沈阳 Shenyang, China 2017

Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning province, will always remain a special place in my mind. For the first time, I spent the Chinese new year with my very good friend and his family here. As a penny pinching PhD student, when I was thinking that I would be doomed to spend my 3 weeks’ holiday in Tsinghua Campus alone, my friend called me, invited me to spend the Spring Festival with his family in Shenyang, and 马上 (without making delay) bought tickets and reserved hotel online. Although I always told everyone that he soon became my the other best friend since we started our PhD, I decided this time that I should introduce him to my Chinese friends as my 老朋友! And indeed its a perfect fit given he walked me through many of his memory lanes like showing me the shortcut he used to take to his primary school, the middle school he used to attend, the 食堂 where he used to go with his then girl friend and the wife to be in future, and what not…even though it has been less than four years since we first met, we had wonderful time together talking about our PhD life, sharing personal life problems (mostly mine :p ), attending conferences together, debating IR theories (or learning from him :p ), and of course, mourning about our funding. So, because of his encouragement, Shenyang quite unexpectedly became the fourth provincial capital I got to visit since I came to China for the first time.

春节 or the Spring Festival is a significant Chinese event that any foreigner should experience at least once in their life. There is so much emotion, culture, and expectation wrapped around this new year celebration. I still remember, one of my past Chinese teachers in Changchun told me how this time of the year was like a period of hope, celebration, and pure happiness amidst the hardship her family had to go through. Its the time when people travel miles despite much discomfort of a crowded and chaotic train station, standing inside the train for hours if tickets are not available, and the list goes on. But rejoining family members, making 饺子and preparing food during the night for family guests, receiving 红包,and reconnecting with cousins, 阿姨,奶奶 and all types of family members you can think of are some examples of pure joy that make 春节 so special in the Chinese hearts. I was utterly excited and felt honoured to be able to witness it, absorb it, and participate in it. A heartfelt thank you to my friends 博闻 and 龙菲。

It was such a lovely opportunity to meet my friend’s mom, to have such a sweet experience to talk to his grandmother, and receive their unreserved love and care during my four days in Shenyang. And of course, I was happy to enjoy time with my friend and his wife, THE cutest couple I have met, period. I ate like a pig, learned to make 饺子,was moved by the thoughtfulness of my friend’s mom who prepared food that I would love to eat, and I felt the warmth of my own grandma when I met Bowen’s grandma, who made chicken wings for me and made sure I eat them more than any other dishes.

Shenyang is also a 不错 place for tourists minus the bitter cold in winter. It has rich history as it was once the capital of the early Qing dynasty. It has the Manchu’s imperial palace or Mukden Palace (故宫), which is a modest version of Beijing’s 故宫. Its a must visit place.

Then the tombs of the Qing emperors is a great place to check out. I visited the 北陵公园 where you can find the North Tomb. It was a sunny day with bitter cold of -20 degree celsius, and I braved to walk for one and half hour to see the beautiful scenic place.

Then there is also Zhang Xueliang‘s office and his grand mansion with mixed architecture. He was in reality a warlord, who has a very special place in the modern Chinese history as he fought against the Japanese invasion, helped forge an alliance between the Chinese communist party and the Koumingtan, and remained a hero of the Northeast despite the fact that he never returned to China.

Four days just flew by! Its time to say goodbye to a wonderful family and I hope to see them again, and perhaps go back to Shenyang in summer someday.