Stories from the Field
Exploring Tangjiahe and Qingchuan
July 26, 2018
The very first thing we did upon arrival was eat! But this local restaurant was different than any place we had previously gone to—it was known for its ‘spicy hot pot’. Meals were given to customers in the form of raw meat and vegetables so we had to put the foods in the hot pot to be cooked. There were three tables at the restaurant: the spicy table, the mixed table, and the non-spicy table. It was one of the most entertaining dinners we’d ever had!
The next day was all about exploring downtown Chengdu. The scenery was incredible; clouds dotted right above the lush mountains, cliff-side waterfalls, and rapidly flowing rivers. Our adventures led us to a local bee farm where we got to get a close look at the employees tending to the bees. We even got a chance to purchase some of the honey!
That night, all of us went on a hike right by our lodge. The area was notorious for wildlife sightings and we were fortunate to see two fawns and a couple of frogs. Although, we didn’t have to go on a hike to see some animals—a monkey greeted us right outside of our window!
We had lots of fun!
July 26, 2018
Today, we visited the China Conservation and Research Centre for the Giant Panda in Wolong Town. Pandas are the focus of my On Assignment project so I couldn’t wait to visit these furry friends!
Once we arrived, we suited up, and split into our Anthropology and Photography groups, and helped clean the habitats. I had never been so excited to do manual labor—or to scoop some poop! My group ended up cleaning two habitats! Next, we gathered bamboo and then met the others at a sanctuary called “the Panda Kindergarten”—could there have been a cuter name for a home with baby pandas?
Soon enough, it was feeding time and we gave the pandas chunks of bamboo, carrots, and a special panda cake that we made out of soybeans, water, eggs, green beans, corn and rice!
During our own lunchtime, we watched a documentary put together by the Panda Centre and we learned about their goals and what efforts they supported to ensure Giant Pandas would be protected. The film also focused on Tao Tao, one of the pandas raised in captivity and later, successfully released into the wild.
Overall, it was an amazing day and everyone was in such high spirits. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience with the pandas and my friends.
The Unforgettable Memories in Dunhuang
July 24, 2018
One of the most memorable occasions for me was making our group music video. I was born and raised in Hong Kong and didn’t know much about American culture. We were able to tie Chinese and Western culture together by using an American song and performing it, implementing Chinese traditions.
My favorite destination so far has been the market, both at night and during the day. I loved seeing the juxtaposition between the day and night. During the day, you could see everyone settling in and getting ready for the effervescent, vivacious night ahead of them. At night, you could see the bustling, lively people enjoying the whole Dunhuang experience. Every time we returned, the locals recognized us and welcomed us with open arms. This gave me a sense of the loving community of Dunhuang.
The past two days we spent in the city were, I think, the most memorable experiences of my life. This trip has introduced me to amazing cultures and people, and has taught me some incredible things, and for that, I am forever grateful.
Being Part of History in Dunhuang
July 24, 2018
Imagine waking up 12 hours before everyone you know and exploring a place you could only dream of. Now, what if your imagination became a reality?
China is a place where dreams and reality combine. After camping out in the desert and off-roading through the sand, we took a few days to relax and explore other parts of the land!
We took time to slow down at a local museum and immersed ourselves with authentic Chinese culture. Our next adventure began at the Mogao Caves, commonly known as the Caves of a Thousand Buddhas. While there, we saw the second largest Buddha in the world, standing at 113 feet tall!
We wrapped up a wonderful evening with a traditional Chinese show at Dunhuang Grand Theater and learned some more history of the town.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t be more grateful to be able to experience the Chinese culture, interact with locals, and visit so many new places. It has been wonderful and I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Dunhuang: The Oasis Town on the Silk Road
July 23, 2018
I was sad to leave Beijing behind, but Dunhuang brought new adventures and places we felt so blessed to be a part of. Upon our arrival, we sat down to lunch and tried the local cuisine, much spicier than the food we had in Beijing. Ariel explained to us that Dunhuang is connected to the Silk Road, and for many years this area traded for the spices that were in the food we were eating.
That afternoon, we bussed further into the desert to Yatan Park. By the time we got there, a sandstorm had kicked up and was blowing all around us. We had to wear jackets and sunglasses to keep the sand out of our eyes, but that didn’t stop us from seeing the amazing rock formations in the park. Huge boulders of sandstone jutted out from the ground, and some formed shapes similar to lions and other animals. One of our guides told us the rocks were millions of years old and that they would stand for a million more.
