International students find desert is an oasis of culture and fun

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Riding a camel in the desert at the Shapotou National Reserve in Northwest China, Bayan Albettar from Syria couldn't stop taking photos, including many selfies. "Although I used to see camels in my hometown, I've never ridden a camel before. This was my first time to really try it and it's so wonderful," she says.

The graduate student in business management at Ningxia University in Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region joined the two-day trip to Shapotou in the Zhongwei city of Ningxia along with over 60 international students from 26 countries, who are now studying in different universities in Ningxia.

After a lull in travel since March, due to sporadic resurgences in COVID-19 cases, the region is experiencing a surge in tourism.

According to the student tour organizer from the Ningxia regional education department, the trip gives the students an opportunity to experience desert culture and folk customs as well as participate in activities with local students.

"I was impressed by a dancing performance depicting a Tang Dynasty (618-907) banquet scene staged by students from the No 1 Senior High School of Zhongwei," says an Egyptian doctoral student of Ningxia University, who introduced himself as Mahmoud and Li Mu, his Chinese name.

During the exchange event, there was also a singing performance. Sometimes, Mahmoud was able to join in, singing the chorus of some of the Chinese songs with the locals.

During the trip, the international students visited a historical site, a cloud data center and a village, which gave them a glimpse of the rural development, the big data industry, and the local ecological protection results.

"The trip was very informative, and helped me to build a vivid cognition of the comprehensive development of the region," says Mahmoud.

He has been living in Ningxia for five years, and now speaks fluent Chinese, and he can even tell jokes to the locals.

"I watched the movie The Shaolin Temple when I was a kid. This was the beginning of my story with China," says Mahmoud, adding that the Chinese people he met in Egypt left him with a good impression and inspired him to travel to China to be closer to his dream of learning martial arts.

On the top of a sand dune, Mahmoud asked his friends to video him doing a cartwheel. After this, sitting on a board, he slid down the sand dune. He posted the pictures and videos on his WeChat moments.

Later on, standing on the bank of the meandering Yellow River, the international students recited the Chinese poem On Mission to the Frontier by the Chinese poet Wang Wei of the Tang Dynasty.

"This was not my first visit to Shapotou, but it was the first time I enjoyed the amazing views of the Yellow River and the vast desert with my schoolmates and teachers. I appreciate the trip and hope to travel together with them again," says the Egyptian.

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