Last Weekend in Beijing

After the end of our seventh week of classes, our class celebrated with a talent show and dinner, our last group activity before the end of the program. We each had different group and individual performances, including dances, skits, games, and songs in Chinese, and this was a fun and entertaining way to end a hard week of classes.

Since it was our final weekend in Beijing, we decided to make it a good one. A few friends and I got up early Saturday morning and headed out to see the Temple of Heaven, one of Beijing’s most famous temples and landmarks. The temple was incredible, and not only was it a great display of traditional Chinese architecture, but it was also an interesting glimpse into the spiritual practices of Ancient and modern day China. The temple was also situated in a scenic park, and walking through this made for a good morning. After seeing the temple, the three of us walked to the Pearl Market, another popular destination for tourists in Beijing. The market was full of vendors trying to sell different name brand products—almost all of which were fake, and this was a fun place to practice our Chinese and bargaining skills. After seeing the market, we took a subway to Qianmen, a traditional market center next to Tiananmen Square. While known as one of the best places to shop in Beijing, it is not well known by foreign tourists, and so this market and collection of traditional hutongs (traditional neighborhoods) was a amazing and unique place to get a glimpse of authentic Chinese culture and lifestyle. Recommended to us by our teacher, the market had several shops that were hundreds of years old, as well as many good restaurants. Not only were we able to have one of our last authentic Chinese meals together, but we also got to see many traditional Chinese leisure activities, like groups of men playing Chinese chess and gambling in the streets.This was definitely a place worth going to, and one of the highlights of my time in Beijing.  

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The next day—our final completely free day in Beijing—a few friends and I decided to explore another set of hutongs recommended by our teacher, and this market area which just as interesting as the one before. We were able to explore shops and restaurants occupied only by native Chinese people, and we even found a scenic lake where we could relax. This was a good end to our last free day in Beijing.

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Overall, this weekend was a great way to end a great trip! While we still have one week left of classes, in less than a week we’ll be flying back to the U.S. These last two months in Beijing in have been an incredible experience!

Fifth Week in Beijing

The Friday of our fifth weekend here in Beijing, our class and teachers set out an our weekly excursion to the headquarters of XiaoMi, one of the leading tech and smartphone companies in China. XiaoMi was created only six years ago, and since then, has grown significantly in the selling of smartphones, tablets, and other “smart” technology in China, India, and other parts of Asia. While there, we were given an introduction to the company, its history, and its business strategy by one of its founders and engineers, and then were given the opportunity to visit their one and only retail store. This was definitely a unique and interesting experience.

The next day was our first free Saturday since arriving, so we decided to make good use of it. In the morning, we set out early to see the Summer Palace, one of the most famous palaces and historical landmarks in China. Though the day was the hottest since we’ve arrived and the park was extremely crowded, the Summer Palace was definitely one of the greatest things I’ve seen so far. The Palace itself was incredible, but it also included a scenic lake, a huge Buddhist temple, a gallery of ancient Chinese art, artifacts, and clothing, and the theater and stage that the Emperor of China used to attend.

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After seeing the Summer Palace, three of us set out to visit the Beijing Olympic Village, and while there, we were able to see the inside of the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, something that I thought was definitely worth a visit. The next day, a few friends and I returned to the Beijing 798 Art District to see more of the art exhibits and shops, and it was great to have the opportunity to see more of this area.

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Weekend in Xi’an

After finishing our midterm at the end of our fourth week here in Beijing, we headed out on an overnight train for a four day trip to Xi’an. After four weeks of studying and getting accustomed to life in China, it was nice to have a small break and get out of the Beijing air for a while. After eleven hours on a train ride through the Chinese countryside, we arrived in Xi’an, a beautiful and historical city. Our first impressions of Xi’an were all great, in that the air quality and scenery were all much better than where we are living in downtown Beijing. Not only that, but we soon learned that traditional Xi’an cuisine is quite good, and surprisingly different than the food we get on a daily basis in Beijing. We got to try many traditional foods, including “Chinese hamburgers,” soup dumplings, “pita bread soaked in lamb soup,” a sour plum drink, and various cold noodle dishes that were all quite good.

