My time in China has come finally come to an end. With only less than three days left till I fly back to the states, I realize how time has flown by this summer in China.
Last Friday night, we had a celebration to mark the end of this program. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it that much but during it and afterwards I realized it was a good time and seeing the slideshow of everywhere we went in China was a good way to show everyone the amount of memories we actually made here. At the event, basically all the students did a performance that was anywhere from hula dancing to performing an impromptu skit of our class where everyone played a different person. We even got out of doing some homework by performing.
During my last real weekend in Beijing I was also able to go to some not so touristy places. One of my teachers recommended to me that I go and visit some hu tongs, which are tight alleys that depict what life was primarily like in traditional Beijing. My teacher even gave me some specific ones to visit. The first thing I did, though, on Saturday was visit the Temple of Heaven, a famous temple in Beijing where ancient Chinese went to pray to heaven for good harvest. This attraction was basically a giant park with various buildings used by the Chinese and is one of the most famous sites in Beijing. After this, though, we still had a lot of time left in the day so we ventured to some of these hu tongs. The place we went to on Saturday was 前门大街，which translates to front gate street. This makes sense since this place is located at where the front gate of the Beijing city wall used to be before it was torn down. It is also right in front of Tiananmen Square. The primary roads of this area are basically big shopping centers with various shops and restaurants. They also call these hu tongs but its not until you walk deeper into the area that you run into the real hu tongs. It is not uncommon in these places to see every man without a shirt on and people playing Chinese Chess on the street.
A section of 前门大街
A group of people playing Chinese chess near a hu tong, ironically because that was one of the topics we had just studied in class
On Sunday, we went to a similar place called 南锣鼓巷 but had some more modern stores and restaurants. I think these paces were definitely worth seeing because they were sites Chinese people actually go to and there wasn’t tourists everywhere I looked.
As I look back on my time in China, I am glad I came and hopefully I can come back again, next time with my Chinese language skills even higher.
It’s hard to believe that my time in China is coming to a close. Living in Beijing for this eight week period is definitely a once in a lifetime experience and has surely made my summer full of adventure and memories. Now that I am nearing the end of my second year of Chinese language study, I can definitely tell our studies are getting ramped up. Last week and especially this week our lessons have had significantly more new words to learn and increasingly more difficult grammar. Its tough because with the short time I have left in China I want to be able to get to see every place I want to but I also need to focus on my studies at the same time which can be very demanding during the week.
Last Friday afternoon, our teachers took us to a 火锅 (hot pot) restaurant. This is the second time we have gone in our group to one of these restaurants and my third time overall in China. This type of food has come to be some of my favorite food China has to offer. At this type of restaurant, at the center of your table is basically a stove where they put a pot on where you can get various flavors of stew inside. They then bring you uncooked meat, usually beef, and other ingredients such as vegetables and noodles where you cook them right at your own table. I find it to be very appetizing and it also seems to be a favorite among my classmates. After this we actually went and saw a Chinese movie, even without English subtitles. The movie was definitely hard to comprehend just by watching but I was pleasantly surprised about how much I could actually read of the Chinese subtitles. It wasn’t enough to know exactly what was going on most of the time but still a sign that my Chinese is improving. On Saturday, I slept in and then went to silk street, the other notorious Beijing market for having fake goods. This market, unlike the pearl market, resembled more of an actual mall with individual stores you could actually walk into compared to randomized stalls like the pearl market. The products here also seemed to have better quality because the vendors prices seemed to be significantly higher, bargaining was definitely still a must though.
Later in the day, we went as a class to watch a Chinese acrobat show. The theater was located right next to the Beijing central business district so it was neat to see some of the taller and nicer buildings in Beijing like the CCTV tower. As for the show, it was very enjoyable. The acrobats did some crazy dangerous stuff that honestly made me nervous and not be able to sit still in my seat. There was one segment where they had a metal sphere cage and put as many as eight motorcyclists in at the same time while they were all driving around, very scary.
