A Tranquil week in Nanjing, Hangzhou, Yantai

Guest Post by: Isabel Zhang, a Foster Senior studying Finance and Accounting. She went on a Foster Exchange at Peking University in Beijing, China for Fall Semester 2018. 

In Nanjing, my friend and I met up with my new friend whom I met in Shanghai earlier this year. While there were many places in Nanjing on my to-see list, such as 钟山林 (Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum), Nanjing Memorial, and Nanjing Museum, I was kept busy with 夫子庙 (Confucius Temple), 老门东(Old East Gate) and walking along the quaint ordinary streets. If you ever visit Nanjing, try their 桂花糕 (Osmanthus flower rice cake), often sold by street vendors.

After a day in Nanjing, we headed over to Hangzhou. There is a Chinese proverb: “上有天堂,下有蘇杭”, which approximately translates to: “Paradise in Heaven; Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth”. I can attest over and over again that this is true, but you must visit in person to fully soak in Hangzhou (& Suzhou). In particular, I was amazed by 西湖 (West Lake) where we took a small boat tour with strangers who quickly became friends. To most people, this is just a pretty lake—however there are many Chinese legends, including Madame White Snake, which learning makes exploring the area so much more fun. Despite the cold dreary weather that day, the hospitality of a particular small restaurant nearby, made the trip feel warm. At night, we walked along the edge of the lake, and caught the spectacular 10-minute public water and light show on the other side of西湖. The show was created by the world renowned Zhang Yimou.

Our last stop was Yantai, where I was lucky enough to have stayed with a local family and then explored the elusive rural farming areas of this city. The homes all have fascinating old architecture, and are well maintained and tidy. We also managed to find a small shop that sold traditional firecrackers which we lit afterwards! On top of all that, the snow falling softly covering everything in a powdery white, transported me into a storybook because it did not feel real that I was there to experience it all.

As Yantai is a coastal city, I tried many different seafood including sea cucumbers, “crawl-shrimp”, oysters, and jelly fish with cabbage salad. One of my favorite dishes was vegetarian though, including Chinese yam drizzled in a clear starchy sauce with dried osmanthus flowers. Yantai is also famous for its apples and strawberries. I am eternally grateful for my friend’s mother and grandpa for braving the heavy snow that morning to find strawberries for us to bring back to Beijing. That same morning of our flight, my friend’s father, a chef, woke up extra early to hand make chive & meat dumplings.

From my travels to the different cities in China, including Guilin and Shanghai, I have noticed that each has a unique vibe that you can feel – from the landscape, to the people, to the history and culture. Although my exchange has ended, I cannot wait to explore more of China in the near future.