Written by Bita Kavoosi, (Colorado College) Student Correspondent CET Beijing: Internship, Fall 2018
Something that’s surprised me about coming to China is how many friends I’ve made who are both not Chinese and not American. Since I live in the international student dorm and work at a small office, I have to really make efforts to meet new Chinese friends. While at the gym, I’ve made friends with a lot of fellow gym-goers and trainers which is great because they even like showing me around their favorite local spots in our free time. While I have a few Chinese friends through work and the gym, I’ve found that the bulk of my friends here are international students from all over the world, especially from various African countries. Most of those friends are from French-speaking African countries, which has really helped me practice my French, and given me lots of people to get advice from on where to visit when I go to their home countries. While traveling, I’ve met lots of Europeans which is fun because I love hearing about living in other parts of the world, and how easy/cheap it is for them to travel between countries in the region.
Over fall break, my friend and I went to Xi’an and Chengdu for a few days. We took an overnight train for about $30 USD to Xi’an where we met several new German friends. We ate the famous biangbiang noodles, walked the entire length of the City Wall (I recommend biking, not walking, it took us several hours), and took a boat tour of the City Wall.
We also went to the Terracotta Warriors which is a must if you’re in the area, Muslim Quarter for amazing and cheap street food, and to a Tang Dynasty show with 16 different kinds of dumplings! The show was beautiful and the dumplings tasted good, which really made that a memorable event. For our last morning in Xi’an, my friend and I woke up far too early (6:30 AM, which is early when on vacation) to take a calligraphy class at an art museum I insisted we see before we left in the afternoon. All of these experiences yielded pretty tickets, which look great in my scrapbook. While in Xi’an, I discovered that my interests closely mirror that of many older people; at the Tang Dynasty show, I didn’t see many people who seemed close to my age, and my friend and I were the only people under the age of 60 at our calligraphy class. At both events, I bonded with people over knitting and scrapbooking. I guess everyone I met has a youthful soul if we share the same interests.
After rushing back to the hostel to pack and check out, my friend and I stopped for a quick lunch on our way to the Xi’an train station where we had an afternoon bullet train to take to Chengdu. Trains in China are extremely convenient, and I didn’t realize they would be so comfortable and cheap before coming here. I used to think convenient traveling on trains and buses was a Europe thing, but I’ve realized how wrong my assumptions were before coming to China; food in China is very cheap, and travel between cities is very reasonably priced, which is definitely ideal for the student who wants to explore while on a budget. Since we were staying in Chengdu for less than 24 hours, some of which would be spent sleeping and travelling to the Chengdu airport to take our flight back to Beijing the following evening, my friend and I only had two goals to achieve while in Chengdu: See the pandas, eat hot pot. We accomplished both, like the goal-oriented, strong-willed women that we are!
We arrived in Chengdu around 8 PM, and asked the metro workers where we could get some good hot pot, which is what Chengdu is known for. They directed us to a metro stop that was on the way to our hostel’s metro stop, and said that there would be some options upon exiting the metro. They underexaggerated how many options there would be. Exiting the metro brought us onto a street with literally only hot pot and bubble tea, all of which were packed with people. After wandering the street for 10 minutes and feeling confused about where we should go, we decided that we couldn’t go wrong at any of the options, so we went into the one that seemed the least crowded. It was good, and the service was great. We came out smelling like hot pot, and headed to the hostel. We checked in, I showered, and we went to sleep.
We woke up early (7 AM; still too early) to go see the pandas. They were so cute, and the center wasn’t crowded at all until around 10 AM which meant unfettered panda viewing until the masses arrived. At the panda center, we met some German travelers who seemed to be everywhere we went, got amazing panda photos, bought panda stickers for the scrapbook (that one was just me actually), and met a Texan who invited us to meet up with him later in the afternoon so we could explore Chengdu together before our flight. That’s how we ended up going to the Chengdu science center, which has free tickets and is super fun for all ages so I highly recommend it, and taking photos with the giant statue of Mao Zedong in front of the People’s Park. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon.
After this excursion, we picked up our bags from our Texan friend’s room, and went to the underground mall next to the metro stop to get dinner before going to the airport. That’s where we met some Chengdu natives who were excited to practice their English and help us practice our Chinese. I have their WeChats now, and am learning so much just from messaging them. They use sentence structures I wouldn’t think to use, and new words that are actually useful to learn.
I’ve noticed that to become fluent (which I’m definitely not, by anybody’s standard), people need to learn more than what’s in the textbook and will be on the test.
Actually practicing with native speakers is critical to improving language skills exponentially, since they speak far more than fellow students who may be making the same mistakes as you or who just don’t have the full fluency of a native speaker. That’s why I’m happy to have made so many friends here, not just international students who help me practice my French, but also Chinese people of all ages who help me practice my Chinese and are excited to show me around their favorite spots.