Friday, 13 April 2012

My Asian adventure in China

It seems just like yesterday that I applied to go on a journalism project to Guangzhou, China, with the University of Central Lancashire. The trip immediately caught my attention because China was a part of the world I had always longed to visit. Applying was simple; come up with an original story idea that you would pursue once there and highlight the journalistic skills you bring to the table. I'll admit, my pitch about cycling the streets to find unusual and quirky attractions was not as exciting as some of the story ideas that others came up with, which included exploring 'marriage parks' (where singletons wander in the hope of finding their soul mates) and profiling middle-eastern expats living in China. Nonetheless, I was one of the lucky 14 to be chosen for the 9-day trip.

The focus of the trip was to put our journalism skills and knowledge to use while working with a group of Chinese students, all of whom are studying international journalism at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, an affiliate of UCLan. We were sent out to different parts of Guangzhou, China's third largest city situated in the South East of the country, to cover various beats, from art exhibitions to transport updates and small community stories. The experience, for me, was like nothing I had ever done before.

Beijing Lu - busy pedestrian shopping district in Guangzhou
Photo by Shabana Adam
Being out of my comfort zone, in an up and coming mega-city and not being able to speak the native language, sounded like a daunting prospect at first. However, once we got out there I realised I couldn't have been more wrong. Guangzhou is a charming city with many different, yet appealing faces. Beijing Lu, the main pedestrian shopping district of the city bares an uncanny resemblance to London's Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square area with its bright neon light signs, huge TV screens and western department stores such as H&M and Converse.

Downtown is packed with restaurants, clubs, karaoke bars and western-style pubs whereas Zhujiang New Town, a district located north of the Pearl River, is a dizzying metropolis of landmark skyscrapers and impressive modern architecture, namely Guangzhou Opera House, Guangdong Museum and the tallest structure in China, the 590ft Canton Tower.

Entrance way to the Chen Clan Academy

Photo by Chuang Tian

History and tradition is still deeply ingrained in many areas of the city. Xiao Zhou Village is a haven for artists and poets to escape to with its narrow stone-laden alleyways and lazy canals and rivers, it provides a real insight into classic cantonese living. A visit to the small community of Yanyunxi in Yuexiu District or the Chen Clan Academy, now known as Guangdong Museum of Folk Art, will transport you back in time to Imperial China where you can really experience what life was like centuries ago during the Qing Dynasty.

Some of the highlights of the trip for me included covering a new photography exhibition at Guangzhou Opera House, interviewing a British expat on Shamian Island, a European-esque district on the edge of the Pearl River and a day off spent at Chimelong Paradise theme park. We also had the opportunity to visit Guangzhou News Centre and Guangzhou Daily Printing Museum.

Most of the memories I carry with me from the trip all involve the Chinese people. A gentle, hospitable and truly kind people, despite language barriers every person I met on the trip (and I'm sure I speak for my peers too) greeted us with a cheery smile, was always willing to go out of their way to help and make us feel comfortable and above all, was genuinely interested in getting to know us. It's the new friends we all made on the trip that I will miss the most.

I have always found solace in this inspiring travel quote: “Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.”  - Frank Herbert. After visiting a small corner of this fascinating country, I can solemnly say that China awoke the sleeper in me and many who I shared this experience with - for that I am forever grateful.

This is what some of my peers, who came on the trip, had to say:

"The trip to China has taught me a lot both culturally and professionally. I enjoyed working with the Chinese students and listening to their views on the industry, understanding their approach to chasing stories in the city and above all being able to experience their culture. The biggest challenge was the language but that made the experience all the more interesting. It’s a fascinating part of the world and a place I’m keen to explore further." 
Matthew Worthington, 21

"It was completely different to the journalism you learn in a classroom - actually getting out there and finding stories within a completely different culture was amazing. Everyone really got stuck in and it was great to see all the different stories at the end of it." 
Faye Grima, 19

"The Hotpot trip was the first time I've actually felt like a journalist in nearly two years of a journalism degree. Finding stories in a city that I don't know, in a language that I can't speak has been the most exciting journalism I've done." 
James Mellan, 20

"I think the chance to go to China on this journalism project was such a great opportunity for which I am really grateful. I feel that I have a lot more confidence in my news gathering abilities now; if I can manage in Guangzhou, I can cope anywhere!" 
 Hanna Breeze, 21

"It was a week that now it's finished I've realised was one that I will remember for a long time. The people who I went on the trip with were an amazing bunch and I met some brilliant people while I was out there. I also learnt that I can easily transfer my journalism skills to another country and culture which will come in handy in the future." 
Dominic Fleming, 21

Below: check out some of the photos from the trip.

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