It’s hard to believe it’s already been two weeks, time has seemed to pass so quickly. It doesn’t seek like all that long ago since I landed in Beijing. The flight itself, however, seemed like it would never end. Fortunately, I was lucky to share a row with two kind Chinese people who every so often would start a conversation with me, which I think made the time pass a bit quicker. One of them even helped me read a page of a book she was reading. The conversations were mixed Chinese and English, so it was also good practice before I got on the ground in Beijing. After settling into the dorms, I and the other students had our first authentic Chinese dinner. That next morning I woke up at 4:00 AM, and continued to wake up early until I recovered from jet lag, which took a few days.
That first weekend we were given a tour of the campus and were introduced to our language partners, who all seemed friendly. Campus is beautiful (the northern half of campus could easily be mistaken for a park), complete with a lake (未名湖 lit. “nameless lake”), trails, and traditional Chinese architecture. The other half of campus is replete with school buildings, supermarkets, dining halls, and other shops. The dorm rooms are very good; they are larger than I expected, plenty of outlets that are compatible with American electronics, strong air conditioning (which is excellent because this city can get incredibly hot sometimes), and hot water. You share a common room and a bathroom with at least one other person, which for most of us was another Notre Dame student. These are both pictures of campus:
The first days of classes weren’t so bad, but it didn’t take long to get up to speed. There are four hours of classes in the morning, as well as a half-hour long one-on-one session with one of the teachers in the afternoon. Every school night also has a two-hour long study session in the classroom for which attendance is optional, but most people tend to go as you are awarded extra credit for going to a certain number of there. At these you have time to do much of the homework and ask questions if you need to. It’s also a good time to preview the next lesson, which is necessary as every class starts with a quiz. The speed of the class is very quick, but not unbearable as long as you put in the time every night.
My first impressions of the dining halls are good. They can be rather chaotic, and the foods available are only posted in Chinese, so we end up more or less pointing to get what we want, but the food is good and very cheap, usually less than 10 RMB a meal. There are several dining halls nearby, and they all work a little differently and offer different dishes. The restaurants we’ve gone to so far have been very good. The food here is very different but I’m getting used to it. Meals in restaurants are served family style, and chopsticks are always used, both in restaurants and in dining halls. Also, beverages are seldom served chilled; Chinese prefer most drinks either hot or lukewarm.
Our first program-sponsored weekend trip was to the Great Wall, which we went to on Saturday. And I can honestly say the Great Wall is the most, if not second most incredible thing I’ve seen in my life. This far from Beijing there is no smog to obscure the skies, and you can clearly see the mountains that lie all around Beijing. The hardest and most exhausting part was simply the climb up to the Great Wall. After climbing flights and flights of stairs, and then a few flights more, we managed to actually stand atop the great wall. The view from the wall is truly magnificent. Standing, surrounded by forests and mountains, seeing the Great Wall extend in both directions, meandering through the peaks. We walked along the length of the wall for a while before turning back. Here are a few pictures I took there.
That Sunday a few classmates and I went to the Pearl Market, a large market in Beijing. They sell tons of things: cheap electronics, clothing, bags, chopsticks, fans, shoe, you name it. No items have price tags and you have to haggle with the vendors to reach a price. If you come to Beijing, you should go to at least one of these such markets. To get there, we rode the subway for the first time, and my first impression of the subway was very good. It’s cheap and fairly quick, and there are stations all over the city. Classes resumed the next day, much like like the week before.