On our first day in Xi’an, we had the opportunity to see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors, and we were guided through the three sections of this roughly 2000 year old tomb to see the countless, all unique, hand-sculpted sculptures of Chinese soldiers, slaves, horses, and chariots. Seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors was definitely one of the highlights of my time in China so far.

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Another highlight of the trip came that night as we watched the “The Long Regret,” a traditional and historical dance and performance put on every night in Xi’an. The performance was spectacular, and included traditional Chinese clothing and dances, fireworks, fountains, moving stages, lights across the mountains of Xi’an, and even the release of doves at the end. The next day was just as good as the first, as we rode bikes around the top of the Xi’an Ming City Wall. After renting bikes, we were able to ride as a group around the entire perimeter of the wall, and from there, look out over the interior of Xi’an. In addition, Xi’an also has a large population of Chinese Muslims, and we had the opportunity that day to explore the Muslim Street, a section of the city with countless shops and food stands—great places to practice our Chinese and bargaining skills. In addition, we also had the chance to visit two pagodas, the Small Wild Goose Pagoda and the Great Loving Kindness Temple, a historical Buddhist temple.

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Xi’an was extremely interesting and beautiful, and it was a great place to learn more about Chinese history and culture. Overall, it was a great weekend and a nice break before starting the second half of our summer in Beijing. 

Week 3-Beijing Art District and Silk Market

Our trip to the 798 Beijing Art District was definitely one of the highlights of my three weeks in Beijing. The Beijing art is an area of the city reserved solely for Chinese artists and craftsmen to display and sell their work, as well as sell Chinese souvenirs and an assortment of different foods. Not only is it fantastic that a city has a hub for artists like the 798—something all cities should have—but it gave us foreigners a glimpse at traditional, as well as modern Chinese art, culture, and thought. It was definitely a unique opportunity to experience that much culture and creativity in a single district of the city, and it is a place I would definitely return to. 

Examples of artwork seen at the art district:

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Another interesting day trip was to the Beijing Silk Market—a shopping center selling a huge assortment of different clothing, jewelry, artwork, traditional Chinese souvenirs, and different foods. While the contents of the mall are almost all name-brand and high-end, they’re also almost all fake. Because of this, going to the market was the perfect place to practice our Chinese language and bargaining skills—using all the words we know to try to get the price down as low as possible. Because the Silk Market is usually visited solely by foreigners—whose Chinese skills aren’t great—the shops are designed to trick and overcharge who don’t know the difference. While the items sold by the shops were many of the same things we would see at a shopping center in the states, it was an experience vastly different than any we could ever have in the U.S.

Overall, it was a a great weekend! 

Second Week in China

After smoothly transitioning into the daily life and routine at Peking University, the second week of our summer in Beijing was even better than the first. Each day consisted of class, one-on-one tutoring sessions, office hours, and individual study, yet we still found time to explore local malls, restaurants, and attractions. It was during the second week that a friend and I first met with a Peking University Law School student named Roger—one of the language partners assigned to our group for the summer. Not only is Roger incredibly funny, kind, and down to earth, but he is also one of the smartest and most interesting people I have met. Majoring in history and currently studying law, Roger’s hobbies include reading, drawing, philosophy, physics, and history, and he shared much of his insights, opinions, and thoughts on different aspects of Chinese culture and government. Though Roger has never been to the United States, his English is nearly perfect, and this was very helpful as he tried to teach us different Chinese sayings and common phrases. Roger offered his advice and further help on our study of Chinese, and we plan to meet with him again in future weeks.

