The 1st October is creeping up on us again but with lockdowns, quarantines and people leaving China, many of us won’t be travelling for the holiday like we used to. In light of this, our contributors have come together in remembering some of their past holidays.
Visiting China’s Ghost Town for National Holiday
A sort of challenge I set for myself when it came to National Holidays was finding a place with the fewest people possible. One year I googled those exact words and we ended up in Guizhou. In 2018, I decided the best place to go for National Hols was Inner Mongolia’s Ghost Town Ordos.
While in China, we would stay at any Howard Johnson if there was one in the city we were visiting. Ordos has a very glam HoJo with a nice pool and we loved our room. The only time during our entire stay in Ordos that reminded us we were actually in China though, was the breakfast buffet. It was packed to the brim with guests and plates were piled high.
The rest of the time we hardly encountered any people at all. The sea of skyscrapers around the hotel was completely abandoned. We walked for ages to the local sports stadium and through the city and barely saw 20 people. It definitely was a lovely change from the “People Mountain People Sea” of famous Chinese tourist destinations.
Something fascinating about Ordos: it is split in two. There is Dongsheng district, where our hotel was located further north. And then, a half an hour bus ride through no man’s land, there is the actual city centre.
We ended up going for a two-hour walk through the centre and along the Wulan Mulun River. Again, no people whatsoever. We ended our long trip with an ice hotpot, where they add the mutton to a pile of ice, which then melts to become the broth.
The must-visit for any shopper worth their salt are the Ordos outlets. The city is famed around China as THE place for cashmere. I purchased a beautiful, comfy sweater there for around 700 RMB, which I still wear now, 4 years later.
Finally, my food recommendation is to check out the Mongolian food chain 格日勒阿妈蒙餐 (Gerile’ama or as I tend to call it Gorilla Mama). They have my all-time favourite Mongolian cheese in pastry as well as their delicious yoghurt with honey.
In the end, I found Ordos a great choice for some quiet downtime, some fun shopping and some lovely food. I really recommend it.
Birthday Celebrations in Shanghai
When I used to live in Shanghai for graduate school, National Holiday quickly became a favorite of mine. The reason? I had an entire week off of school to celebrate my birthday if I wanted to. Some of my favorite memories in China were during Golden Week, karaoke with friends, lazing about and eating good food. My favorite of them all was my 25th birthday, celebrated in October 2018 with my second mom and her family.
I went over to my second mom’s home on my birthday after a night of partying. I rested most of the day and at night, they called me down to go out for dinner. I didn’t even have a moment to change out of my PJs! Which, is really silly if you see my pictures below. (I still have those PJs and bought them for the sole purpose because it made me laugh so hard.)
During the dinner, we were enjoying the food and they were having me guess riddles in order for me to get my presents. So fun! Her son asked me, “What is the smallest room in the world?”
(Can you guess it?)
Yes, it’s a mushroom!
Anyways, we were still eating and enjoying the food, then my second mom’s son decided to try the spicy food, which didn’t go so well. He’s Shanghainese and a large number of Shanghainese can’t tolerate spice. Chaos ensued, he ran out of our private dining room with his mom. The waitresses came in with my cake and candles at this moment. He comes back about 5 minutes later with his mom. I do not blame him for anything and cherish him to this day. It was an amazing birthday spent with people who absolutely love me and cherish me. Boy did I feel loved that day!!
Let me tell you, I hate eating cake (well, American cakes). But that cake I had was top notch, almost can remember the green tea and coconut taste together. Yum!!
Escaping the Crowds in Western Hunan
I am an avid traveler. I get itchy whenever I get even a long weekend and just stay home. Sometimes even weekends are a great excuse to escape somewhere close. Nevertheless, I have systematically avoided going anywhere in China during “Golden Week” other than J’s laojia (hometown) for the past six years. I cannot deal with the traffic, the inflated prices at tourist locations, and the crowds left and right.
In 2018, however, my father happened to be in China exactly around Chinese National Day, so there was no escaping being somewhere out and about during my most dreaded time of the year. We were going to be traveling, so it was a matter of picking where we wanted to be around that time.
