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A Journey Across Continents: The London to Yiwu Train

News and Travel Editor

Today marks the end of a historic 7,500 mile freight train journey from London, UK, to Yiwu, China. Carrying everything from pharmaceuticals to milk powder and soft drinks, it’s the first ever journey on this route and marks a significant moment for trading relations between the UK, Europe and China. But its not been without difficulty – the train has ventured through 9 countries, from freezing Russian wilderness to the mild climate of China’s eastern coast. This blog visits some of the highlights along its route and looks at why this train journey is so important.

This is the first ever direct cargo train carrying British goods from the UK to China. This may seem like a modern innovation, but the train is actually reviving the 2,000 year-old Silk Road, an ancient link between the east and west. As well as contributing to the recent Chinese initiative of the New Silk Road, transporting goods to China from the UK via freight train is twice as fast as transporting them by sea and the costs are tiny compared to transporting by air. This is a time and cost effective solution, not to mention it passes through 7,500 miles of glorious scenery.

Cosmopolitan Western Europe

After leaving London Gateway, the train passes through the bright lights of Western Europe, from Paris and Brussels to Duisberg and Warsaw. This sounds like a great opportunity for a whirlwind tour of Europe, aboard one of the most important freight trains in the world today.

The Freezing Russian Winter

Just as you’ve got used to the mild climate of western Europe, the train was fully immersed in the gloriously tropical  -40°C winters of the Russian wilderness. Beautiful it may be, there’s no doubt the train driver need their winter woolies.

The Plains of Kazakhstan and Xinjiang

Here, the journey becomes even more beautiful. The train has journeyed through thousands of miles of beautiful plains of grassland, mountains and deserts. Where do we sign up to be the driver again?

Yiwu: The Final Destination

After 7,500 miles, the train has travelled through virtually every landscape and climate imaginable, and has finally arrived in Yiwu, one of China’s manufacturing and international trading centres. We can expect the train to make many more trips over the next few years, with other Silk Road trains making the trip up to 500 times each year! Judging from the photos of highlights along the route, one thing is for certain: whoever gets the job of driving the train halfway across the world is the luckiest person in the world.

 

 

The Lifeblood of the Chinese People: The Grand Canal

News and Travel Editor

The Grand Canal is quite possibly one of the most impressive man-made constructions on earth. It’s 1,400 years old and throughout that time, not only has it been one of China’s most popular tourist attractions, but it continues to be the lifeblood for many of the people transporting precious goods from north to south.

grand canal old FREE

As a workplace

The ‘Canal People‘, also known as the ‘Chuanmin’ call the canal their home, staying on their barge for as many as 350 days of the year. One lady is reported to have given birth to two twins on her barge – understandable given she only has 15 days on dry land!  For her, the job is more about making memories than money from working on the canal.

Grand canal FREE

If farmers rely on the weather for a good harvest, then the canal people rely on economics. Although the chuanmin rarely have to worry about a lack of rainfall, they often have to keep track of the price of their goods. They transport anything from oil and coal to rice and other foods.
It’s a challenging and unpredictable way of life, but one that the chuanmin of the Grand Canal seem to cherish and thrive on.

As a tourist attraction

Do you see yourself as something of an athlete or sportsperson? If so, cycling along the Grand Canal might just be for you. Although the journey will most likely take a hefty 20-25 days, some of the sites you will encounter along the way will be second to none. It’s described as one of the best cycle routes in China, and the 1,700km journey should definitely be on your cycling bucket list (if you have one!)

Since 2014, the Grand Canal has been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Many canal people including Zhu Bingren, a co-writer of the proposal to UNESCO, wanted to determine the Canal’s place in history and to ensure future generations understood and looked after what has been one of China’s most important waterways. Today, the Grand Canal continues to be vital to the Chinese economy.

Join us at China Icons as we explore China’s waterways, including China’s Grand Canal, from a very special perspective. Our unique drone footage allows you to soar over some of the most impressive natural and man-made features in China. Experience the mighty roar of the Yangtze and the pure tranquillity of the Xun River at the Longsheng Rice Terraces.

