Basking in Shaanxi Province's Cultural Beauty

2023-12-06 14:38:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter DENG DI
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Twenty people from 15 countries enjoyed an unforgettable cultural exchange trip in northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

During the “Hi, China” Trip, 20 foreigners living, working or studying in China visit the spectacular Hukou Waterfall in the Yellow River Hukou Waterfall Tourist Area in Shaanxi Province. Photo courtesy of Dan Sandoval

Before I came to China, I read a lot of books about it and learned about its ancient history and rich cultural heritage. But when I came here, everything I saw was far beyond my imagination. It was broader, more beautiful, and more culturally diverse. You must witness it personally to understand this country,” said Chantal De Baets, a staff member of the Belgian embassy in China, while taking a late summer walk on the Ming city wall in Xi’an, capital of northwest China’s Shaanxi Province.

The profound culture of Shaanxi Province deeply moved her, and she acknowledged that it could probably take a person a lifetime to understand the intricacies of the life around her. On this trip, De Baets and a group of friends were invited by China International Communication Company (CICC) to participate in the “Hi, China” Trip from September 8 to 13, visiting Shaanxi Province. The Ming city wall in Xi’an was one of their stops.

Twenty people from 15 countries visited cultural and scenic spots in the cities of Xi’an, Yan’an, and Shenmu of Shaanxi. They included staff of foreign embassies in China, a photographer from National Geographic, experts from Sino-foreign joint ventures, as well as international professors and students from Chinese universities.

During the trip, they learned about local cultural heritage, tasted local cuisine, experienced homestay accommodation, and saw the great landscape of Shaanxi firsthand. The colorful cultural and tourism exchange activities also helped the group build bridges between their own cultures and that of China.

In Shenmu, northern Shaanxi Province, international visitors visit the ancient city of Shenmu, which is the junction of Shaanxi Province, Shanxi Province, and Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photo courtesy of CICC

“People’s Lives Are Similar”

Dan Sandoval from the United States is De Baets' companion on this trip. Having come to live in China over 15 years ago, he lived in Chengdu for his first six years in China, Beijing for the next six, and now travels between Beijing and Shanghai.

“I really enjoyed this trip to Shaanxi. It’s truly incredible how you can just walk around and be surrounded by thousands of years of history. Anything from ancient residences to daily use tools from eras gone by can be seen. It’s a great place for exploring relics of a time so long ago,” said Sandoval.

Dan Sandoval is an international photographer who uses cameras to share the world with people in the hopes of inspiring them to go out and see the world for themselves. The photos he takes are used both domestically and internationally by clients such as National Geographic, Vogue, and Porsche.

Due to the nature of his work, he often finds himself on the road, both in China and abroad. In Sandoval’s view, traveling and living in different countries can provide people with a wealth of life lessons and experiences, one of which is that people, regardless of their nationalities or status, have more similarities than differences.

“The more countries you travel to, the more you will discover commonalities between people. No matter which country you come from, what different cultural backgrounds you have, whether you are poor or rich, people’s lives are similar: eating, making money, and living life. People are people,” said Sandoval. “Being in China is an enjoyable challenge. The language barriers and cultural differences have never stopped me from making friends, and it’s a great place to grow as a person. China is, in some ways, very convenient to live in, but also very challenging. It’s the combination of both of those things that has kept me here for so long.”

Although he had already traveled to Shaanxi many times before, this trip to Shaanxi took him to areas he had not previously explored, as well as showed him familiar locations with new perspectives. “I found it incredible that in some of these places you build an entire town to serve as the backbone for a theatrical performance. This is something that you can only do in China. The scale and immersion of something like this is quite unique.” As far as what he was most impressed by on this trip, Sandoval said, “Being a fan of musicals, The Sound of the Silk Road I watched in Xi’an was great. It really had that fun off-broadway feeling and some really catchy tunes. I’d happily watch it again.”

The Sound of the Silk Road is based on the protagonist’s experiences in Chang’an (today’s Xi’an). The Chang’an market, silk workshops, palaces, deserts, and other scenes are magnificent. In addition, through three-dimensional holographic projection, and naked eye 3D visual effects, the bustling scene of Chang’an City, the life of Chang'an people, the rich and colorful culture, the unique products, and the exciting and moving stories are all artistically presented on stage, which transported Sandoval back in time to the Silk Road.

“The performance was great. The actors and actresses were really good, and the story itself was cute and fun. I definitely recommend that you watch it if you have the chance,” he said.

Under the guidance of a staff, a tourist learns to play the guzheng, a traditional Chinese musical instrument, in the Silk Road Paradise in Xi’an City. Photo courtesy of CICC

An Unforgettable Journey for a Nature Enthusiast

Jana Henn, another member of the group, is a Sino-German joint venture employee. She came to China for the first time on May 29 this year. In her eyes, China is very advanced in digitalization and speed in development.

“The five months of living in China have been very novel to me. I needed to start learning from small things in daily life, such as how to take a taxi and how to order at a restaurant. Now I have fully adapted. Shopping, travel, and everything else can be done digitally, which is really convenient,” said Henn.

In Shenmu, in addition to visiting the historical attractions, Henn also visited numerous natural scenic spots. The beautiful natural scenery of Shenmu made a deep impression on her. “We crossed the mountains from Xi’an to Shenmu. The magnificent Yellow River and Hukou Waterfall were very impressive, while the Hongjiannao Scenic Area, located in the transitional zone between the Loess Plateau and the Inner Mongolian Plateau, as well as the vast grasslands, are breathtaking.”

The Hongjiannao Scenic Area in the desert is a national ecological protection base. There is a legend circulating here that in the year 54 BC during the Western Han Dynasty, the Han emperor agreed to the marriage of Wang Zhaojun, a pretty palace maid, to the ruler of the Huns. On her way to the west region, while passing by Shenmu, the homesick Zhaojun shed a stream of tears, which pooled to form the divine lake of Hongjiannao.

The beach, lake, islands, and birds combined together create a unique vista. Henn and her travel companions also experienced exciting off-road vehicle and motorbike rides, along with other outdoor activities.

She admitted that the entire journey was very relaxing and locals very hospitable. “I will never forget the meal I had at a Shenmu restaurant, where they [just] kept serving. Finally, the table was filled with many different dishes. Everyone laughed, took photos, and ate too much,” said Henn. At the final stop of the Shenmu tour, the group arrived at the Erlintu Grassland, an area featuring abundant water and grass, numerous cattle and sheep, sand willows and flowers – all interspersed with the green pastures. The pleasant climate and rural scenery left Henn with unforgettable memories.

Kate Katherina, a student from Bulgaria at the Beijing Film Academy, was also part of the tour. “By participating in this trip, I have made friends from various countries, which is a very valuable experience for me. We have visited many historical sites and learned about ancient Chinese history and culture. China has a vast territory, abundant resources, and profound culture, which fascinates me. I cherish opportunities like this,” said Katherina.

Heading the “Hi China” trip, CICC’s Zhang Jianping said that after the Shaanxi trip, they received positive feedback from both participants and followers of their social media accounts. Many international friends expressed their hope to have the opportunity to participate in future trips to further understand what China has to offer.

Zhang said that “helping the world to understand China, and helping China to understand the world” is their goal. In the future, they will carry out more such activities and invite more international friends to visit China. “By inviting them to immerse themselves in the different regional customs of China, people from different countries can learn about the history, culture, and life of various parts of China, experience and see the beauty of China, and then fall in love with this beautiful country,” said Zhang.

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