Seeing Asia.

On the 7th of January, it was time to say goodbye to our friends from college and set off on our travels. With 20 scholars, we were all over the place! Over the two months, there were scholars in Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Australia and various cities and villages in China. Some went home to see family, and some instead took the opportunity to see a little more of Asia.
Sorcha 5I started off my travels in Harbin, to see the Snow and Ice Festival, which was so incredible we had to go twice! I was lucky enough to have my sister and friends from home visit me, and it was so much fun to take them to see such a beautiful place. After staying in Tianjin for a few days, I went with my sister and Scott to travel around the Shandong Province, which is the province south of Tianjin. We visited Jinan and saw the BaoTu Hot Springs and the Thousand Buddha Mountain, we climbed Mount Tai, one of China’s most sacred mountains situated in Taian, visited the famous Librarie Avant-Garde in university city Nanjing, and we ended in Shanghai, where we celebrated Chinese New Year with Molly, Sophie and Maeve.Sorcha 1 I said goodbye to my sister and Scott and left with the others to travel South East Asia for a month. First stop was South Thailand- we spent five days island hopping and visited Phuket, Ko Phi Phi and Koh Lanta. Ko Phi Phi was an unexpected stopover, as we missed our ferry to Koh Lanta, but it was hardly a disaster to be stranded on a tropical island with no cars and a lively atmosphere! On both islands it is required to pay a ‘clean-up’ fee, which is only 20p and helps the islanders ensure the conservation of some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. We went on to Bangkok, the country’s capital. The Thai king died on the 13th of October 2016, which is something we were already aware of because of our friends at college- the entire country was in mourning, they told us, and people were very upset. This was very evident when we got to Thailand, and nowhere more than Bangkok. There were shrines to the king everywhere and black banners decorating the gates of schools and official buildings. When we visited the Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, there were two separate queues. One was for tourists and took a matter of minutes to get through. The second was for Thai citizens who had come to pay their respects to the king, who’s body had been laid to rest at the palace. Clad in black clothing, they waited 5 hours in blistering 35 degree temperatures and were there as part of family, school or friendship groups. It was impressive to see, but we did our best not to intrude! Sorcha 3
From Bangkok we went on to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This is the location of the largest religious grounds in the world, the Angkor Wat. We visited six different temples and had the full day to explore. You are free to roam around as you like, and climb up and down various temples. It was most definitely one of the most incredible places I have ever been. We then went on to Phnom Penh and explored Cambodia’s capital. It was here that we visited the killing fields. The atrocities that took place there are unspeakable- we learnt a lot and have even more respect for the Cambodian people, who were some of the nicest we met and who have suffered a lot in relatively recent years. Before going to Vietnam, we sought out the south again and went to Kampot, a tranquil little village on a river. Our best evening was spent doing a boat cruise, which included swimming, watching the sunset and looking for fireflies!
Sorcha 4
Next stop was Vietnam, and we took a 10 hour bus to Ho Chi Minh City. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds! In Ho Chi Minh we went to visit the Cu Chi Tunnels, which were underground routes created by the Vietnamese in the war with America. The Vietnamese employed ingenious methods to win the war; for example, they used to turn the soles on their shoes the wrong way around when it rained to give the Americans the impression that they had travelled in the opposite direction. We visited the War Museum (yes, the one in the Top Gear episode) which also taught us so much. From there it was on to Da Nang and Hoi An, which were costal/riverside towns. Hoi An has an ancient village and you can visit the homes of vietnamese residents, as well as going into any of the local restaurants to try some of the traditional food which is famous for all the right reasons! From Hoi An, we travelled to Halong Bay which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We went spent the day on a boat here, and had lunch, went kayaking and swam to a secluded beach, as well as visiting a floating fish market. Top tip- don’t forget your towels and wear warm clothes. The boat doesn’t have spare, as we discovered the hard way! Next it was time for our last stop, and we spent 4 days in the capital Hanoi. Here we were lucky enough to meet up with one of our friends from college, who brought her friend and showed us around the city. Meeting Lan Phuong forced us to dust our Chinese brains off as our common language is Mandarin, not English! We spent the last few days seeing as much of Hanoi as we could, and enjoying the last few days of our adventure.
Sorcha 2
Meeting Lan Phuong eased us back into studying when we got back to Tianjin, because it had been a matter of days since speaking Chinese instead of a matter of weeks! Classes start on the 9th of March and we have an exciting new start, as we are transferring from our college to Tianjin Foreign Studies University where we live. As much fun as it was travelling South East Asia, it is nice to have clean socks and some form of routine again! That’s not to say I won’t go back; South East Asia was the best month of my life, and has made an already incredible year even better. Yeah.

