Written by Victoria Spring (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill)
CET Intensive Chinese Language in Beijing program, Spring ’11
So we’re getting down to the end of the semester here in Beijing. My little countdown widget says there’s 20 days left until I get on a plane to head back to North Carolina. I can never decide how looking at that countdown makes me feel. On one hand, I do miss my family, and my own school — I miss my friends, and my home laboratory, and eating raw vegetables in my sandwiches. But I’ve come to realize that I’ve grown attached to Beijing. There were a lot of things I didn’t like about the city, but there were a lot of things I loved. And now that it’s almost time for me to pull myself free from this soil and fly back to the other side of the world, I find that I’ve latched on to China with several tiny little roots that simply do not want to let go.
How can I explain what it’s like, to realize that what you used to consider a strange and foreign street has become your neighborhood, your familiar territory? How can I really put into words the feeling you get when you look back at the first time you failed fantastically at trying to order dumplings, but today the servers not only know your name but your exact order and what topic you’re using for your weekend essay? One of my favorite little restaurants (if it can be called that — it’s really more of a tiny, hole-in-the-wall meat or vegetable pie place) closed down on Monday. Like, Sunday night I went there for my standard twice-a-day pie and soup, and when I showed up for breakfast, it was gone, along with the people I’d met who worked there and told me (very sweetly, of course) that my Chinese name sounded like that of a country bumpkin. I wasn’t expecting to have to miss it, or them, for another few weeks.
It inspired me to make a list. Things I’ll miss when I’m gone, things I won’t.
Things I Will Definitely NOT Miss About Beijing:
1) Everyone always seems so stressed, like if they don’t get from point A to point B in the next fifteen minutes they won’t get to punch in the numbers and the island world will explode.
2) People spitting in the street. And on your shoes.
3) When it comes to that, people pooping in the street. Well, children pooping. Well, preadolescents pooping. On the sidewalk, mother standing by with doggy bag on hand. Guess this is a frequent occurrence.
4) Pollution! I cough up gray things.
5) The relative isolation of our neighborhood from everything I want to do but don’t have time for when you factor in both homework and transport time.
Things I Definitely WILL Miss About Beijing:
1) Weiduomei bakery items. I live off these things. I’ve forgotten if their brownies do or do not taste at all like brownies in America, but whatever they are, they’re fantastic.
2) Beijing allergens are pretty. None of this nasty yellow slime caked up on your car. In Beijing, the stuff that makes your nose itch are these beautiful, white, snow-like flowers that drift down from the sky and get caught in your hair and make you feel like a wonderland princess with particularly bloodshot eyes.
3) Yes, Beijing is a city, but when they do nature they really do nature. Parks here are gorgeous. Peking University’s campus is an oasis of cherry blossoms and willow trees and calm lakewater. The most common bird is a beautiful blue-black creature with long tailfeathers, and one of them has a nest outside my window.
4) Where else can you pay fifty cents and get an entire meal?
5) Playing the sketchy subway eavesdropper game, in which you challenge yourself to see how much of the rapid-fire Chinese-language conversations you can actually understand.
6) Those flashes I get, sometimes, when I’m just walking down the street and randomly it hits me: I’m in China. I’m really IN CHINA. And then I keep wondering when I’m going to wake up, because this is far too fabulous to be real.
7) And, of course, all of the fantastic friends — both Chinese and American — I’ve made while I’ve been here.
So, first thing I should do is apologize for not blogging in a long time. I know, I know…. It is unforgivable, but I have some really good pictures! My birthday is also something that happened recently that was memorable. My roommate and I went to a shop where you can decorate your own cake! The final cake had a tree with fruit and my name on it!
Oh and speaking of getting around Hangzhou, one of my friends and I recently found ( from an advertisement) an international church to go to called the Hangzhou International Christian Fellowship. It was a pleasant surprise to find such an international community of people worshiping together here. The first time I went was on Easter Sunday and it was packed. There are people from all over Europe, Africa, and Asia who attend this service, I definitely recommend a stop by to anyone who is in Hangzhou and interested in the future. The inside of the building is a mix of Chinese and European, and the Service and people are a mix of everything. I was really happy to find a quite a vibrant community of francophones here as well. The people at this church are a very interesting and vibrant community, and I think one thing I very much will miss from Hangzhou is the church.
Now, a very important topic that I have neglected thus far, coffee places!!! Some of my friends and I have been on various coffee quests. We have also been using the local papers, the internet, and of course, my knowledgeable room-mate to try out Hangzhou’s coffee shops, and I would just like to say, Hangzhou has some pretty good ones.
One of my favorite one’s is called “Me too”, which is really spacey and used to be a factory. Another one that is really cool is modeled after the TV set of Friends, also called “Central Perk”. However, my favorite staple of coffee awesomeness here in Hangzhou is 85 degrees C. Cold 85 degrees coffee C, half the sugar, that’s where it’s at baby!
Also I think no celebration is complete without singing some Chinese karaoke!
This past week, has been utterly insane. I feel like I use that phrase to describe the majority of things that happen in this country, but it’s especially applicable to this week.
Naturally, since the weather has been beautiful, class work has picked up. And by picked up I mean that we’ve had work to do. I feel horrible complaining, because what seems like “so much work” here is just a typical week at home. Still, with the weather and attempting to cram in the last of our cultural experiences it seems like an exorbitant amount.
One of the highlights of this past week of craziness was our trip to the opera at the National Theatre. CET organized the event and purchased tickets, but we had to get ourselves there on time, quite a feat for my roomies and I. Thursday is my most busy class day, so I had about an hour and fifteen minutes in between class and when I had to be fully made up, in heels actually at the National Theatre. The Czechs seem to believe in punctuality and close the doors promptly at 7. It felt a bit like a grown up version of prom, except that showing up an hour late is not at all cool. Getting ready was simply a massive, rushed game of dress up, and let’s face it, this is one of those instances where I totally buy into gender roles. Apparently I’ve become the hair guru, which would make anyone who knew me at home laugh, but I did something with pretty much everyone’s hair. Molly is our resident make up expert and she did something involving an eyelash curler and we all ended up looking stunning, if I do say so myself. I honestly don’ know what I’m going to do when I go home and I only have one other person to borrow clothes and outfit expertise from. Living with two other girls, (the boys, but they don’t really count here) has been such a learning experience. So incredibly trying at times, but also so much fun, and I will miss them dearly.
Posted by Mark Lenhart, Director of CET Academic Programs
During CET’s recent “clean-up day,” we discovered a box of pictures from the last decade. Most of them are unlabeled and unidentifiable, and they’re not very interesting. But this one picture brings back lots of happy memories of a China trip I planned and led in June of 2008. Participants included study abroad professionals and CET staff. Not everything worked as planned– the rain cut our Bund visit short, for instance. But we had great conversations with our Chinese hosts, and we met some interesting strangers along the way, including these tourists. My colleagues soldiered on and finally left with a much better idea of the challenges and opportunities China presents American study abroad students.