China Diaries 01: Here We Go – The Journey Begins

American International University- Bangladesh arranged a cultural exchange program to China in collaboration with the Hunan Universities of Humanities, Science & Technology.  On 24th October 2019, I, along with a team of 17 members guided by a mentor, attended the exchange program that took place in a city of Hunan province, called Loudi.

Last year, during the monsoon, I was badly looking for a getaway. I always used to keep an eye on the university’s website, looking for new programs and opportunities (Yes, that’s how I landed in Japan too). There I found this notice of an exchange program sending delegates to China, and straight away without further ado, I just applied.

If I think of the time when I got selected for the program, I can remember how excited I was. I kept imagining how the trip would go, making my own to-do list, watching travel vlogs on Youtube, and so on. However, all the excitement didn’t last too long as soon as the visa processing started. The entire processing was so rigorous that at some point, I had a feeling that this program would not take place due to all the haphazard in the paper processing.

Meanwhile, the trip was shifted to a later date as we couldn’t prepare every necessary document required for obtaining a visa that is solely given to exchange program participants. More days passed, and eventually, with some help of foreign ministry, we managed to get our passports in hand with the long-awaited visa sticker attached to it, that too after visiting the embassy several times. I could keep writing the stories that went behind getting the permits, it would take an entire blog post – but the idea is not to bore you with just frustrations.

Although we were so distressed about the schedule changed to alternative dates, it came as a blessing to us as we were able to book tickets earlier at an economical price (great relief!). Delegates had to bear the airfare and the food costs – better to have foods of your choice while you’re in China; the host university covered the rest of the expenses. Now the wait is for the departure. Our initial destination was Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. We decided that we’ll fly to Guangzhou first and take a high-speed train directly to Changsha afterward.

As planned, we started our journey on 23rd October, gathered in the airport, and checked in altogether. The moment made me nostalgic as it reminded me of the Japan trip. It more felt like time’s repeating – our parents came all together, we were doing all the check-in formalities while they were talking to each other. Some of them seemed anxious, even though it was all a friendly family meet-up at the airport, something that I enjoyed thoroughly. In every group, you will find someone who will be late all the time, and we were no exception. One of our friends was late as usual, who joined us at the very last moment. 

Time to say goodbye now! We thus bid farewell to all of our parents, completed the immigration, and boarded for the departure. I always enjoy flying a lot, yet this flight was different from others. At the time we were about to board, one of the flight captains came in and told us that we are going to get eight business class seats (got lucky!); credit goes to one of our delegates whose reference came handy in getting those seats. We happily grabbed the opportunity; however, the hospitality wasn’t just limited to offering us premium seats.

The captain called every one of us one by one inside the cockpit and demonstrated us a few of the flight equipment. As someone who is very enthusiastic about aviation, I had a brief friendly chat with the captain. While we were flying over Kunming, he explained to me how planes follow navigation waypoints in the air, how much they depend on the autopilot, how much time it takes to cross the Bangladesh border (15~16 mins).

Usually, it takes around 3.5 hours to reach Guangzhou. Despite that, it didn’t feel tedious at all during the entire flight time as we keep gossiping with the cabin-crews and the other delegates (among them many are my closest friends). Soon we reached the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport with a fear of facing immigration as we had a different visa type – but yeah, we conquered immigration too. Finally, we made it to China!

If you are a first-timer in China, be very prepared to fight the great firewall. Take photos and instantly post it to Facebook and Instagram? In China, you won’t have that luxury. Most of the social media that people regularly use, like Facebook, Instagram, and all the Google Services, are blocked in China. They have developed their own social media platforms like WeChat, Sina Weibo, and QQ. Nevertheless, you can still use them if you have an excellent working VPN app. I have tried different VPNs and let me assure you that not every VPN will work for you. One of my cousins who live there suggested me to use LadderVPN, which worked pretty fine for me. Regardless of all this, you’ll start loving this country as you begin exploring.

This article is the first part of the China Series, covering people, food, culture, and experiences from the 18 days trip. In the next blog post, I will be sharing the journey from Guangzhou towards Changsha and thereafter.

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