As we welcome the Year of the Pig, many people enjoyed a long and relaxing Chinese New Year. Sometimes referred to as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is a significant event and is one of several Lunar New Years in Asia that is celebrated at the turn of the traditional Chinese calendar.

Different people celebrate Chinese New Year in their own way. Some will go back to visit families, some will relax at home, while others will go and travel. Two of UIC international faculty members decided to travel domestically within China, and they wrote about their adventures during the Chinese New Year.


Jenna Otto, DST Teaching Assistant

I'm Jenna Otto, a teaching assistant in the Division of Science and Technology (DST) statistics department, and this is my third year at UIC. I spent my winter holiday travelling in China. I visited Beijing, Harbin, Chongqing, and Guangzhou, all the while enjoying the company of my friends and eating lots of hot pot.

Jenna on the Great Wall lookin fly

Jenna at the Great Wall

The first leg of my journey began with a 20-hour train ride from Guangzhou to Beijing, as a way to save money on airfare. I was travelling with my friends Baou and Erica, who are both foreign interns in DST as well. We passed the time by playing cards, chatting, and sleeping—thankfully, we purchased 'hard sleeper' tickets.

After arriving in Beijing and a good night's sleep, we made our way to cultural spots in the city. We visited the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Forbidden City, and the Lama Temple. I visited these places while travelling by myself over three years ago, but it was better to come back with friends. Erica and Baou know a lot more about Chinese history, too; I was lucky that my friends could also be my tour guides.

Temple of Heaven selfie

(from Left) Erica, Jenna and Baou at the Temple of Heaven

Jenna at Lama Temple

Jenna at the Lama Temple

Along with seeing the cultural heritage of Beijing, we visited my friend Elizabeth, a former foreign intern in the Government and International Relations (GIR) programme. She helped us find good places to eat, let us meet her adorable puppy Lola, and we celebrated her birthday too.

Ellies birthday

Jenna celebrated her friend's birthday in Beijing

After a bittersweet goodbye with Elizabeth, the three of us continued to Harbin on another long train. This train was only 10 hours, but it was significantly less comfortable than the first because we had hard seats in a fully packed car. We eventually made it to Harbin and had a long, much-needed rest.

Harbin really was a winter wonderland. I'm from Minnesota, one of the snowiest states in the US, and I was stunned by the ice castles, ice sculptures, and the snow sculptures. Erica, Baou, and I had so much fun at Sun Island and Ice and Snow World riding ice bikes and sliding down slides made entirely of ice. Along with the ice and snow festivities, we visited the Old Synagogue Concert Hall to listen to a string quartet and Volga Manor, a cute and touristy Russian village located just outside of the city, where we did more sledging and eating.

Snow Island snow sculpture

Ice and Snow World pagodas at sunset

Ice and Snow World ice castle

Harbin's famous ice sculptures

While we made sure to eat Harbin sausage, tieguodun, and Korean barbecue, we also made sure to pay our respects at the Unit 731 museum, dedicated to the thousands of people who suffered the horrors of human experimentation during the Chinese People's War of Resistance against the Japanese Aggression in the 30s and 40s. At the end of the war, the US made agreements with the war criminals, giving them freedom in exchange for their data. The three of us, being from the US, reflected about the US's involvement and the gravity of these crimes compared with the lack of their representation in our home country.

Ice and Snow World cathedral dabbing lightened

Ice and Snow World ice castle lit up

Harbin's Ice and Snow World

Volga Manor art gallery and slide

Volga Manor

With a sobering finish to our journey together, Baou, Erica, and I headed back to Zhuhai. After spending one night in the airport and drinking some surprisingly wonderful KFC coffee, I made it home and began to prepare for my next journey, Chongqing.

English Language Centre (ELC) Foreign Intern, Thomas Hacker, joined me on this trip to Chongqing. We both met up with one of our friends, Brittany, the former foreign intern coordinator of ELC. Brittany studied abroad in Chongqing when she was a Year 3 student, so she showed us around Ciqikou, Hongyadong, and her old university.

