Our cultural excursion for week 2 was to visit the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. As we entered the square, we saw hundreds upon hundreds of Chinese people lined up to see Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. Something that’s really interesting about China that’s different than most of the other countries I’ve visited is that at every tourist destination, mostly Chinese people are found being tourists in their own homeland. It seems to me that it’s almost as though because Beijing is the cultural hub of China, many Chinese people visit Beijing as almost a pilgrimage of some sort, whether they’re touring beautifully ornate Buddhist temples or climbing the Great Wall.
Tiananmen Square, famous for having a huge picture of Mao on the outside as well as being the site of the famous picture of Tank Man, leads into the Forbidden City, essentially a small village composed of 9,999 traditional architectural buildings for the leader of China and his 3,000 concubines. After wandering through the maze of buildings that all seemed to blend into each other, we stumbled upon this huge manmade structure of a rock that had every Chinese zodiac animal carved into it as statues. In my opinion, this was the coolest part of the Forbidden City, as it was interesting how the artist chose to depict each zodiac symbol. As we left the Forbidden City, we hiked up a small mountain that provided us with a spectacular view of the entire city as well as a huge gold Buddhist shrine.
Although I enjoyed learning about the history of China throughout the day, my favorite part of the day was exploring Houhai, a small neighborhood of traditional hutongs, bars, and shops organized around a calm lake filled with paddle boats. The scenery was breathtaking, and I ate the most elaborately constructed and most delicious flower-shaped cotton candy I’ve ever eaten. I plan to return to Houhai and experience the magic of the neighborhood at night, as one of my Chinese teachers recommended experiencing Houhai’s vibrant nightlife.
Learning Chinese is ridiculously difficult, and every day I’m reminded of how rare and hard it is to achieve near-native proficiency in the language. However, with the help of my very patient teachers and eager classmates, I’m able to quickly learn new vocabulary and grammar structures, which I’m later able to test out in real situations like in restaurants or shops. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to study in China, and I think it has helped my Chinese proficiency grow in such an enriched environment.
P.S. Good luck to my fellow ND classmate, Dino Swan, as he embarks on learning Spanish!! 加油！