 

Have you visited any of the other World Heritage Sites in China? Or do you plan on visiting the Grand Canal anytime soon? Let us know in the comments below!

Join us next week for celebrations as the first ever London-Yiwu train arrives at its destination after 18 day, 7,500 mile journey.

The Great Wall: How China has Become Hollywood’s New Destination

News and Travel Editor

The Great Wall is one of the most hyped films of the year, drawing a stellar international cast and will be released in the US and UK on Friday 17th February. It’s sure to pull in the audiences far and wide, but is it on your must-see-films list for 2017?

The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon (Bourne, The Martian), Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones), Jing Tian (Pacific Rim, Kong: Skull Island) and Andy Lau (As Tears Go By, A Moment of Romance), is China’s biggest Hollywood export to date. It’s already been released in China and will hit the big screens in the US & UK on the 17th of February. The film tells the story of mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) after they are captured by an elite army guarding the Great Wall, known as the Nameless Order. Garin and Tovar become entangled in the Order’s task of defeating the Taotie, beasts that rise from the Jade Mountain every 60 years to destroy humanity.

The film plays with the myth that The Great Wall was not intended for keeping out the Mongol invaders from the north, but was in fact needed to protect China from supernatural forces, in this case from the ravenous Taotie. In reality, the Wall did successfully repel invaders of all kinds for hundreds of years. But there are many legends surrounding the Great Wall, so who knows? Maybe that’s what we’re meant to think and the Taotie continue to attempt to destroy humanity every 60 years. I think I prefer the Mongols…

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The Chinese Empire by Thomas Allom; With the descriptions of manners, customs, architecture and industry of the Chinese people from the most remote times to the present day.

The Great Wall is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year and, predictably, was a massive hit at the Chinese box office. The film took $66 million in its opening weekend in December, making it 2016’s 4th biggest opening weekend in China. Only WarcraftCaptain America: Civil War, and Stephen Chow’s phenomenally successful The Mermaid. It’s also the first Hollywood blockbuster to be set entirely in China. China’s recent increase in box office takings comes against the backdrop of Jackie Chan receiving an Honorary Award at the Oscars. The future certainly looks bright for the film industry in China.

The Great Wall might have been the first Hollywood film to be completely set in China, but can you recognise any of the locations below from other international blockbusters?

We all know that Tom Cruise is famous for outlandish and dangerous stunts, climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai during Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but did you know Shanghai was also a location for one of these outrageous stunts? The Bank of China tower in Shanghai is now famous for the jaw-dropping role it played in Mission: Impossible III, when Tom Cruise used the building for a bungee jump!

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Image by hans-johnson. CC Attribution 2.0.

Looper, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, was also a tremendous hit in China. If you’re a major fan of the film like me, you’ll have spotted a futuristic Shanghai with the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower in the foreground.

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Image by Joshua Bermudez. CC Attribution 2.0.

Although not a Hollywood film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge hit in Western cinemas, taking $85 million in foreign box offices and was nominated for 10 oscars, winning 4. One of the most famous scenes in the film is set in Shunan’s Bamboo Forest, one of the largest bamboo forests in China, covering 120sq km.

 

Finally, Transformers: Age of Extinction was riddled with stunning Chinese scenery, including breath-taking aerials of Beijing where you can catch a glimpse of the Bird’s Nest Stadium and of course, the Great Wall. We also witness some of China’s more scenic wonders including the Natural Three Bridges, one of the most spectacular geological sites at Wulong Karst, before heading to Hong Kong for one of the final epic battle scenes.

wulong-karst

Are you looking forward to seeing The Great Wall or do you have any other must-see up and coming movies from China that we should talk about? Do you have any favourites set in China that we haven’t talked about in this blog? Let us know in the comments!

Harbin Ice Festival 2017: In Pictures

News and Travel Editor

The world famous Harbin Ice Festival is well underway in China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. We have been treated to some spectacular sights in the past and this year is no exception. Check out some of the stunning shots captured at this year’s festival so far.

