Written by Bryn O’hara, (College of the Holy Cross) Student Correspondent CET Beijing, Fall 2018
If you know me, you know I cannot start my day without a piping hot cup of coffee.
In a country known for its amazing tea selection, finding a decently priced cup of coffee in Beijing is not an easy task.
My friends and I started on our way to find the perfect coffee shop to study at for our upcoming test; we were headed to a local place one of our roommates had recommended. About 45 minutes of walking later, we still had not found the coffee shop we had set out for. We were tempted to head back to campus, but decided to take the opportunity to continue checking out the area of 五棵松. The area seemed relatively empty, with expansive parking lots and a couple fast food chains (KFC is HUGE here). However, in search of the nearest train station, just slightly below street level we found a hidden area brimming with life.
As we entered it felt like we were suddenly entering an entirely different world from where we came from. Our senses were completely overwhelmed from the live musicians on every corner, the video games being broadcasted on a huge electric screen high above us, the shiny and inviting luxury stores at every turn and the bars and restaurants that sent aromas of delicious noodles and pastries wafting through the air. We were surrounded by dancing neon lights, bold contemporary art statues, and even a giant slide to move from one level of the development to the next.
While I was immediately struck by the modern, and even, to an extent, Western feel of this new wonderland, there were elements that felt, to me, so distinctly and traditionally Chinese – whether it be the locals singing karaoke and dancing on the sidewalk, the delicious smell of hot pot, or the market full of Chinese goods, with everything from jade to tea leaves.
I am even writing to you now from my new favorite coffee shop, Holly’s Coffee, which I came across in this mysterious new world. I could not resist going back because I could not get this place out of my mind. Despite all the beauty and history to be seen in some of Beijing’s most historical and well known sites, I could not help but feel that this new place gave me a vibe that distinctly represented the Beijing of the past and the future.
Today in class I learned a Chinese idiom “古今并存”, which means to exist as old and new simultaneously. This idiom undeniably applies to Beijing, and even more so to this wonderful new location I found. Part of the beauty of Beijing, and why it is so attractive to me, is its constant evolution toward what is new, but also its adaption and celebration of what is old. It creates a truly original place that evokes a feeling I cannot liken to anything I have ever felt before. I love this new feeling of being in Beijing!
Looking back, I am so glad that my classmates and I did not just go straight back to campus that day, otherwise we may have never found this special place at五棵松. I think this experience really emphasizes why it is so important to be willing to explore the unfamiliar, as you never know what you will find or learn!