The highlight of our second week in Beijing came on Saturday, as our group departed on our day trip to the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is the center of Beijing, and as believed in ancient times, the “center of the cosmos.” The beautiful buildings of this small inner city were home to many of China’s emperors, and the entrance of its outer gate displays a prominent picture of Mao. Our tour guide led us through the many sections of this ancient “city,” in which we were able to view the living areas and even the throne of China’s emperors. After finishing our tour, we hiked to the top of a man-made hill overlooking the city, and were able to view the Forbidden City from above. The city and its many golden-roofed buildings is incredible to see. 

After finishing our tour of the Forbidden City, we walked as a group through one of the city’s Hutongs (traditional Chinese neighborhoods), with the purpose of spending the afternoon at Haihong, a shopping and eating area encircling one of Beijing’s beautiful lakes. The area had a number of shops selling items like traditional Chinese tea, clothing, local foods, and other souvenirs, and the lake was surrounded by a number of interesting restaurants and bars. We spent the afternoon exploring what the area had to offer, as well as making note of places we wanted to return to and things we still want to do.   

To close off our second week in Beijing, a few friends and I took an early morning subway ride to the Beijing Zoo. While there, I got my first glimpse at a Giant Panda, as well as an assortment of other animals native to Asia. While the panda exhibit was definitely the highlight of the morning, the zoo was home to a huge assortment of different animals, and it was one of the largest zoos I have ever been to. This small excursion was definitely worth it, and a great way to finish off the week.

First Week in Beijing!

The first week in Beijing was incredibly nerve-wracking, yet extremely exciting. Arriving in Beijing, there was a lot to get used to. Besides the jet lag, smog, and culture shock experienced in the first few days, we also had to quickly adjust to China’s lifestyle and traditional customs. No longer could we drink tap water or use an excessive amount of electricity—which we learned when the hot water in our shower turned off—but it wasn’t long before we were accustomed to daily life in China. Another major change was the transition into eating Chinese food everyday. Navigating a Chinese restaurant, let alone the cafeterias, was extremely challenging, as all of the menus were not only comprised of unfamiliar foods, but they were also written in Chinese characters. After a few days of pointing at different foods that looked good, we each found a few favorites we could rely on finding everyday in the dining hall. After receiving a tour of the campus and dorms from our teacher and our future language partners—Chinese students at Peking University—we were prepared to start our first classes at Peking University. 

It also took a few days to get into the routine of daily classes and activities at Peking University, but within a few days we had a general knowledge of our host university, our dorms, and how to navigate our way through Beijing. The first week was both exciting and nerve-wracking, in that it was our first opportunity to use Chinese in our day-to-day lives. After signing the language pledge on the first day of class, we were required to speak only Chinese for the remainder of the program, and this forced us to use our Chinese not only in class, but also in our interactions with native speakers on a daily basis. While we all had prior experience with the Chinese language, this was quite a humbling experience, in that we quickly learned how much we didn’t know. From ordering food at the dining halls and restaurants to navigating public transportation, dorm life, Chinese banks, and shopping centers, we began practicing our Chinese in everything we did. The rest of the week progressed as we attended our daily morning classes, afternoon one-on-one sessions, and evening office hours. The rest of our days we filled with extra individual study, exploration of Beijing, and time getting to know one another. 

On that Friday afternoon, we finished our first week of classes with a scavenger hunt intended to introduce us to different aspects of our host university’s campus, and after completing this scenic and interesting hike, we were given a demonstration of Chinese calligraphy by one of China’s most famous artists. After finishing our first week of classes, we got up on Saturday morning to depart on our first day trip—our hike of the Great Wall of China. While I had seen pictures of the wall in the past, I could never have imagined how truly amazing it truly is. After arriving at the wall, we began our ascent up roughly 6 levels of stairs, and though the roughly 100 flights of steps we climbed left us exhausted, the view was definitely worth it. The Great Wall was like nothing I have ever seen before.

The end of the week was comprised of a trip to the mall, which we soon discovered housed stores and restaurants from all over the world. Besides places to shop and eat, the mall includes a movie theater—with English movies and subtitles—and even an outdoor park to explore. This was a good end to the week.