Situated on the loess plateau in northern Shaanxi with many cave dwellings from earlier times still visible on the slopes of surrounding mountains, Yan’an is a city which exudes a sense of history. All around the city are museums and memorials to the city’s 13 years as the communist capital, between 1935 and 1948; a time which has since become romanticized in countless films and books. At the same time 430 million tons of oil reserves have boosted the Yan’an economy and Baota district, (which is the main part of Yan’an), is full of trendy new developments, department stores and restaurants. This strong sense of the past in a rapidly changing city makes Yan’an a unique place to soak up the complexities and contradictions of modern China.
Yan’an Aston English School has almost 500 students and is staffed by about six Chinese Teachers (CTs) and two foreign staff. The atmosphere at the school is very collegiate.
The city of Yan’an barely manages to squeeze the bustling 190 000 people living in the city between the surrounding mountains. The city straddles the winding Yan river with multiple bridges joining the parts of the city situated on either side. The space constraints that the mountains impose on the city make it very walkable with most places you may want to go to being between 20 and 30 minutes away on foot. There are buses running throughout the city as well that charge ¥1 per passenger as well as taxis which start at ¥6 if you would rather not walk. The bus-stop outside the teachers apartment has five different buses, (the number 3, 6, 16, 21 and 28), that will take you to the bus-stop outside the school, which means that waiting times are very short. Most buses run between 6:30am and 9pm. Taxis will also add ¥2 to the cost of your trip after 10pm.
Note: The population of Yan’an comes to about 2.2 million, but the number living in Baota district, which is the main part of the city is only about 190 000.
The Wikipedia figure of 2.2 million includes all outlying areas.
Getting to the Train Station ̶ Bus no. 3 will take you to the train station from the apartment, or from the school and Bus no. 12 will take you from the school to the train station. The bus will stop at the long-distance train station from where you will have to walk approximately 100 meters to the train station.
Getting to the Airport ̶ Yan’an does have an airport with daily flights to Xian, Shanghai and Beijing. There are no buses to the airport, however, so you would have to take a taxi. The charge should be around ¥20. If you have an interest in travelling during your time in China, you will find that the transportation infrastructure makes this simple. Rail is, in most cases, the most cost-effective way to travel and there are daily rail trips directly to Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Ankang, Yulin and other places as well. The city is also plugged into the national highway system, if you would prefer to travel by bus; the Baotou to Maoming highway (North-to-South) runs through the city, as does the Qingdao to Lanzhou highway (East-to-West). There are also several other highways being planned including the Yellow Extension highway and the Yan’an to Yanchuan highway.
With its supercharged, oil-driven economy, Yan’an has a multitude of consumer brands and Western restaurants to cater to your whims. It is, however, more expensive than some of the bigger cities such as Xian.
Zhiping(治平) Supermarket, situated at the bottom of the building that the school is situated in, is perhaps the most convenient place to shop. Prices are reasonable for most goods and there is a rather wide range of foodstuffs, cleaning liquids, tupperware, cosmetics and other groceries. There are supermarkets with wider ranges and lower prices, but Zhiping Supermarket is close, clean and the lines at the checkout counter are usually very short. Furun (福润) Supermarket, just 200 meters away from the apartment, often has really good special offers and is worth checking out for those interested in a really good deal.
In a bid to attract many more Westerners as well as to satiate the local market, the municipal government has openly encouraged investments in Western fast-food and restaurant franchises. There are multiple KFCs, a Burger King, a Pizza Hut, a McDonalds, Dairy Queen and several Baskin Robbins. Although the KFC and McDonalds breakfasts are reasonably priced, even by Chinese standards, eating at Western restaurants usually comes at a premium.
The light industry market(轻工市场), a five minute walk from the school has all types of goods that one could possibly want at very low prices…if you are not opposed to bargaining. It has stationary, children’s toys and household appliances. There are a range of small vegetable markets all around the city.
Eat Street - There is a plethora of dinner choices at the local eat street which gets set up at about 7pm every night.
There is barbecued chicken, lamb, beef and pork available as well as the many different staples of Chinese food including egg fried rice, fried noodles, stinky tofu and several types of soup. For the more adventurous eaters, one can go further afield to find some of the local Yan’an delicacies, which include (驴肉盖饭)donkey meat and rice, green bean liangfen (凉粉) and (油糕)yellow cake, eaten at Spring Festival.
Principally known as the end-point of the Long March, Yan’an enjoys a reputation far in excess of its small size. This area, strategically situated on the border of Gansu, Ningxia and Shaanxi and totally surrounded by mountains was remote enough from central provincial authorities to make it the perfect destination for the communist troops and officials fleeing an untenable situation in the Jiangxi Soviet. The journey, lasting over 370 days and covering 6000 miles, (all on foot), has become a central heroic saga in the popular imagination and in official CCP histories. In 2008 the municipal government made the entrance fees to many of the old communist sites and museums free and this has resulted in a huge flow of (domestic) tourists to Yan’an, referred to locally as “Red Tourism”.
Note: Temperatures in Yan’an during the winter can get extremely cold, so it is important that you prepare some really warm clothes.
One of the best aspects of living and working in Yan’an is the clean, large apartment provided by the school, which comes with a broadband connection, a fully equipped large, clean kitchen and a television. The 120 square meter apartment is situated close to a supermarket, many restaurants and a bus-stop making it very convenient. The apartment is also heated, which is a real blessing in the cold, winter months.