再见, 中国 (See you again, China)

Today was my last day in Beijing, and I was battling a lot of different emotions as I left our dorms and headed to the airport. A part of me missed my family, my dog, and the familiar smell of cheeseburgers. However, a part of me recalled all of the hard times and the amazing memories that this country has given me. I began to feel a rush of emotions as I hugged Emma, our beloved friend from the University of Pennsylvania, the same girl who dyed her hair blue and bravely ate live scorpions. I felt the same rush when I bought my last mango ice cream from the convenience store that we went to every single day, and as I was packing my luggage, every object reminded me of a specific memory, whether it was bargaining at one of the markets or buying something from a street vendor. It was an unforgettable eight weeks, and I’ve been so fortunate to have this experience, to meet some of the most amazing people, and to have a more authentic perspective of China.


Before going to the airport, one of my instructors, Hu Laoshi, treated me to a pizza dinner and to coffee right after. As we were eating, I asked him why he chose to be a teacher, and his response left me feeling inspired. He told me that he chose to teach because he learned as much from his students as they learned from him. Exchanging different opinions and perspectives with his students, who came from all walks of life, inspired him to become a better teacher. I related to his response because I strongly believe that building perspectives around authentic and immersive experiences lead us to become more empathetic and aware as students. I’ve corrected a lot of preconceived notions that I had upon coming to China, and I feel as if I am leaving this country with a motivation to continue gaining these authentic experiences and learning more about the world.


I have a week to rest before I continue my Chinese studies at Notre Dame, but being in China has transformed the way I learn and retain the language. I am interested in seeing how this change exactly goes about once I start class. For example, speaking with local residents really heightened my sense of how colloquial Chinese is spoken, and I am finally more comfortable with presenting speeches and engaging in basic conversations. This was such a rewarding experience, and I am so thankful for this amazing opportunity to not only learn about a unique country, but also learn more about myself in the process.



The Last Weekend

Seven weeks flew by so quickly and it feels like I arrived at Beijing International Airport just yesterday. The last weekend led my friends and I feeling bittersweet, but we made the most out of it. We had already gone to a lot of places, so we decided to fill our weekend activities with things we haven’t done yet like visiting the Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing Snack Street, Old Summer Palace, and the Capitol Museum.last8

My friend, JJ, had one last mission in Beijing and that was to eat a scorpion, so we took the trek to Wangfujing Snack Street and was pleasantly surprised to find squirming scorpions lined up on a stick. I could barely look at it without cringing inside, so I was so amazed when Emma bravely got a stick of scorpions, took out its tail, and grabbed a pair of chopsticks. Her last words were, “When in China, do what the Chinese do.” JJ followed after Emma, but as he was about to eat the scorpions, a bunch of Chinese people crowded around him in awe and took pictures. It wasn’t the first time JJ had a bunch of people take pictures of him, but it was an interesting sight to see a crowd cheering him on as he was fulfilling his last mission.


I had not visited the Old Summer Palace, so on Sunday, I decided to go around 6 p.m. My other classmates told me that it was just a big park and was not worth going to, so I had very little expectations. However, when I arrived and saw the willow trees dip down into a reflective lake with giant Water Lilies crowding its surface, I was in awe of the beauty around me. The best part was the sunset, and for the first time in Beijing, I forgot that there was air pollution and just watched the splashes of orange paint the sky over the lake.

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I definitely think this last weekend summed up my experiences in China so well. I had the opportunity to do (and watch) crazy things, explore the most known and unknown places in Beijing, and find beauty in the most unexpected places. It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that I only have a couple of days left; I am ready to return home and to Notre Dame but I also wish I had one more weekend in China to learn and explore.

Exploring China with My Sister

My sister is a flight attendant so she had the opportunity to work and fly to Beijing to see me. When I stepped into her air conditioned room in a five star hotel and used her very American toilet, it felt like I was in America again and seeing the Hawaiian chocolates and guava juice on the table was so reassuring. With my sister, we were able to hunt down the best Peking Duck restaurant in Beijing, climb the Great Wall together, and explore the other hidden parts of the 798 Art District. My sister had her rough moments, whether it was using the public restroom for the first time or eating authentic cuisine that she was not used to but all in all, it was an amazing experience for us to explore China together.


The weekend was a little challenging for me because I wanted to plan a smooth sailing tour for my sister using the very limited Chinese that I knew. Although it was with much difficulty, it was really satisfying when I realized that I was able to communicate with other locals. At the beginning of the program, the director told us that learning Chinese is a lot like learning how to swim. The best way is to just dump us in the water, and that is exactly what the weekend felt like. There were times when I just could not understand other people and I really had to push myself to communicate to the best of my abilities, but in the end, I left every conversation feeling a little wiser and more confident in my language skills.

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During these next couple of days that I have left in Beijing, I am going to miss a lot of the simple things that I took for granted, like the mango ice cream that only costs 12 cents, the amazingly convenient subway that took me all over Beijing, and the guards who greeted me when I was walking to class every day at Peking University. Having my sister over served as a reminder of how much I have grown in this country that have taught me so much, and it was exciting for me to actually see that growth amid the chaos and fast pace of day to day life in China.


