We’re at the half way mark of our semester here in Beijing. With my legs burning and diaphragm expanding with each breath I take, I realize that I have finished half of the race…Now, there are a lot of emotions that are washing over me- and I’m sure my classmates as well- right now. I will continue using the metaphor of a race for you all to better imagine and, in fact, feel the same emotions I am.
So, I hear my coach say, “that’s it, you’re half way there!” And with those words, I take another breath and continue forward a little bit faster than before. I make improvements to my form as there is a break at the top of the next hill and the ground flattens out…
I stop the metaphor here because this is where we are at in our semester. A little over a week ago we were all feeling the weight of midterms bearing down on us and it seemed as if our Friday Chinese midterm would never arrive.
The weekend before, we went to the Great Wall, finally scratching that “China Must-do” off of our list. After scaling what must have been twenty flights of stairs we made it to the Great Wall to climb a few dozen more. There was something so surreal about being there atop such a symbol of Chinese culture and the society’s longevity. It was an invigorating encounter of old and new- the rustic stone wall and people from all over the world taking pictures of one of the world’s greatest wonders with iPhones and HD cameras.
So, fast forward to the week proceeding that experience and you find ten students whose enchantment with China is put to the side as frustrations with the language take its place. During mid-term week there were many times that I thought back on the past two months and wondered where they went. That week was surely a week of self-assessment and renewed perspective.
So, I survived the mid-term, in fact my “coach” said that I was doing really well, my fastest time yet! I’ve gone up one of the toughest hills in my race and I slow my pace a bit on the straight away, letting myself catch my breath: this was my past week on Spring break.
From after the test to last Thursday, four of my classmates and I go out and see as much of China as we possibly can, which ends up being three of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to: Yixing, Hangzhou, and Shanghai (in that order).
Yixing welcomed us on Saturday morning with clear sunny skies that provided a glorious background for our afternoon hike (which, must translate to “climbing stairs outdoors” in Chinese). We ate Xiaolonbao; we had massages; we went to see waterfalls and climbed a mountain in a bamboo garden; and, we rode bikes around a beautiful, star-covered lake…We did all of that in two days, packed up our stuff and left for Hangzhou Monday morning.
In Hangzhou, the first day was spent recuperating (all runners need to rest every now and then), but the second day we hit the streets using our newest favorite means of transportation: bikes. During our ride we rode alongside the banks of the famous West Lake and were awed by evidence of the cities wealth: two Ferrari dealerships (I couldn’t even tell you where the one in Atlanta is), a Rolls Royce dealership, a shopping center with brand names from Gucci to Lui Vatton- no Forever 21s in site in the center, and countless other places and things I had only heard about on TV.
That night we waited an hour and a half to eat at a restaurant called “Grandma’s Kitchen” (thanks to our Lonely Planet guidebook page 242). Boy o’ boy, was it worth the wait! (Yes, it was that good that it made my southern slang come out.) We had peanut ice cream, tofu and rice (of course!), succulent shrimp, pumpkin something or other, and a few more dishes…all were delicious and like nothing any of us had tasted before (Food in the Jiangsu province is sweeter than that of Beijing).
We tore ourselves away from the table full of empty dishes and prepared for our departure to Shanghai the next day.
Shanghai was the final city of my spring break before coming back to Beijing and it was well worth the wait. We got to Shanghai midafternoon and took the subway and then a taxi to our hotel (having learned just how faraway places could be- therefore expensive to get to- from our time in Hangzhou.) After finding our hotel and dropping of our stuff we went out to Shanghai’s famous Bund to explore and take pictures.
There were so many people from all over the world there! It was like being in a New York (expect a Chinese version). We were all so excited to see as many places as possible in this great city. We whipped out our maps, inspired by the other tourists around us using them, and found Shanghai’s Old Street, which was actually many street full of any type of store you could need and more! We tried their Xiaochi, deciding the Beijing’s were better (one point for Beijing!), and then found the “Grandma’s Kitchen” of Shanghai to grab dinner.
The next day we squeezed in People’s Park, where we saw all types of people doing their morning exercises and meetings, and the French Quarter, where we had a delicious lunch of Indian food (When in Rome…). Exhausted from a week full of traveling, I and one other classmate hoped upon our final high speed train to Beijing.
