As my summer in China comes to an end, I look back and see how much I’ve learned in the past two months. With a course as intensive as the Chinese Program at Peking University, my Chinese has improved immensely. Not only have I picked up new terms and grammar patterns, but I have also grown to feel comfortable speaking Chinese, at times even preferring it over English! But beyond my language acquisition, I found myself learning just as much in the subject of China’s culture. Although I’ve grown up in a Chinese household, nothing compares to living in Beijing, surrounded by locals 24/7. I truly felt immersed in a different lifestyle during my time in Beijing.
Coming back from this experience, I really realized the value in studying abroad. Not only can you learn about the subject of your interest under different methods, but you can simultaneously learn about different cultures which in turn enhances your learning process. There’s so much to learn from people that come from a different background from you, and experiencing at a substantial degree is only something attainable through study abroad. If someone was considering applying for an SLA Grant or preparing to start their own summer language study, I would highly encourage them to go through with it and go all out. It really is an experience like no other. (290)
So where do I go from here? I certainly hope to maintain the Chinese I’ve learned by consistently practicing it, and hopefully over time, I will continue to grow more and more comfortable with the language. I will keep everything I’ve learned from my SLA Grant experience during the rest of my academic career, as I’ve learned not only new ways to learn, but also new perspectives I should hold as a continue my education. One of the most interesting things that I learned about in China regarding education was the different values they put on different aspects of education. That is something that I will keep in mind as I continue my own education, remembering what truly is important.
This summer really has been one that I will never forget. I have to thank all the teachers, organizers, and fellow students that were involved, and of course SLA, for allowing me to participate in this amazing experience!
The Great Wall is certainly one of China’s most recognizable symbols. The wall began construction under Emperor Qin Shi Huang originally meant to prevent barbarian nomads from entering China. The wall now stands as a representation of China’s strength and is still recognized as one of the most impressive architectural feats in history.
The best-known section of the Great Wall is Badaling, which attracts thousands of tourists every day. In our trip however, we visited Mutianyu. Mutianyu was much less busy so we were able to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
The Great Wall has since also had additions for the sake of visitors. We were able to take a ski lift up to the wall and simultaneously enjoy an amazing view of the mountains. Furthermore, we were able to toboggan down from the wall and experience the mountains from a closer distance.
The Great Wall certainly remains to be a place that all tourists should visit if given the opportunity!
After being in Beijing for 5 weeks now, I have definitely seen America’s influence in China. When it comes to cultural influence, I feel that I have seen a lot of incorporation of American customs. For instance, among young adults, American movies, shows, and clothing is especially popular. At every shopping center there is a substantial presence of American brands, and I’ve seen plenty of American movies being offered in theaters. However, when it comes to politics, young adults have definitely pointed out the increased tension between China and the US since a new president has been in office. From what I’ve collected, there hasn’t been any positive feedback when recent US political topics have been brought up.
Younger individuals I’ve conversed with here in China don’t have much input when it comes to China and America’s political relationship, but they did have an interesting point of view of American students. We visited a Chinese middle school recently so we could interact and learn about differences in our education systems, however the young students didn’t seem to have a good impression of American students. We asked them what they thought college in America was like, and they said all they thought we did was play. After conversing some more, I could definitely tell how the differences in our education systems led to Chinese student believing schooling in America was extremely loose and much less cut throat. However after introducing our lifestyle at Notre Dame, they seemed to be much more receptive of the American education system.
As our first “semester” here in China came to an end, we as a class were able to take a trip to Xi’an to further experience Chinese culture, practice our language, and learn more about ancient Chinese history.
The trip started with an overnight train ride from Beijing to Xi’an, which allowed us to experience a form of public transport that many of us have not seen in the US.
I found Xi’an’s most famous historic site, the Terra-cotta Warriors, to be of course extremely mesmerizing and interesting. There are over 6,000 statues that were originally built to protect the tomb of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (founder of the Qin Dynasty). We were able to see all 3 chambers, although they have not all been completely restored for the purpose of preserving the statues. However the statues that have been restored are all so unique and detailed and amazing to see.
