A brief introduction of Suzhou

As you may or may not know, I use to live in Suzhou as I was studying in Soochow University when I first came to China in 2011 (check this page for info related to studies in Suzhou). Often referred as the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou is a beautiful city just 40 minutes away from Shanghai by train. Here is a brief intro of this gorgeous city, hope it will make you want to visit it.

 

Suzhou is the second largest city in Jiangsu Province with a population of over 10 million. Wu culture originated here with Suzhou’s establishment dating back to 514 BC. After the completion of the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in 618 AD, Suzhou became situated on an important trade route. From 1130 to 1937, Suzhou experienced many invasions and takeovers. Suzhou is now known for its beautiful gardens and silk.

Where is it?

Suzhou is in the Eastern part of China in the Yangtze River Delta. Suzhou is situated on and around a number of lakes, the largest being Lake Tai, Yangcheng Lake, and Chenghu Lake. It is located about 100 km from Shanghai and 200 km from Nanjing. Suzhou has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons: a damp and cold winter, hot and humid summer, and a dry and fair autumn and spring. The weather is comparable to southern states in the US like Georgia or Alabama.

How to get there?

Suzhou is a popular tourist destination creating the need for accessible transportation. Suzhou has two railway stations: Suzhou Railway Station and Suzhou North Railway Station. Both stations offer high speed trains to a number of cities, including a 25 minute trip to Shanghai and an approximately two hour trip to Nanjing. For air travel, Suzhou is served by the Sunan Shuofang Airport, Hongqiao International Airport, and Pudong International Airport. None of the airports are directly situated in Suzhou; Sunan Shuofang Airport is in between Suzhou and Wuxi while Hongqiao and Pudong International Airports are in Shanghai. Both Hongqiao and Sunan Shuofang offer primarily domestic flights, while many international flights are offered at Pudong Airport.

Introducing “The Northern Capital” Beijing

In today’s post, I will introduce Beijing, China’s capital and a city with one of the richest history in world. I have traveled five or six time in Beijing and I think it is the most interesting city in China, due to its heritage.

A museum in Beijing

History

Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China and is the second most populous city in China, behind Shanghai. It is the country’s political, cultural, and educational centre. It is the last of the four great ancient capitals of China – Nanjing, Luoyang, and Chang’an (Xi’an) – and has been the political centre of the country for most of the last 800 years.

Location and Climate

The furthest north of China’s big cities, Beijing is surrounded by mountains which protect it from the encroaching desert steppes. The Great Wall of China also runs through the north of Beijing municipality which was built to prevent invasions from the north. In terms of latitude, Beijing is level with Turkey and Greece as well as Central American states. Beijing has a fairly dry, monsoon-influenced humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dwa), characterized by hot, humid summers because of the East Asian monsoon, and generally dry, windy,  cold, winters that reflect the effect of the huge Siberian anticyclone. Spring and autumn are usually short, but dry and hot.

Travel

Beijing’s Capital Int’l Airport is the second busiest airport in the world, with almost 90,000,000 passengers a year; it is only behind the Hartsfield-Jackson International Atlanta airport. It was recently renovated for the 2008 Olympics, with the newly built third terminal being one of the biggest terminals in the world. A second international airport, named Beijing Daxing International Airport, is currently under consturction in Daxing District, and is expected to be ready by 2017. From Beijing you can connect to any Chinese city with regular air passenger service. It takes just about two hours to fly to Shanghai, and just under three to Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Internationally, it takes 10 and a half hours to London, 14 hours to New York and 11 and a half hours to Sydney.

Things You Should Do and Should not Do in China

Chinese business card etiquette

 

Being a tourist can be amazing when you have understood about the custom of the country you have visited. There are many Asian countries you can visit and learn the culture. One of the oldest and most unique countries in Asia is China. Their culture is just amazing, and you should face it when you have come to China. You have to know the culture, language a little bit and tour guide if you don’t have any skill in speaking Chinese. The language barrier is something common, but when it has come to custom, you should understand first. Here are things you should not do and should do when you are in China.

Do’s

  • When you have met an older people, you have to greet them first because the oldest person should be greeted first as a symbol of high respect to the Chinese culture.
  • Tap twice the table when you are drinking a toast.
  • It is necessary to do a handshake because it has been a common thing in non-verbal greeting in China.
  • When you are wrapping gifts in China, use red packages or wrappers and avoid using white or black because it is a symbol of death.
  • Keep calm whenever something weird happens in front of your face.

Don’ts

  • Business cards are a very big deal in China. When someone is giving you his business card with both hands, you must take it using both hands in return.
  • Never spit into the bowl, and when you are going to spit using tissue, you should place it at plate and not your food bowl.
  • If you are offered a toast, you must drink with the person who is inviting you as a mark of respect
  • Never stick your chopsticks in your bowl of rice as it is highly associated with death and funeral.
  • Never open the gifts in front of the giver when you are receiving gift and wait until they take their leave.
  • When you come to Silk Road, you should not bring any non-halal foods to keep it respect.
  • If you meet old people, you have to ask permission first when you want to photograph them.