Being back in Beijing has been too fantastic. Leaving the city ignited my desire to explore the city more…there are so many places left to see and the time is winding down to see them.
Thus, my “coach” calls out to me again, “You got it! Keep going! Just pull your elbows in…” I’m half way there. It’s time for me to make some changes to my “form” and the way I’ve been running the race. With my teammates- classmates- beside me, I buckle down to have the most exciting semester of my life. I can look at this situation two ways: I’m halfway done or I have half to go. Personally, I like the last one, because that means that we have just as long as we’ve already been here to do even more that we’ve already done.
Beijing…we’re just beginning to see what the other has to offer!
Hello interested internet readers!
The events, memories, and experiences are growing exponentially by the day. Each day I experience something new, and there is something refreshing about a place where you can always discover something new (Mind you, the size of it is sometimes also be overwhelming). We have finally developed a pattern. Our days have a certain rhythm that we have become familiar with, but as familiar as the routine days are becoming, surprises are just as frequent. Allow me to elaborate:
We attend formal classes five days a week: Chinese for two hours in the morning and other elective courses in the afternoon. I hope that as you read this, your mind does not stray to the routine college classes where you can sleep in if you want to, you weigh out how many quizzes you can drop or time you can become “sick”, you can camouflage in a class full of students and day dream…no. It’s a natural mistake, as I also expected at least some of the routine college classes when I arrived here, but it has not been routine- organized and logical, yes- but not ordinary in the least. It is any scholar’s paradise: small classes, teachers at your disposal, and the freedom to think independently. This is what waits behind the mystical doors of Beijing.
The other weekend we went- by ditie, of course- to Tiananmen Square (天安门). The fantastic thing about China is how the past meets the present, or I guess, a better way to say it would be, the past is, in fact, still the present (or the present is still the past, you understand)- “古今并存”. We read about Tiananmen in out Beijing in the 21st Century class and it was interesting then but still just “history.” It was when we stepped inside of Tianmen that it all came together and the reality of the events hit.
Besides academia, there is also stardom in Beijing. Go anywhere, practically, and become famous instantly. At Tiananmen Square, after being there for no more than ten minutes, three men- one a paid photographer- walked up to me and asked to take a picture with me. I looked around awkwardly at first, but then agreed. I mean…this was my Beyoncé moment! The photographer took a few pictures, my friends took a few pictures, and I stood, awkwardly making the peace sign, in between two men that looked like just ordinary businessmen. After that, at least four other people came up asking for a picture of my classmates and I, either with them, or, as one old lady did, picture-after-picture directly in my face.
Later on in the day we took a stroll with our teacher, David Moser- who is “nearly a house name in China” (a Chinese person’s words not mine)- to have lunch in Qianmen. After lunch, we found my favorite street sweet… tanghulu! This is truly an underappreciated delicacy in the world! Perhaps I’ll bring it back to the states? At the least, anyone who hasn’t tried it and has a taste for the sweeter things of life MUST get a hold of this! It can be found on most street corners in China; just listen for someone calling it out or look for the sticks!
Carpe diem is true here. I wake up strangely early (I am not a morning person at all.) It may be because I have an awesome roommate? Or maybe the delicious zhou and baozi that await me in the Muslim cafeteria each morning? Or both?… Either way, I wake up early to grab a delicious breakfast with my roommate and study a little before Chinese class.
The roommates and people we are meeting here in China are the best. This past Sunday we went to “farm” and BBQed with our roommates. The morning started off slowly as we had to wait for people to get dressed (or wake up), but once it began, it was a blast from beginning to end! We rode- 14 students, hip-to-hip and one person on my lap- almost an hour to arrive at the BBQ place, where we found pool, ping pong, badminton, and plenty of food. The roommates began work on the grills and soon everyone was grilling food, passing it around for others to try their creation. It was the perfect picture of an international family reunion!
We have been asked by countless Chinese students to help them with their English. I love these opportunities! I am not only able to help someone else improve in an area where I am comparatively more proficient, but I make a new friend out of it and get a Chinese study buddy too. I think that this is important to do anywhere you go: interact with the locals, make friends, and engage in cultural and linguistic exchange!