Till my last and final week, 再见 (Goodbye)
After getting back from Xi’an Sunday night we had to get back into the swing of things in Beijing right away which includes daily quizzes, endless new vocabulary needing to be learned, and our four hour classes every morning. This past week it didn’t seem to ever stop raining and on Wednesday I could barely go outside due to the weather. I left my dorm to go to the nightly optional office hours and as soon as I got into the pounding rain, even with my umbrella, I turned right back. We had some plans during the week that the rain threw off but luckily the weather wasn’t as bad over the weekend. This past weekend was actually the only weekend thus far where we have not had a pre planned group trip or activity with the rest of our class so it was nice to get to sleep in a little later than usual.
I took advantage of not having any predetermined plans for Saturday by going to some sites in Beijing that I wanted to go to but hadn’t had the chance to go to yet. Saturday morning a few other classmates and I went to the Summer Palace, which was mainly used by royal members during the Qing dynasty. The Summer Palace is basically a giant park on a hill overlooking a lake which makes for some quite good scenery. Unfortunately for us, the smog was quite thick that day so the scenery wasn’t as pretty as it usually is.
Afterwards, we also went to the Olympic park, the primary site of the 2008 olympic games, where I was able to go into the birds nest and water cube.
On Sunday, I went to 潘家园，or commonly referred to as the dirt market in English. The most similar thing I can compare this place to is a flea market, there is various booths throughout the outdoor market that is covered with a giant roof. This market had mostly traditional Chinese souvenirs such as calligraphy, paintings, fans, jewelry, and pottery. I was able to make some good purchases for relatively cheap and I also bought some children’s books in Chinese that I thought I could manage to read at my reading level.
When I was video chatting my mom earlier today she asked me what I was missing about America and this made me realize what I actually take advantage of in the US that is not the same or readily available in China. The two major things I realized I miss, in addition to food, are seeing the sun everyday and the sanitary condition of America. In Beijing, there is usually only sunny periods once or twice a week and it surprised me how much this cheers up my day every time. As for the sanitary conditions, although I enjoy China and the people here, I wouldn’t call China the most sanitary place. The absence of paper and soap in bathrooms or simply touching a dirty handrail make me miss the States a little bit more. Its bittersweet for me that in less than three weeks I will be back home. Although I miss Notre Dame and the US, I am definitely glad I took advantage of this opportunity and will miss it after it is over. I will have to appreciate the time I have left in Beijing.
This past weekend we had Friday off from class as a short mid term break after we took the midterm on Thursday. It was really nice not to think about our intensive studies and experience a different city other than Beijing. We took a slow sleeper train on the way there Thursday night so we started our busy sightseeing schedule Friday morning. The first thing we did after eating lunch and quickly visiting another university there was go see the terracotta army, what Xi’an is most famous for.
I didn’t realize that the warriors were only discovered in the 1970s but have been in existence for over 2000 years. I was also surprised to find out that there are over 6000 warriors and it took about 40 years to build all of them. That night we also went and saw a performance of the famous poem 长恨歌 about an emperor in the Tang dynasty’s love story. It was cool because this story took place at the place where the performance was at. It was a very high tech performance and a great way to end our first day in Xi’an.
On Saturday we first went to the Xi’an city wall where we were able to ride bikes for a couple hours around the whole thing. The wall is quite tall so it was nice to see the city from a higher perspective. Luckily the weather was great the whole weekend we were there which was another nice break from the seemingly endless pollution of Beijing.
We then went to this Xi’an Muslim street that was filled with street vendors and street shops that was similar to the pearl market but more outside.
That afternoon and the next morning we went to the small and wild goose pagoda respectively. Our tour guide there told us that the pagodas were built after Buddhists in India prayed during a famine and wild geese fell from the sky for them to eat. The small wild goose pagoda had a museum at its site and the big goose pagoda was surrounded by Buddhist temples with active monks practicing there. As for the food in Xi’an I overall enjoyed it but they had some foods distinct to Xi’an. One of them was where when we got to the restaurant we each had our own circle of bread like food (don’t know how else to describe it) and we had to break it into little pieces where they then proceeded to make it into a soupy noodle dish.
My time in China is flying by and these past 4 weeks have definitely been some to remember.
My second and third weeks in China definitely had its ups and downs. These weeks seemed to go by considerably faster than the first week because I finally got into the swing of things and used to life in China. One minor problem I still have here is definitely getting adjusted to the food. I actually enjoy most of the food but my stomach is unfortunately just not used to the how different it is here than in America. Some of my favorite foods that you don’t see that often in the US are Chinese 饺子和包子, or dumplings and buns. Along with good Chinese food, we have surprisingly found some decent American restaurants in Beijing that I will surely go to again whenever I am missing home.