 

As you can see, the Chinese have their own beliefs and I highly recommend to get informed of what is considered respectful and disrespectful in China before traveling there, this may avoid you big misunderstanding and even trouble !

Have you ever experienced cultural differences that surprised you in China? If you want to share your experience, feel free to leave a comment!

Studying in China (Part 2)

As I mentioned in the first part of my previous post “Studying in China”, I’ve met a fair amount of Western students for whom living in China was nothing but a painful experience. Being homesick when you live thousands of kilometers from your country is not a surprise, but often it takes dramatic proportions. When I was studying in Nanjing, there was some sort of game to predict which foreign student will be the first to go home. It is sad when you think about it, as they had a great opportunity to get to know a new culture and open their mind to new ways of doing and thinking, but will only take bitter memories back home.

So think twice before coming to China!

First of all, don’t be misled by the apparent modernity of major cities such as Shanghai or Beijing. Most of the country is still very poor and rural, and people have a much lower level of education. Hygiene, food poisoning, lack of manners… be prepared to meet another world. Most Chinese don’t speak English so having good mandarin basis is essential in everyday life.

Learn Mandarin in China

I will write an article about learning mandarin and what is the best approach to master this language. Making Chinese friends is the best way to improve quickly because, without practice, you will be stuck on a basic level. It will help you better integrate in the Chinese society. Most foreigners don’t even try to learn Mandarin or make Chinese friends. They usually stay among their own people or at least among westerners.

I am not saying it is essential to avoid western people, but if you came to speak English with Americans or Europeans, maybe China is not the right destination. Don’t mix up travelling and studying one year in China. Even if you have many opportunities to travel while you are living there, you will still spend most of you time in the city you are studying in. A year in China is a long time! Those who are having a good time and enjoy living in China are those integrated and with a genuine interest in the country and Asian culture in general.

Conclusion

I may have been a bit negative in this post, but my intention is really to warn potential students and spare them from what is happening too often in China: disappointment and bad memories.

If you feel this is a challenge for you, don’t hesitate and go! Learn to speak Chinese, make friends, and explore another world! With motivation, we can overcome the culture shock and have incredible experiences.

Studying in China (Part 1)

For my first post, I would like to talk about being a student in China, as it was my first experience with that wonderful country I fell in love with. The number of international students coming to China is increasing each year to the point where the Chinese government is aiming 500,000 students by 2020, compare to 265,000 in 2010.

The purpose of this article is to explain the implications of being an international student in China and how to make the most of your stay there. The views expressed in this post are solely based on my own experience.

Entrance gate of Beijing University
Entrance gate of Beijing University

Why going to China for studies?

There are a few different reasons to study in China:

– To experience another culture, live in a totally different environment. Many foreigners talk about “getting out of their comfort zone”, “challenge yourself” and simply become more open minded. China’s rich culture has a lot to offer to achieve this objective, whether you want to learn traditional arts such as calligraphy or to practice kung fu. More than just an academic background, studies are made to shape your thinking and immersing into another culture can definitely help this.

– As part of your professional project: China has been developing like no other country before for the past 15 years. Despite the recent economic crisis that has hit the country, China’s economy remains strong and work opportunities are still abundant for foreigners. Learning Chinese can, therefore, be a serious asset when doing business with China.

– To travel one of the largest and the most fascinating countries in the world. China has everything you can imag

ine regarding monuments and landscapes: from the world’s highest mountains in Tibet to the tropical beaches in Hainan along with ancient villages and the futuristic megalopolis of Shanghai. The country is home to more than 50 different ethnic groups with their own dialect, traditions and cuisine.

– China is very affordable. Most students are not rich and living in a country like China might allow them to live a life they couldn’t afford back in their home country. Food, accommodations, transportation… pretty much everything is cheap in China. Not cheaper, just CHEAP. You can easily have a meal for $2 to 3. A taxi starts at $1.5 in Shanghai, half this price in a second-tier city.

Terrace in guangxi province, china
A terrace along the river in Guangxi province, Southern China.

Be open minded and adaptable

Living in another country, especially one with a very different culture, is something that any young person should experience, providing that you are adaptable and flexible enough to embrace and enjoy this other culture. Facing a culture shock can only be beneficial as long as you have an open mind and a thirst for discovery. If you manage to overcome the language barrier and cultural differences, you will make the most of your stay in China and come home with a very rewarding experience that will be useful for the rest of your life.

It is important for me to insist on this point, as I have met quite a few students who didn’t manage to overcome this culture shock and did not have a great time in China. I will go into this a bit more in depth in next week’s post.