This is the 33rd Harbin Ice Festival since its inception in 1963. At the start of every festival, an ice sculpture competition is held, showcasing some brilliant creations. Although the Harbin Ice Sculpture Competition is over for this year, the festival itself won’t finish until February 25th, so there’s still plenty of time to take in the sights across the 200 acre park.

Here are our favourite images so far of this year’s festival.

Fireworks erupt at the opening ceremony on January 5th.

Did you know that many of the blocks used for the sculptures were taken from Harbin’s Songhua River?

Did you double take just then? That’s right, some of the sculptures are actually designed into slides for the public. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm for this one…

Many of the sculptures are inspired by Chinese folk tales and global landmarks. with the Egyptian Sphynx making regular appearances.

The Harbin Snow Festival has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The festival attracted over 1 million visitors last year.

18 couples have so far braved the cold in Harbin to get married, but that’s not the most daring this to happen at the festival this year…

Swimming competitions take place in a pool cut out of the frozen Songhua River. Just looking at this makes me feel cold.

Next week, our very own Coco will be giving you some top tips on stocking up for your Chinese New Year celebrations as you get ready to welcome in the Year of the Rooster. We’ll also take a look at some of the myths and legends surrounding Chinese New Year, including what NOT to do if you’re given a red money envelope…

In The News This Month | September

News and Travel Editor

Time feels like it has flown by since my last news round up, and with good reason – it’s been a very busy month! From gold medals to grapes in space, there’s been a lot of big stories this September. Here’s my pick of the best stories to come out of China in the last month:

Jackie_Chan_by_Gage_Skidmore.jpgIt was announced this month that Chinese acting legend Jackie Chan is getting an honorary for his extraordinary achievements in film.

I have decided to reconsider my career choices after hearing that Chinese Team ‘Wings Gaming’ won millions of dollars playing a game called DOTA 2 at an e-sports tournament.  Who wants to join me for next year’s competition?

The G20 took place in Hangzhou. For everything you need to know about the city and the conference, have a look here!

 

Chinese taxi-hailing giant Didi announced a move towards bicycle sharing . (Psst did you know that the world’s biggest bike share scheme is in Hangzhou, China?!)

The world’s longest desert highway is now open in China’s Inner Mongolia

The world’s largest radio telescope entered its testing phase in Guizhoufast-thumbs-8

How far will you go for the perfect glass of red? China has begun sending vines into space on a quest for perfect wine

China dominated the Paralympic Games winning a total of 107 Golds and a staggering total of 783 medals!

September 15th marked the commencement of the Mid-Autumn Festival, traditionally celebrated with Mooncakes, family reunions and lanterns.

moon-cake-master

Curious to try first-class food in an airplane, without leaving the ground? You’ve got to visit Wuhan’s brand new airplane restaurant.

Yao Ming was inducted into the NBA Hall Of Fame with a little help from the only man tall enough, Shaq

In perhaps my favourite bit of news so far this year, it was announced this month that Pandas are no longer endangered in China.  I love Pandas, as you can probably tell from my previous posts, and fingers crossed they’ll be more furry friends for me to ‘aww’ at on the China Icons YouTube channel soon!

more gruel plz

This concludes another round up of in the news this month. Did you spot a great story I missed? Is there something you can’t wait for coming up in China in October? Let me know in the comments below!

 

In the news this month: August

News and Travel Editor

Welcome to China Icons ‘In the news this month: August’ edition! It’s been a busy month of national festivals, Olympic love stories and big news in tech.

Read on to enjoy this countdown of my favourite News Stories from China this month.

  1. In a story that made waves around the world, the two year battle between ride-sharing giants has come to a close as Uber has officially been acquired by Didi in China. Didi’s 87% market share proved too much for Uber to compete against.
  2. Great news for the scientific community in China, 40 Chinese scientific research institutions have been named in the world’s top 100.
  3.  China‘s famous  Transit Elevated Bus has finally taken its first test ride after sparking the internet’s interest through this video last may.