I also thoroughly enjoyed a particular theatrical show that we saw during our trip called the Song of Everlasting Sorrow. This performance followed the story of Xuanzong, the seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty, and his tragic love with Lady Yang. The show was full of talented performers, plus I was extremely impressed by the technology of the production as well as the utilization of the location. The stage was an outdoor stage among the mountains, creating one of the most beautiful setting for a show I’ve seen. They even managed to light up the mountains to create and even more beautiful picture. But it wasn’t just the production that impressed me, the show also was extremely emotional through its storytelling, leaving the audience in awe throughout the whole show.
Kung Fu is a traditional practice in Chinese culture. More literally translated, kung fu refers to any skill that is acquired through practice, so many forms of martial arts are included in this term. It is said that Chinese martial arts originated in the Xia Dynasty, when the emperor introduced fighting systems to China as means for self defense, hunting, and military training. This past week we discovered a Kung Fu class being offered here at Peking University, so we decided to try it out!
Our instructor turned out to be an extremely experienced kung fu artist who even majored in kung fu in college. He took us through some of the basics at our first practice to give us a taste of Chinese martial arts. We began with some “qi,” which is an internal style of martial arts where we really focused on controlling our bodies and blood flow. Then, we moved on to “hand pushing” where were learned 2 basic patterns that actually turned out to be self defense moves (if performed correctly). In the second portion of our class, we did paired up and practiced a self defense move used to escape another person’s grasp.
Overall I found the class to be not only fun and useful, but also extremely interesting as our instructor filled us in on a lot of the history that has come with the practice of kung fu. However, kung fu is an extremely complex practice and has a deep history, so I hope I can continue to learn more throughout the rest of my stay here in China.
Chinese New Year is certainly the most popular and most celebrated holiday in Chinese culture. Although the people of China celebrate the new year turning on January 1st with the rest of the world (since 1912), they also celebrate the new year in accords of the Chinese lunar calendar. Chinese New Year is a time to honor households, ancestors, and heavenly deities as well as feast with family. Now more commonly called the Spring Festival, the holiday starts on the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month. The festival lasts for 23 days and ends on the 15th day of the first lunar month.
Traditionally, many acts were carried out during the Chinese New Year to bring good luck and longevity. Households cleaned to appease gods, sacrifices were offered to ancestors, firecrackers were used to ward off evil spirits, and lucky messages were posted around the home. Most importantly, there was plenty of feasting. Classic dishes included fish, noodles, and dumplings were also eaten as they symbolized abundance, longevity, and unity. Growing up in a Chinese household, I have been able to experience the some of these symbolic traditions. I’ve enjoyed many delicious feasts, seen tradition Chinese dragon dances, and have enjoyed the tradition of receiving money from elders (“hongbao”).
Since 1996, Chinese citizens have enjoyed a weeklong vacation during the holiday allowing them to travel home and celebrate the new year. However, this has caused many people of younger generations to appreciate the holiday more so as a break from work and time to relax rather than a family celebration. There are now also many televised Spring Festival Gala’s (annual variety shows featuring traditional and contemporary singers, dancers and magic demonstrations) which many people, including my parents, enjoy to watch each year.
After our first full week of study here in Beijing, we were treated by our teachers with Beijing’s most well known cuisine. To reward us for making it through our first test, we were taken out for lunch to a wonderful restaurant to finally try Beijing’s famous Peking Duck.
Peking Duck originated in Beijing and has been around since the Yuan Dynasty, but became much more popular in the Ming Dynasty when it was often served as a main dish for imperial courts. The dish wasn’t introduced to rest of the world until a restaurant called “Quanjude” developed a way to more conveniently hang roast ducks. Since then, Peking Duck has been a popular favorite among Beijing locals as well as for others around the world.
White feathered Pekin ducks are bred and raised for the popular dish and are roasted in closed ovens or hung ovens. They are glazed with maltose syrup and roasted until they turn a shiny copper brown shade. I learned that it is very important that the duck is to be roasted in an oven because it allows for the meat to be slowly cooked and gives the duck its distinct flavor.
Peking Duck is often times served with Chinese pancakes and fillings so it can be rolled and eaten. With our serving of pecking duck came Chinese pancakes as well as bean sauce, a form of honey mustard, radish, cucumber, sugar, and spring onion. All the toppings can be put together in the Chinese pancake to make a delicious meal.
Stemming from its important history, Peking Duck remains to be a staple in Chinese cuisine. It is great for ceremonial celebrations but also an option for any meal at any time. Withstanding the test of time thus far, it is clear that Peking Duck will continue to be a popular dish for many times to come.