The recent weeks of classes proved to be more challenging to me than the first. As our vocabulary adds up, we still have to retain the previous material while learning the new lessons, and also our assigned essays have also consequently gotten longer. Although I think the classes are starting to get even more difficult, I have been seeing more success in my speaking and my use of grammar correctly. I can already tell during my daily individual class sessions that my Chinese is becoming more fluent and listening comprehension is becoming better by the day. I have also seen better success using my Chinese with actual Chinese natives whether it be at a restaurant where I ask a worker what they would recommend to me or with someone who I am just asking directions. The biggest part of mandarin I struggle with is the different tones that change the meaning of each word you say. There is 5 tones and if you use a wrong tone for a certain word it changes the meaning completely and this is what frustrates me a lot of the time.
Last Saturday we also made a trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I already knew a little about the square since this was my second time coming here and I did a project on Tiananmen fall semester of my freshman year but it was still definitely worth going to. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and it was interesting to relearn about all the buildings that surround the massive square and everything the forbidden city was used for during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The only downfall of the day was how hot it was and how many people were there. It was sometimes hard to see everything you wanted to because you had to push through packs of people in order to do so. After we go to the end of the Forbidden City, we also climbed this hill where you can overlook the city and see all the buildings which was quite a sight to see.
This coming week we have our midterm on Thursday but luckily we actually have some extra time off since we will be half way done with the program. We will be going to the city of Xi’an which is famous for its terracotta warriors. I am looking forward to this break and seeing a new city and I will update my blog while I am there or shortly after I return.
I arrived in Beijing last Friday and I can’t believe a week has gone by already but it somehow feels like I’ve been here for a while. The minute I got to the airport and got to my gate I was already being immersed in the Chinese language. The airport attendant speaking Mandarin, which I could not understand at all, gave me a reminder as to why I am doing this program, to significantly improve my Mandarin language skills. When I arrived at the Beijing Capital Airport I was warmly greeted by one of my soon to be Chinese teachers and then driven to Peking University and my dorm for the next eight weeks. At this point I was quite tired as I had just sat on a plane for 13 hours and the 12 hour time difference back home proved to get the best of me. The first couple of nights I found myself waking up in the early hours of the morning but after about 3 or 4 days my body was used to it.
The first weekend in Beijing we mainly got settled and started preparing for our intensive Chinese language courses. We have class every morning from 8-12 and then a 30 to 40 minute individual session with a teacher in the afternoon. I am taking 2nd year Chinese right now and plan to take 3rd year when I come back to campus in the fall. Because we are doing a whole year’s worth of language in one summer, the classes are long and the studying is a lot but it is still manageable and still have free time on the weekends. We also signed a language pledge where we are only allowed to speak Chinese throughout this program. After the first couple days my brain was already being stretched to the limit from the amount of Chinese I was speaking but I can already tell that my pronunciation and grammar is improving so I can’t imagine how I will be able to speak after eight weeks and not just after one.
Hearing natives speak the language also drives me to study the language more by knowing how proud of myself I will be if I can get to a level where I can communicate fluently in Chinese. So far, I have been able to communicate with Chinese people at varying levels of success but I found that many people will start talking to me in English even if I am speaking Chinese just because I am an obvious foreigner. Another cool thing we have here are language partners that are students at Peking University. We met them the third day we were here and were very friendly; they even took us on a tour of their campus. I am hoping they can help me with my language skills as well as showing me other places to go and things to do in Beijing.
During my first weekend after starting classes in Beijing, we went to the Great Wall. This was not my first time going to the Great Wall but it was still a great time and one thing I can say is that I didn’t remember how tiring climbing the wall really is. We went to the Mutianyu section of the wall this time, which is famous for its beautiful scenery. We got lucky and went on a day where it was quite sunny and were able to take a lot of nice pictures. The next day some of us went to the Hongqiao pearl market which is basically a giant five story store with various street vendors throughout. While at this market, bargaining with the sellers is a must because they start off at ridiculously high prices but if you are persistent enough you can buy a lot of cool things for quite cheap which I was luckily able to do. Overall, my first week in Beijing was memorable and I am looking forward to the rest of the time I am here.