Xi’an: A Weekend in Review

The 11 hour train ride from Beijing to Xi’an seemed impossible at first, especially upon learning that we were not going to have wi-fi for the entire ride (and for the entire weekend, for that matter). I thought about all of the snapchat streaks that I would lose, the text messages that I would be late to respond to, and all of the content that I would miss over the span of the weekend. However, I slowly realized that staying unplugged was definitely one of the best parts of the trip. As I looked out the window and watched the scenery transition from forested areas to clusters of buildings, I saw a different part of China, one that truly served as a testament to the enormous scale of this country. I collected images in my head that I would’ve otherwise missed if I was staring at a screen the entire time.


Once we arrived in Xi’an, I instantly fell in love with the city. The food was different from what I was used to in Beijing, and compared to Beijing, Xi’an seemed to have a more calming vibe. Quite casually, our first stop was to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses. Upon entering the massive complex that houses these iconic figures, I was at a loss for words. I had seen pictures and even saw the fake replica at Disneyworld years ago, but seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors in person was simply an unforgettable experience. This was also Ye Laoshi’s first time so it was great to share a sense of awe and wonder as we all tried to soak in the reality of, “Wow, this is actually real.”


The next day, we biked around the City Wall, but at first, I was terrified because I legitimately thought I forgot how to ride a bike. The last time I rode a bike was when I was seven years old, so when Ye Laoshi pointed at the yellow bikes and said we were going to ride around the entire perimeter of the wall (with all of the bumps and dips), I panicked inside. In my head, I pictured myself biking straight into a wall or falling over. However, I decided to just suck it up and got on my bike. The first few seconds were terrifying and I saw my life flash before my eyes several times, but once I got the hang of it, biking around the perimeter of the City Wall was, by far, one of my favorite experiences in China. It was exhilarating passing by the amazing views of the city and stopping to marvel at the beautiful traditional architecture.


I admit that it is a cheesy comparison but learning how to ride a bike again reminded me of my experiences living and learning in China. The first few days were full of dips and bumps in the road, and it definitely tested my patience. However, once I kept pushing through and celebrating the small wins every day, I began to really enjoy my time here. I am sad that I only have two weeks left in this country, but I want to do my best to make the most of it and learn something new every day.

“We are not painters. We are writers.”

Visiting the 798 Art District has been, by far, my favorite excursion on this trip. As an industrial design major, I really appreciated every single exhibit and it was so inspiring to get a taste of the thriving art community in Beijing. A lot of the artwork and galleries revolved around political and social commentary, specifically on original socialist realism, so it was extremely eye-opening to see multiple varying perspectives through each artist’s creative expression.

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798 Art Zone contains a series of decommissioned military factory buildings with unique canvases by graffiti artists and quirky shops selling local arts and crafts. The area also houses many notable open-air sculptures, such as a headless Chairman Mao. Sifting through the different galleries, I saw the political and social commentary come to life through very thought provoking forms.

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Exploring a much different part of Beijing, apart from the traditional Chinese architecture and scenic spots, was eye opening because I was able to understand the modern issues that China was facing in a completely different light. The stores sold interesting postcards and local art pieces, and the streets were crowded with sculptures, people, and artists.

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Painted on one of the walls of 798, I saw a graphic that said, “We are not painters, we are writers.” There was a sense of liberation in those words, and I think it really  served as a good umbrella theme for the art district. Every single exhibit told a story, whether it was about history, politics, or social themes, and it led the audience from a beginning to an end.

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When in China, Do as the Chinese Do

The past two weeks have truly been both an overwhelming and exciting adventure. Living in a foreign country, I felt as if I turned five years old again. As soon as I arrived at Beijing International Airport, I took in my surroundings with child-like curiosity, but the harsh reality of traveling to a different country hit when I struggled with my basic Chinese language skills to hail a taxi and check into my dorm. As soon as I got to Peking University, I climbed in bed and thought, “Wow, I am a big 19 year old baby trying to navigate my way through China.”

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The “Lake with No Name” at Peking University

At first, I felt terrified and insecure of the weeks ahead. However, now that I am entering the third week of the program, I have noticed my confidence grow exponentially. Every day, my interactions with other students and local residents involve a lot of charades and guessing games, but the small wins are really what fuels my confidence. For example, I learned how to bargain in marketplaces, ask and give people directions, and order food at restaurants. Although each conversation is very short and seemingly insignificant, it makes a world of a difference for me as I continue to embrace my vulnerability and use it as a strength.

Throughout the week, we spend most of the day learning new vocabulary words and sentence structures in class and over the weekends, we have the opportunity to apply what we learn outside of class. Our first excursion was to the Great Wall of China and although the hike up elicited blood, sweat, and tears, the view was simply unforgettable. Growing up, I learned about the Great Wall and marveled at the pictures in my history textbook; however, in person, it seemed so unreal and I reached a newfound appreciation and respect for the rich culture and history of China.

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At The Great Wall of China with Ye Laoshi

In class, we learned the phrase, “???? ”, which means “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” My goal is to live in China, not as a tourist, but as a temporary resident, and correct the preconceived notions that I had before coming to Beijing with a more educated and insightful perspective. Every single day in Beijing is full of adventures and hard-earned lessons; I can’t wait for what tomorrow and the next day will bring.