Sorcha Kennedy

Recent travels

I can’t believe it’s been over 5 months since we first arrived in China! 5 months ago we all arrived a little shy with very limited mandarin skills and now as we prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year, the progress amongst all the scholars is outstanding. We are all able to hold a conversation in Chinese which to me is incredible as personally all I could say when I arrived was 你好(hello).

We have all grown up so much in the past 5 months as we have had to learn to do things on our own and fend for ourselves! We have learned what is important and what is not in daily life – for example, ironing is not important but waking up at 3:45am to watch the football games are a must! In Scotland my mum basically packed my school bag for me, and now I’m buying my own toilet roll, preparing my own meals and looking after myself (which is something I can’t say I did before).

The majority of the travels have started with some of us returning home and others travelling Asia! In the past month I have been to Harbin, a stunning ice city in the north of China and Japan, and I plan to spend the next month travelling to Shanghai, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. I’m so excited, and can’t wait for the adventures to begin.  I am also really looking forward to meeting our friends from college in their home countries.mmexport1485519893165We’ve had a few mishaps so far but nothing too major.  We booked the wrong train ticket to Harbin and had to buy new ones but I mean these things happen (sometimes). The extra ticket -and extra stress- was completely worth it, even though at times I felt I was going to lose my fingers from the cold in Harbin.mmexport1485519876486Japan went very smoothly, although we did board a few wrong trains and spoke in Chinese when we should have been trying Japanese.  We very much enjoyed our time there! We travelled from Tokyo to Hiroshima so we could see the Miyajima shrine and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.  We travelled from Hiroshima to Kyoto and we visited the Bamboo Forest and Iwatayama Monkey Park (where I felt most myself – I think I might have been a monkey in a past life). Then we travelled to Osaka and spent the day at Universal Studios, which was one of the highlights! Harry Potter world was incredible (I think I might also have been Ron Weasley in a past life). We, then, travelled back to Tokyo where we went to Disneyland which was probably my favourite as I am the biggest child to grace the earth.

The last 5 months have been the best of my life, and I cannot wait for the next 5 months! Happy Chinese New Year to all. 新年快乐🎆

Sophie

Christmas in China

There’s two weeks left until the Spring Festival break and we are all preparing for our finals before we all venture on our travels. December has been an exciting month as we had a surprise visit from Fhiona Fisher, Katie Hawkins and Fan Lin. We were given the opportunity to talk about our experience in China so far and showcase some of our Mandarin skills. We were also very grateful for the shortbread that they brought with them – it was nice to have a home comfort.

We also celebrated our first Christmas away from home and although Christmas isn’t widely celebrated in China, we all had lots of fun organising Secret Santa, decorating our rooms and watching lots of Christmas films. As different as Christmas was this year, it was definitely one to remember.

The time is fast approaching before we all set off on our travels. Many of us are travelling around Asia, some heading back to Scotland and some even heading down under. It’s scary to think that 4 months ago, the majority of us had very limited Mandarin and couldn’t imagine travelling around China but now we are all a lot more confident using our Mandarin skills and navigating ourselves around the public transport systems. We are excited to try new food and explore new areas of China.

I hope that everyone had a lovely Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!  圣诞节快乐! 新年快乐!

Ellise Bailey

The St Andrews Ball

It’s odd to think that we’ve all already been here for three months, some days it feels like we have only just gotten off the plane and on others it’s difficult to imagine a time when we weren’t living here. Three months in and it is amazing how all of the Chinese that we have been learning is really starting to click in our minds. Now we can actually use it to communicate in our daily lives. The point at which our skills in spoken Chinese goes from single word responses to full coherent sentences is has been such a nice change. (Even if some of us are still hopeless with tones!)

