Hefei, capital of Anhui province, is a small Chinese city of 7 million, my home in China. Each year, I spend from 3 weeks to 3 months at USTC. The University of Science and Technology of China, one of China’s most prestigious universities, has played a major role in turning Hefei into an academic, research and industrial powerhouse. Hence, Hefei is not known as a tourist destination, but there are some highlights that make my time spent here really enjoyable.
My personal favorite highlight is the spectacular and serene KaiFu Si – a Buddhist temple set under the lip of a lovely green hill on the edge of the city. It is a lovely quiet spot to contemplate the good things in life and to appreciate the architectural and cultural details of an elaborate temple. Always I buy a little incense, bow three times in every direction, and thank all the gods there may be for my great good fortunes in life.
In China, temples – Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian – can be found in the center of all the action. In Hefei, the City God’s Temple – the Goashi Ancestral Temple – is set in a thriving market in the city center which clearly reflects the prosperity this deity brought to the city.
Walking the city center of Hefei is a my way of exploring the ancient temples and preserved courtyard homes that are mixed in with shops selling Gucci and Louis Vuitton bags, designer clothes, street food snacks, household and wedding necessities.
Window shopping is endlessly fascinating.
On a congested side street downtown, I discovered a famous dumpling shop on my first trip to Hefei. Each year, I am greeted like an old friend, and I stuff myself on my favorite Chinese food – steamed buns called “joudze.” DO NOT MISS THIS PLACE!!
Just down the street and around the corner is the huge Xioayoajin park. Hefei was essentially a city built within a natural moat – a chain of lakes with lovely walks and bridges, weeping willows and flowerbeds.
In this park, it takes time to explore all the beautiful galleries, bronze horses and art, architectural details, and then to relax by the wonderful 2-tier merry-go-round!
On the other end of the spectrum, the city is growing fast, and in the outskirts are home to beautiful modern malls and massive apartment complexes.
Hefei is a modern, quickly growing metropolis with world-class shopping. Whatever you want, you can buy it in Hefei. But parks are an integral part of development, and there are lots of green preserves, historical monuments, and fishing ponds scattered throughout.
When I can, I love to meander with a driver and friends. Hefei countryside is definitely another highlight – changing with the seasons and always beautifully cared-for.
I prefer to venture a little beyond to another highlight: the Sanhe Ancient River Town, always an interesting day trip to see what new ancient features have been added.
Sanhe is also the closest I find, in Hefei, to a functioning rural village. The people are exceptionally friendly and kind. The market is a tempting array of things – some of which I recognize.
A different kind of highlight is the street life of a second-tier working city where there are very few foreigners. It is easy and so interesting to just walk around and experience real China. I carry instructions to get me home, written in Chinese, for taxi drivers so that I can wander and people watch. I often peer into lanes and open doorways. Often I am beckoned inside for a visit – lots of smiles and handwaving.
The “wall art” – the logos, and propaganda and sales pitches – captures my imagination. I find Chinese logos to be very evocative.
My last highlight, naturally, is the beautiful USTC campus – a peaceful blend of lotus pools and science labs, tree-lined streets and bike congestion. A great number of retired professors still live on campus, they care for their grandchildren and parts of the campus feel like a daycare center! This year, a new coffee shop made the campus feel like Vancouver.
Located in the middle of the north-south axis of China, Hefei is my launch point for trains in all directions. Every weekend I am on a train – Shanghai is 3 hours, Beijing 6, Hangzhou 4, Xiamen 6. I am always happy to explore more of China and always happy to come home to Hefei.
Unlike the splendor that is Beijing or Shanghai, Hefei is working city. Each year, it changes but Hefei never disappoints.