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    Photo: http://www.news.cn
  4. Goodnight, Jade Rabbit! China‘s Jade Rabbit Moon Rover has shut down for good after a record breaking 31 months exploring the Moon .

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    Jade Rabbit Moon Rover. Xinhua.
  5. Couples across China celebrated Chinese Valentine’s Day! , also known as Qixi festival💖 
  6. China secured another full house of medals in the Table Tennis at Rio 2016, securing the maximum amount available. (Want to meet China’s adorable ping pong protegys? Watch this)
  7. Chinese diver He Zi wins Olympic silver – then gets a proposal on the podium!

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    Proposal on the Podium at Rio
  8. China’s e-sports team Wings Gaming have been crowned the new Dota 2 world champions at The International 2016, beating Digital Chaos in the grand final to claim the prestige, the glory and an enormous prize of $9.1 million
  9. China has launched the world’s first quantum satellite into space in a bid to launch an era of hack-proof communication.
  10. World’s oldest woman Fu Suqing from Chengdu celebrated her 119th birthday on 22nd August🎂 
  11. The world’s longest and highest glass-bottomed bridge has opened in Zhangjiajie, Hunan Province . Don’t look down.

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    Photo: IJG JPEG Library
  12. Ghost Festival, or Hungry Ghost Festival, has been taking place across China and celebrating through the burning of paper money and other offerings. Want to find out how to survive it? Don’t say we didn’t warn you 👻Have we missed out your favourite story? Let us know in the comments below!
    See you next month for another roundup of China Icons news.

In the News this Month – July

News and Travel Editor

Every month, China Icons collates the most exciting and surprising news stories from China. So, what’s been happening in July?hot-air-ballooning-436442_1280

  • ‘Tap and Ride’ app Uber has unveiled plans to roll out hot air balloon and boat travel in China. These new services are part of ‘Uber+Travel’ and are released at a time of fierce competition with rival company Didi.
  • China surpassed the US to become the world leader in the mobile gaming market. Market research company App Annie suggest this is likely a result of a growth of multiplayer collaborative games.
    olympics
  • China is sending the largest overseas delegation over to the Olympics, with 416 athletes travelling to Rio  ( Pssst…Have you seen the ‪‎Team China outfits for ‪Rio 2016?)

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  • Drivers raced from approximately 6000km from Moscow to Bejing for the Silk Way Rally , where Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot DKR 2008) were crowed champions.
  • Loretta Yang , a ‪Chinese ‪‎Film star, left acting to pursue ancient art of liu li, also known as Chinese‪ glassmaking

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    Photo via Bored Panda
  • A Giant Statue of Guan Yu, the ancient Chinese ‘God of War’, has been completed in Hubei. The structure towers at 90ft tall and weighs over 1,320 tonnes.
  • China is heading to ‪‎Mars for 2020. Or, at least, that’s the plan – to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover – all in one mission. 
  • The world’s first ‪‎smart ‪‎car has arrived from ‪‎Alibaba in ‪‎China! It will be available from August, and allows the driver to automatically pay for fuel, parking, and tolls, and recommend vehicle settings and destinations for each individual occupant.
  • More football stars have joined the Chinese Super-league, including former Southampton player Pelle and Brazilian forward Hulk.

    Sichuan Pepper
    Photo via Shanghai-ist
  • Mr Suo from Chengdu won a chilli eating competition in Lijiang, Yunnan province, by eating 47 chilli peppers in 2 minutes. Why anyone chose to enter, we can only guess.
  • A skull has been discovered that scientists believe may have belonged to the revered Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. The skull was found inside an ancient shrine used for meditation, and inscriptions say it belonged to the Buddha himself.
  • Work has been completed on the world’s largest radio telescope in China! The 500m wide telescope took five years to build and consists of 4450 separate panels(To learn more about it, check out this video we made last year.)FAST Radio Telescope

What’s your favourite news story from July? Is there anything we missed off? Let us know in the comments below!