Top 5 Memories, Middlebury School in China: Beijing

Written by Chris Vandiford, (Middlebury College) Student Correspondent Middlebury School in China: Beijing, Fall 2015

  1. The Modern Art District: Once an industrial center, the 798 District has been completely transformed into an interactive display of modern art. The abandoned factories of this district provided artists an affordable place to live with unlimited resources. Everything from the abandoned machinery, to the factory walls has been converted into a canvas, vehicles for artistic expression. I left that day with hundreds of new pictures and about a dozen handmade crafts I had bought from local artists and vendors.

798 Art District

  1. The Overnight Train To Luoyang: This is when the language pledge actually became fun! We took a class trip to the old capital of China in Luoyang, a twelve-hour train ride from Beijing. This was by far the longest train ride I have ever experienced. In order to accommodate as many passengers as possible the train is separated into small cabins, and when I say small I mean maybe five feet wide and five feet deep. Now, within each one of these elevator-sized cabins are six beds, three bunks side by side that go all the way to the ceiling. It was hilarious to try and watch anyone over 5’10 trying to squeeze into one of the small beds. However, we made the most of the trip, piling into one cabin to tell ghost stories (all in Chinese I might add), playing card games, and laughing the entire time as we used our second language to get to know each other. This showed us that the language pledge was not only possible, but also enjoyable.

Beijing Fall 2015_Overnight train to Luoyang_Christopher Vandiford_resized

  1. Hiking Hua Shan: During one of the holiday breaks a fellow classmate and I took a trip down south to the city XiAn. Just outside the city is one of the largest and steepest mountains in the country. I’m ashamed to admit that I took a ski lift to the top, but despite that minor detail it was a breathtaking hike! We packed lunches and ate at a pavilion outside a Buddhist temple at the top of the mountain. The air was filled with the aroma of incents burning at the various alters. On one hand I could overlook the mountain peaks, while on the other hand I could watch crowds of people lining up to worship outside the Buddhist temple. It was unreal!

Beijing Fall 2105_Hiking Hua Shan outside of Xi An_Christopher Vandiford_resized

  1. Buddhist Grotto In Luoyang: I had never seen anything like this before, thousand-year-old statues and temples hand carved out of a mountainside. I had studied the effects of Buddhism on Chinese culture and society, but was now able to witness tangible evidence of the devotion these people had to this religion and way of life. We spent hours wandering through cave after cave of detailed statues and designs, knowing that even the smallest detail must have taken years to complete.

2015 Fall-Buddhist Grotto in Luoyang_Christopher Vandiford_resized

  1. Watching The Sun Rise On Top Of The Great Wall: The Chinese have a phrase that says, “不到长城非好汉”, which means you’re not a man unless you have been to the Great Wall. Symbolically, it means overcoming challenges to reach your goals. However, my classmates and I took the translation literally as we proudly climbed to the top of the wall to watch the sun rise early one morning. The terrain was rugged, the climbs steep, and many parts of the ancient wall are now swallowed up in foliage. It took us a couple hours, forcing us to start our hike at around four in the morning to make it in time to see the sun rise. It was worth every minute. We made it to the top just as the sun was beginning to creep over the mountain ridge. We could see all of Beijing before us, and nothing but endless mountain ranges behind us. It was so still and quiet, the only audible sound being the gentle breeze rocking the trees back and forth. We broke the silence with a shout of victory and celebrated the start of our new life here in Beijing.

Fall 2015_Top of the Great Wall at sunset_Christopher Vandiford_resized