The next day, we headed out early to beat the strong desert sun and rode camels at a park. In groups of five, we were lead up and around a sand dune on the backs of two-humped camels. I was surprised by how many camels there were—must have been at least five hundred. According to the locals, the camel riding business has became much more popular with the rise of tourism in Dunhuang.
That evening, we visited a night market to find dinner before traveling out into the desert to set up camp. As we walked around, store owners were calling out to us and setting up their booths. All of the restaurants served spicy dishes native to the region and it was all delicious.
We rode in jeeps out of the city and into the sandy dunes. When we arrived, we pitched tents and watched the sun slowly descend. The guides built a campfire and we danced the night away with them around it. Late at night, there were fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July and the birthday of someone in our group—Julia.
As I fell asleep, it was hard to imagine a time that I had ever been more at peace.
Mr. Chen’s Village and The Great Wall
July 23, 2018
We spent the past couple of days at the Chen household; a lovely elderly couple who had a house in the mountainous landscape near the Great Wall.
On the first day, we worked on our anthropology assignments and chatted up local people in a nearby village. The weather was perfect and our conversations with the locals made it all the more enjoyable. At one point, we came across a line of locals sitting in the shade of a large tree that a nearby sign declared to be a very old Elm.
Later that day, the whole group took a four-hour sunset hike on the Great Wall, and now I can truly understand why it’s considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
The following day, we bussed back to Beijing and prepared ourselves for an early flight to the deserts of Dunhuang. It was a bittersweet feeling leaving the Chen’s, but we were so grateful for the gracious family who doted on us and opened their lovely home to our large group.
The Beauty of China
July 23, 2018
I chose to come to China this summer to learn more about the country’s rich history and culture. I wanted to expand my perspective on the world by learning about what makes this region of the world different from one another, and I thought what better place to learn about this than China.
Day one in Beijing, the group and I settled into this beautiful Chinese hotel with traditional architectural style. That night, we had dinner at this really nice restaurant and they served Peking duck, something I was looking forward to trying. Ariel, our anthropology expert taught us about dining rules. She told us how sticking a chopstick in the center of rice is disrespectful because it is like a memorial ritual for the dead. She also told us that it was really important to eat every grain of rice because farming families work really hard to grow the crop. Something else we learned is the oldest person at the table gets served first by the youngest person.
The visit to the Temple of Heaven was absolutely magical. We got to do Tai Chi with the locals there, a yoga-like dancing focused on centering and balancing the mind and body. The locals usually meet every morning from 6:30 to 7:00. It was their way of socializing and it really gave us a beautiful sense of community and peace in that area.
For my anthropology On Assignment project, we had to observe the people of China and I noticed how many different people were gathered near the Temple of Heaven—there were groups of men playing cards together, laughing and shouting, and women in knitting groups. I also noticed groups of people exercising, and families.
Early morning hikes to the Great Wall to watch the sunrise were breathtaking. We also walked around to explore the little village surrounded by this beautiful and vast mountainous range.
I’ve enjoyed getting to meet and talk with the locals and ask them questions about the development in the area. A kind elderly woman invited us to her and her husband’s bee farm where she offered us the best honey I have ever tried in my life—I had to buy two jars to take home for my family to enjoy.
Our stay at this little house in the middle of this beautiful place has been so nice and this trip has been so worthwhile already. So far I’ve learned so much and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the most unique parts of China with the most amazing, dynamic group of people; connections that will last a lifetime. I can’t imagine it without them and I am so excited for what’s to come.
July 23, 2018
When I arrived in Beijing on Thursday afternoon with a brand new camera in hand, I expected to be the one taking pictures of the locals for my On Assignment project: a fashion show of the people of China. I quickly realized that the roles would be reversed, and it would be locals taking pictures of me instead.
As a girl with brown hair and brown eyes living in a predominantly Jewish suburb, no one has ever been fascinated enough with my appearance to make an effort to stealthily take photos of me, but in Beijing I’ve found that the people love to photograph me and those around me. Sometimes, people will even ask for a picture with us; the first time I was photographed, I thought it was a riot. The second time I was photographed, I thought it was a coincidence, but by the third time I had to stop and ask myself, what about this group of 15 teenagers is so captivating to the people of Beijing?
Ariel, our anthropology expert was quick to answer my question. While Beijing is entirely new to me, it was brought to my attention that it’s the only thing some people have seen, and that the border that separates Beijing and the rest of the China is often the stopping point of these peoples’ travels. Seeing someone who looks different for is extremely exciting for them.
