they can sample a range of unique dishes including Wenchang chicken, a spicy free-range chicken; Hele crab, steamed crab served with ginger and garlic; and Dongshan lamb, goat roasted in coconut milk.”

Agent viewpoint

“China’s emergence as a major economic, political, and cultural force has fuelled the interest in the Chinese language. Any business executive will attest to the power of speaking a counterpart’s language in any negotiation or partnership. As China becomes a larger and larger force, that colleague across the table will increasingly be a native Chinese speaker. By learning Mandarin in China, students are investing in an essential skill that will enable them to compete for high-paying jobs and thrive in today’s interconnected economy.” Advisor viewpoint Karen Ong, LanguageInternational, USA

“The students who to go to China to study Chinese language, are mostly interested in the complexity of the interestingly written Chinese with its so-called ‘Han characters’. Others go there because they want to have some basic knowledge for their business contacts since China has became very important in economic fields during the past few years. The most popular places in Beijing are the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China, but the students also like to do activities such as tai chi or tea ceremonies, or just enjoy the rich cuisine. In Shanghai students tend to visit the museums, temples or have a nice walk along the Huangpu River.”  
Advisor viewpoint Anja Fischer, Timpany, Spain

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