We decided to visit Zhangjiajie, the famous location that inspired the Avatar films. We got there right in time before the crowds, a few days before the holiday. From there, instead of going to the very popular Fenghuang 凤凰 town, we found (I cannot remember how) a little town called Furongzhen 芙蓉镇 (it’s actually called Wangcun 王村 by locals, but they changed the name after a popular movie was filmed there). It’s also a tourist destination, but a less visited one because it’s not as easily accessible (it was a long and bumpy ride in a local mini-bus to get there). It turned out to be the perfect place to be!
We visited the “touristy” area in the center of the town, which required the purchase of an entrance ticket, but we also explored the surrounding village, which was just as beautiful. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to in China! And don’t even get me started on the food. Their 腊肠 lachang, preserved smoked sausages, and rice tofu are some of the most amazing things I have tried in this country of culinary experiences.
This trip taught me two things: First, Chinese people usually only visit famous spots and gather around the same areas, so if you avoid these and explore around them, you can escape the crowds. Second, Chinese crowds are usually found in places with airports or train stations, locations that are remote and not easily accessible are usually free of conglomerations.
And believe me, if it weren’t due to the current pandemic situation in China, I’d be traveling again this year!
‘People Mountain, People Sea’ in Tian’anmen Square
Though the National Day holiday is a prime time for travel, many choose to forgo the “planes, trains and automobiles” for some real rest and relaxation back at their apartment. There’s a good reason for that — the few courageous individuals who dare to visit the premier attractions in China will discover the true meaning of a classic Chinese idiom: 人山人海, or “people mountain, people sea”.
That was me a number of years ago, when my now husband Jun, who I was dating at the time, agreed to meet me in Beijing for a romantic rendezvous, filled with travel to all the top destinations — including Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City.
On Oct. 1, we found ourselves fighting our way through throngs of people clogging the streets, but even that didn’t prepare us for the crush of humanity awaiting us once we approached the square.
We were at the southern end of Tian’anmen Square, close to the tourist street before Qianmen, and before us we could only glimpse a great mass of people crammed so tightly into the square that everyone was marching forward shoulder to shoulder, with barely enough space to breathe. And if we wanted to reach the Forbidden City that day, we would have to squeeze in and move along with them at the same pace.
After we edged our way in, the crowd of people engulfed us, leaving no room to spare — not even for my butt not to be bumped by anonymous legs or groins behind me. We were all forced to get a little too close to strangers. It was, indeed, like surrendering your own identity to a huge “sea” or “mountain” of humanity and literally “going with the flow”. Soon, we just forgot that we were sandwiched between strangers and instead focused on how much farther we had to go to reach the Forbidden City.
Of course, we eventually slogged our way through to arrive at the gates of the city. But the experience has haunted me ever since, to the point that I think twice about travel during national holidays. And whenever I heard the phrase “people mountain, people sea”, I have Tian’anmen Square on my mind.
A Foodie Holiday
Like everyone else in this post, to me, the biggest factor for me deciding where to go for the National Day holiday is crowds. Where can I go for the most fun and least amount of crowds? In 2018 I had a simple answer: Taiwan. With my Taiwanese boyfriend as my tour guide.
Taiwan is well known for its food culture and night markets and I was eager to hit up some really unique places in Taipei. With a local as my guide, I figured we could bypass all the main tourist places and find the best foods in secret food stands and eateries tucked down small alleys. After all, it’s always best to travel a new place with a local.
But here’s the thing…my boyfriend is from Taizhong, a city over two hours away from Taipei. It turned out that not only did he not know know any local places, but he barely knew even the major tourist destinations, as he had only been to Taipei a few times, usually to visit relatives. He knew even less than I did.
So it was up to me, an American, to lead a Taiwanese around Taiwan. Luckily, Taiwan is bursting with amazing food at every corner so just wandering the streets, or going to famous sites, you are going to continually run into some of the most delicious mouth watering foods. So in between visiting museums, hiking mountains, and watching Taiwanese opera we ate our way around the city enjoying such foods as crispy Taiwanese sausages, baked dumplings cooked in an oil drum, deep friend potatoes drowned in cheese sauce, giant grilled shrimp smothered in garlic and my ultimate favorite cuo bing a giant bowl of shaved ice, covered in a sweet sauce with a variety of fruits, boba, and other treats sprinkled on top.
So while I never expected to be a tour guide to a Taiwanese person in Taiwan, it was still a memorable, and delicious holiday, one I am looking forward to repeating as soon as I can!