November was a particularly exciting month as we had the St Andrews ball to look forward to, and I can say that it definitely didn’t disappoint. We travelled to Beijing in groups of two to four – over here just travelling is quite an adventure! The train stations in China all seem to be huge and beautifully designed. Tianjin station is really amazing, even more so because it sits right next to the river and so is surrounded by historic, spectacularly designed bridges. The bullet train means that the journey between Tianjin and Beijing only takes about 35 minutes, but still lets you appreciate the amazing Chinese scenery that you are passing through. Once you’re in Beijing it’s really easy to find a taxi (or the subway if you are particularly adventurous/skint). After spreading out to our various hotels scattered across the city we got all dolled up and then met up in the Beijing World Centre Hotel. Despite it only being November the hotel had already broken out the Christmas decorations so the whole event seemed very festive. We had an amazing meal. After stuffing ourselves full of delicious food the ceilidh band started up and we all got to practice our traditional Scottish dancing, with varying levels of expertise. We all danced until late at night, or should I say early in the morning? Some of us even made it to the survivor’s breakfast. It really was an amazing opportunity and became a night that I’m sure all of us will remember for a long time to come. A truly great way to wrap up our 3rd month in China!

Katy Lumsden

 

3 months in Tianjin

Living in China has been a fantastic experience so far and will be in the future, though not even half way through our experience, we have all made fantastic progress in our Mandarin skill and as people. Though currently we do not feel our Mandarin is very good, when looking back over the 3 months, the progress is exponential.

During November most of the scholars travelled to Beijing to attend the St. Andrew’s Ball, sadly I was unable to attend, though still had a fantastic time in Tianjin. Apart from the St. Andrew’s Ball November has been a quiet month. By this time in our scholarship we are all confident enough going to the College and getting by in everyday life. All the scholars have arranged plans for the New Year holidays in January and February, so from now till then will be devoted to studying for our exams.

Since travelling to China last year as part of the Summer Bridge Camp, I have adored China, specifically Tianjin. I made a very life changing decision last year and decided to devote my time to returning to Tianjin, not only for studying, but for living. The scholarship offered by Strathclyde was the obvious next step in my dream of moving permanently to Tianjin, at the beginning of this scholarship I was worried that my experiences here may sway my decision, but after staying for 3 months I can say that my wish to move here has increased ten-fold. A plan is now in the works and I hope to return next year to study here for 4 years, this next step will hopefully open even more doors, allowing me to finally reach my goal of Chinese citizenship.

This is a great experience and I am extremely grateful to Strathclyde University. I wish everyone could have the chance to experience this country and specifically Tianjin. Good luck to everyone applying for next year’s and hope that I can be here to greet them.

Struan Laing

I can speak for us all now in that we have definitely all settled down into our amazing ‘China life ‘. It’s so crazy how even a little Chinese here goes a long way and demonstrates that the Chinese people will help us with whatever we need. For me, I love getting the express train to different suburbs of Tianjin/Beijing in order to meet up with the many amazing international friends I have met-confidence is key. It’s only November and we already all wish it was only our first day all over again. We may be at the other side of the world but we don’t even notice anymore thanks to this amazing country China that we all currently call home.

Ben Lomako

Learning to live in Tianjin

We’re a month in and now Tianjin is really starting to feel like a home away from home. We’ve had such a warm welcome here, and arriving just in time for mid autumn festival made it especially sentimental, as we were told this was a time for families to come together, and that how we are coming together in Tianjin as a family, which I thought was really sweet.

Living in the university is such an amazing experience; we are all already making lots of new friends from all over the globe, and for the most part, settling into our new home has been pretty easygoing. However, there have been a few things for us to get used to i.e. washing our clothes, cooking for ourselves and living life as independent adults in general. Luckily there are some really great places on / around campus (for example a lady down the street that sells burgers who has been given the title “burger lady” ???) and the staff here are always happy to help us if we ever need it.

We have all managed to get into a routine for school which is the main priority, setting our alarms for 6 in the morning and getting ready to catch the bus – surprisingly easy so far, but I don’t want to speak too soon. Speaking of buses, the traffic here is rather different to say the least; bikes, cars, buses, vans, people, from every angle, everywhere. I’m 99% certain that there is no known system for how the traffic here works, but there hasn’t seemed to be any accidents so far, so I’m just going to roll with it. Some scholars have been very brave and even purchased bikes (which are the equivalent to around £40, so quite the bargain) so if you think catching a bus at 7am is difficult, imagine cycling!