Jenna and Thomas downtown Chongqing

Thomas and Jenna in Chongqing

Armed with big appetites, we explored Chongqing while eating delicious snacks and hot pot. While we didn't venture to the oldest hot springs in Chongqing, we did make sure to visit Ronghui hot springs for an entire day of relaxation. Thomas and I both tried “cupping” here: the Chinese traditional medicinal treatment where hot glass cups are put on the back for a few minutes and then removed.

Delicious snacks in Chongqing

Jenna trying the local delicacies in Chongqing

After relaxing with friends in Chongqing, I made one more stop in my winter travels. An old friend of mine lives in Guangzhou, and after unsuccessfully making plans to meet for months, we finally met up the weekend I got back from Chongqing. We went to a light show, ate dim sum, and visited a flower market. She is from Beijing, so we were both celebrating the Chinese New Year for the first time in Guangzhou together.

Guangzhou Haizhu flower market an entrance

Guangzhou Haizhu flower market stall

Jenna at the Guangzhou Haizhu flower market

After all these trips, I made sure to get plenty of rest at home, where I spent the rest of my break, sleeping, spending time with friends, and working on crafts.


Jacob Algrim, ELC Lecturer

I am from the United States and have been living in China for about four years; I’ve been working at UIC as an English Language Centre (ELC) Lecturer for over two years. I tend to do as many others do and take advantage of the Chinese New Year holiday by travelling. This year I went to Yunnan province with my friend, who is an ELC Foreign Intern, Matt Breeze.


(from left) Matt Breeze and Jacob Algrim

We had originally planned to go to Harbin and Mohe to experience the coldest weather China has to offer. Still, to our dismay, the train tickets from Guangzhou to Harbin were sold out as soon as they were available, and therefore we decided instead to venture to Yunnan. I had been to Yunnan once before, and it was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve had in China, so it was an easy destination to choose again.


Jacob loves the amazing sceneries in Yunnan

Our travel itinerary included three cities – Dali, Lijiang, and Kunming – as well as the must-see, Hutiaoxia (Tiger Leaping Gorge). We started our trip on the right foot with lots of hiking in Dali and cycling around the famous Erhai Lake. One highlight of Dali was that while cycling through a village, we happened onto a traditional funeral procession, the likes of which I had only seen in Chinese films. As the wail of the suona pierced the crisp Yunnan air, it was easy to feel the weight of mourning and loss. Another highlight was seeing beautiful pheasants and a red panda in the wild as we were hiking in Cangshan Park.


Jacob and his friend did a lot of hiking during the Chinese New Year

The plan for Lijiang was to reconnect with an old friend that I had made on my first trip. Although he is originally from Xi’an, he has become something of a Lijiang local and was able to show us the best nightlife in the ancient city. From Lijiang, it was easy to get a morning bus to Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the best views in China, where we hiked along the edges of cliffs and past beautiful waterfalls. We spent one night in a hostel just at the top of the gorge so that we had plenty of time to explore its depths, where the river rushes with such vehemence that every step along the trail is made with an extra bit of fear and caution.


Jacob saw a lot of sites on his trip

We only spent one day in Kunming, where we explored a couple of museums, saw Kunming’s ancient city, and enjoyed the buzz and grub of a huge night market near our hotel. While reading online reviews for one museum, I came across a comment praising their guqin exhibit. The comment was unfortunately misplaced, and I spent much of the day trying to figure out exactly which museum in the city had these instruments on display. After eventually giving up the search in a bit of a fluster and opting instead for a stroll through the ancient city, we came across a few guqins in a museum for the game “Go”. After gaining permission, I plucked out a song in the middle of this small museum and felt a bit better about it all.


Jacob playing the guqin

All in all, we had a great time exploring Yunnan over the holiday, and I would certainly go again.


Editors: Samuel Burgess, Deen He, Marissa Furney (MPRO)