Some of my classmates teach English to older people in and around Tuanjiehu on Fridays. That program has a brother-program on Sundays that I attended last Sunday…talk about a great time. For two hours we were able to talk and share stories with people of all ages. One five and a half year old girl told English stories in front of the group that would have put child-Omega to shame. An older guy named Bill kept conversation constantly moving and even acted out a meeting with a foreigner on the ditie for the rest of the participants. It was a fantastic time!
China is a fascinating place full of wonder and many discoveries. The city would be dull to me, however, if it wasn’t for the aforementioned people and events. My days have been full on much joy. Of course I feel homesick; I believe that this is especially true because so many things here I would love to share with my family, but my community helps me push through it. I am building a new family here in China that is unique to this program and place, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. This is only a little over a month and a few ditie rides in. I can’t even imagine what is in store at the next “stop”…
It has been a little over two weeks since we arrived in China (well, for some of us- like myself- a little over two weeks, since we came for the Chinese New Year, 春节, Chun Jie！) These past two weeks have been filled with more learning experiences than I had imagined for the entire semester (and, trust me, I’m a dreamer.)
On the first day I arrived in Beijing, February 13th, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s always difficult to let your preconceptions collide with reality; this time, however, it was (and still is) a thrilling experience!
My classmate Lauren, and I missed the bus to campus on the 13th and were instantly thrown into her “worst-case scenario,” but just as quickly as we realized we might have a problem, solutions were already there! We took the bus with the CET Intensive Chinese Language group, exchanging names and life stories, until we dropped them off at their campus and took the bus (the two of us and the driver in a 30+ person bus) to our campus.
Once we were dropped off, we thought we had encountered problem number two, as we couldn’t find our dorm or anyone who spoke English (making our tally of international adventures worthy of placing us in the ranks of Indiana Jones). However, after deciding that we and our 60+ pound bags weren’t up for a trek across Beijing, we decided to activate our Zhongwen (Chinese) brains and ask for help. It turned out we were right in front of the dorms! And thus, our time in Beijing began!
My time in Beijing has been similar to that first day: getting lost, asking for help, realizing I’m in the right place or that I’m heading in the wrong direction, and meeting someone new to top it off! Truthfully, I love getting lost now. I have tasted the world-renowned Peking Duck, prepared some of my own Chinese, home-style dumplings, taken many deep breaths of Beijing air, and I’m still loving life in Beijing! It is good to actually begin my academic semester. Before the program began, we all had similar stories about an awkward period of “waiting time,” during which we didn’t know whether we should begin studying early or catch up on rest. In these past two weeks, after beginning my studies and meeting my Chinese roommate, I feel as if 2013 has begun, and it is going to be quite a year!
Some of the highlights of Beijing, thus far, have been the people, the places, and yes, the food!
I am one of the very awesome group of similar-but-different students participating on the CET Chinese Studies and Internship program. Our group is the perfect size because it is small enough that I quickly learned everyone’s name, but large enough that I could have lunch with a different mix of people every day if I so desired (or I could have lunch with them all!)
We have gone to countless places! Last weekend we went and saw a fantastic Kung fu show, after which we went and had hot pot: both of which are some of China’s “must-do’s.” The Kung fu show had me leaning on my seat in excitement and close to tears at the beautiful music and scenes; while at the same time, my classmate leaned back in her chair in motherly fear for the people doing kung fu on stage. It was the perfect mix of action and storyline. The hot pot afterwards was a delicious blend of flavors and textures that perfectly topped off our night. The conversation was the best part. There is just something magical about being in a foreign city with people from so many different places and walks of life having a conversation about colloquial phrases (they don’t call it “study” abroad for nothing).
We have been to one of China’s many hutongs (alleys) where we found innumerable amounts of delectable food, humorous postcards, and our own kaizi (chopsticks)! We have been to a street fair where we enjoyed in the New Year’s decorations and, at the last moment, some delicious tang hulu (sugar coated apple on a stick). We have been to Olympic park, rode on countless buses and dities (subways), and been stared at for more than 16 days (our time here thus far). 北京 (my Chinese roommate) and I have been having a great time getting to know each other.
I can’t wait to see what more is in store!
Congratulations to the following winners of the Fall 2011 CET Chinese Studies Photo Contest! Good luck getting ready for spring semester and get ready to read the upcoming entries from our Spring 2012 bloggers! Happy New Year!