Getting up so early is definitely worth it though. Our school is so much fun and we are so lucky to have such patient and kind teachers. I am so happy in my class, and learning Chinese as well as taking part in cultural activities such as Chinese music and Kung Fu is so enjoyable; the long days are worth it, they fly by since we’re all having such a good time. I’d say even though my level of Mandarin isn’t particularly high at the moment, I’ve already managed to learn so much in the short time we’ve been here and my confidence is certainly growing.

Using the language in every day situations and being completely immersed in it is making things a lot easier. It can be frustrating at times, but it makes me even more determined to work harder. I can say it hasn’t been all work though; there have been several opportunities since arriving for us to explore and truly live like locals, from trying some pretty interesting street food and making our way around via public transport, to hanging out with friends old and new, and this is only the beginning. I really can’t wait to discover what more Tianjin has to offer us in the months ahead.

Tom Moffat

 

Settling in

So it’s almost been two weeks since we arrived in China and it almost feels like home is a distant memory. After a few tears at the airport, loosing then finding a passport in Amsterdam and a long flight we finally arrived in Tianjin safe and sound. It was a bit of a shock to our systems at first doing basic ‘parent jobs’ like feeding ourselves, tidying our room and doing shopping but as a team we manage really well.

Our first event was the ‘University of Strathclyde’s Alumni Event’ hosted in the Kerry Hotel in Beijing. Travelling to Beijing was an experience in itself as we had to figure out taxis, the bullet train and the general rush of Beijing. Afterwards we spent a night in a nice hostel and travelled back to our now home, Tianjin.

Although we were all extremely homesick at first, now having the routine of college and learning Chinese means we only have time to be excited and immerse in the culture. The highlights of Tianjin definitely have to be the kind people, our international friends and the nightlife. The only low is sometimes it is frustrating not being able to communicate in Chinese and be understood, however this only makes us all the more determined to study hard.

In summary, so far we all love Tianjin, enjoy the rich culture and can’t wait for what the next year has in store for us all.

Ben Lomako

kerry-hotel

Packing my bags for China

With less than two weeks to go Scholar Alasdair sent us his thoughts for the blog.

Wow, the time has flown since the interview process to now only having less than two weeks to go!  The whole experience has slowly built up into a ball of excitement and optimism to see what the Mandarin course has for the other students and me.  I’ve been packing my bags, trying to work out what to take but still to leave clothes for me to wear for my time left in Scotland – apart from that everything else has fallen into place.

Over the past couple of weeks, the realisation has set in, that excitement has grown and it’s finally set in with what is going on with the move to China for a freaking ten months, ten whole months!  The longest I’ve been away from home was for three weeks on a rugby tour in Canada – compared to China, their culture is completely different and this will be a new experience even though I have been to China twice last year (once with Strathclyde University Courses on the Immersion course and the other time on a school trip to Beijing/Xian and Shanghai) this has only wetted my appetite for more Chinese culture.

Finally the experience is being talked about amongst friends who are looking forward to hearing about what I’ll be up to when I’m away and my last big get-together with them before I leave plus two more rugby matches then China.

Alasdair Nisbet

Tianjin Scholar 2016-17

3 weeks and counting…

The next cohort of Tianjin Scholars are getting ready to leave for their year in China. Scholar Vishal wrote about how he was feeling for the blog.

It’s roughly 3 weeks until we depart for China, but it still hasn’t really sunk in yet. We’ll be living and studying Mandarin there for almost a whole year. I feel both excited and nervous. Excited, as I will be able to fully experience and embrace the Chinese culture. Nervous, as I will be away from my friends and family in Scotland for so long.

I feel that it will take me a while to fully adapt to the Chinese culture, as unlike the majority of the other scholars who completed the China Bridge camp last year, I completed it 3 years ago. So it has been a really long time since I have been exposed to this remarkably different culture. Overall, I’m really excited about actually being able to live and study in China for almost an entire year, especially because I know this is a very unique and valuable experience, one which I will be able to use for the rest of my life.

Vishal Dhanda

Tianjin Scholar 2016-17