We’re all beyond lucky to have found ourselves in such a beautiful, historically-rich city, and I hope as I continue my journey through China, I’m able to learn more about the culture through photography the way Beijing has taught me.
July 15, 2017
Arriving early on Saturday morning, the Mogao information center showed us a documentary and gave a virtual tour of the caves. Dunhuang, where we are staying, was once an oasis town that was part of the Silk Road. Roughly 30 minutes away by bus, the Mogao grottoes consist of 735 individual caves. We got to see eight of them, each from a different era, unique in their own way.
Our guide introduced himself as Michael and warned us that no photos were allowed to be taken inside the caves and that each had a time limit, so that we did not oxidize the paint even further.
The things that we enjoyed the most were the little details that Michael pointed out to us. He answered all of our questions about Buddhism, and explained how some caves have up to seven layers of decorated wall with colors that have changed throughout the ages. His stories were filled with interesting facts, giving not only his own opinions, but also those of the government and different historians.
Check out some of our photos from the caves!
Having a Blast in the Desert!
July 11, 2017
We are having a blast in the desert!
Robbie Shone, our National Geographic Expert, has joined us in Dunhuang and has been engaged in photo critique, interviews, and adding his own positive vibe to the group dynamic.
Dunhuang has been dry and hot, yet we have been enjoying the activities, culture, and scenery. Yesterday we camped out in the dunes above town and did a lot of activities. We watched the sun set and moon rise, rode camels, and did night photography.
Check out some photos from our adventures in the desert!
Exploring Tangiahe National Reserve
July 7, 2017
The Nat Geo China Expedition group is acclimating to the zip and buzz of Shanghai! We have started to break into our on-assignment groups in anthropology and photography.
With our leader, Colleen, the anthropology group visited Fuxing Park where the students interviewed local kite flyers and explored the shops and alleys of the Tianzifang Art District.
The photo group went to the Yu Yuan Market and Gardens to start taking portraits and To the Shanghai World Financial Center tower for sweeping views of the city.
On our next adventure, we encountered some…interesting weather in Tangiahe National Reserve! The water came down, drumming on the leaves and flooding roads. We persisted despite this minor setback and got to hike in the forests that house some of the last wild pandas. We got to meet bee keepers, went on a night hike looking for wild animals, and learned about flora and fauna from the park superintendent.
Panda-monium in Dujiangyan
July 6, 2017
After our long journey, we finally made it to Sichuan Province! In the early morning, we drove into the mountains and arrived at the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in Wolong. The weather was a pleasant change from Shanghai due to the drop in temperature and increase in wind. We were welcomed by the adventurous and exotic squat toilets that every student was enthralled to use. Then we suited up in our chunky, blue jumpsuits to meet the pandas.
Our first task was to assist in maintaining the cleanliness of the enclosures—specifically we picked up the bamboo and the “bampoo.” In our downtime, we were able to witness the cuteness of the nine-month-old pandas play king of the hill on their favorite tree.
From there, we watched a documentary about the conservation efforts for pandas and their goal to reintroduce pandas into the wild. After the 2008 earthquake, the area was severely impacted, which allowed the government to relocate farmers, turning the land back into a habitat for wild pandas. The center was rebuilt and new research was conducted on the best way to breed pandas and train them for the wild. Five out of the six pandas released into wild are thriving outside of the center. All of us are hopeful that the research center will continue to see much success in repopulating the wild pandas.
Our Adventure Begins in Shanghai
June 28, 2016
Welcome to the most populous city in the world! For the next couple of days we’ll be exploring all Shanghai has to offer: golden Buddhist temples, several of the world’s tallest buildings, tree-lined alleyways of the French Concession, and the wonderful cuisine of Shanghai, including soup dumplings!
The Edge of the Gobi
July 11, 2016
We’ve arrived in Dunhuang, the gateway to the Gobi Desert, and it feels like a fusion of America’s Wild West and China put together. Two thousand years ago Dunhuang was the border town between nomadic tribes and a recently unified China. Now it is a small, yet bustling town with history and night markets.
July 1, 2016
We’ve arrived in Sichuan Province! The views are gorgeous in Wolong, the location of the giant panda reserve.
China: From The Great Wall to Pandas
July 10, 2014
Students on our China expedition have been busy- traveling from Beijing, to the Great Wall, to the Wolong Panda Reserve. Below are some highlights, in the students words: