My name is Marie-Anne Roche. Minoring in Chinese, I want to go to China this summer to improve my Chinese level and learn more about its culture. I love travelling and I am very excited for this adventure.

I originally contemplated the idea of going to Shanghai to take classes or do an internship. But after talking to my professors, I decided to go to Beijing because it will give me a better opportunity to speak Chinese.

I went to China twice. The first when I was eight years old. My dad had a week long conference and decided to bring me with him. I spent a solid part of my week with Beijing Da Xue’s, Beijing University’s, students. It’s funny to look back on it today, because I am heading to Beijing University, for two months. The first time I came here, I was overwhelmed by Beijing immensity. I thought it was crowded, and didn’t feel modern at all. I was chocked by people spitting everywhere. I later went to Hong Kong, which I enjoyed a lot more. I thought, it was cleaner and I love the city’s architecture. I don’t really know what to expect of Beijing, how it will have changed since 2004. I don’t think I will recognize the city and I am very happy to be able to go back.

I am a little nervous with my Chinese level. I hope I will be able to speak with people. Hopefully, by the time the end of the semester comes around I will be able to hold a conversation with Chinese people.

Yesterday, I bought a travel guide of China and started reading all there was to know about Beijing. It sure sounds like an exciting place and I am excited to see what these two months will be like.

Goodbye, for now, China

Yellow Mountain, 6:30am

I have a hard time realizing that my time in China is over. After classes ended last Friday, I travelled down to Shanghai, Huangshan and Hangzhou.

Shanghai, skyline

I am glad I was able to stretch my Chinese trip a little longer. The South is indeed very different, quieter, less polluted and greener. I witnessed the most beautiful sunrise I have ever seen on Huangshan, the yellow mountain, the beautiful skyline of Shanghai and the peace and tranquility of Hangzhou’s West Lake.

These nine weeks in China have been such an enriching and fruitful experience. First of all because I was able to drastically improve my Chinese level. Second because I was able to discover and learn so much more of the Chinese culture. After visiting Shanghai, I am very glad I decided to stay in Beijing. Shanghai is comparable to New York, I really enjoyed walking around the city which was less crowded than Beijing, but people’s accents were very different from Beijing and very hard to understand. The number of foreigners was also a lot higher, when I spoke to local in Chinese, most didn’t understand what I would say or would immediately answer me in English. It was almost frustrating to have them answer me in English after going through the effort of speaking in Chinese. It was more rewarding to speak Chinese in Beijing because there, people would only speak in Chinese, communicating was harder but also funnier. Seeing how much my conversations improved over the eight weeks of the program was very gratifying.

Beijing Da Xue

I was also amazed by Beijing’s culture. I loved how the old mixes in with  modern architecture. And how, the neighborhood of Beijing Da Xue and Wudaokou where we leaved was so different from Tiananmen or Sanlitun or the Hutongs. Beijing offered endless possibilities to explore and discover different people. Among my favorite were the Hutongs were you could witness an older culture and Sanlitun where I was able to meet many expats.

I am also very grateful the program organized so many activities, our trip to Xi’an or the afternoon at the elementary school for example.

Middle school students, Beijing

I can’t even start to explain how thankful I am to Notre Dame for organizing such a program and for the CSLC and the Liu Institute for helping me fund it.

I am also thankful for this trip because it opened many more opportunities. I realized I wanted to go back to China, to travel and potentially to live. For now, I say goodbye to Beijing and China but I know I will be back shortly.


Stranger on the bus

Beijing, China

I think the most common encounters with Chinese people are made through stares. When we walk around Beijing, we often catch people starring at us, people ask to take pictures, or just randomly sneakily take pictures. Sometimes people start talking to us. Most of the interactions are a little odd because I feel observed and it is a little uncomfortable.

One day, I was taking the bus with two friends to go from Beihai Park to Sanlitun, the modern, business district. The bus is very convenient, when there is not too much traffic, which is not a common occurrence in Beijing. It is often pretty crowded and a little slow but when you have the time, it is an easy way to watch the Beijing landscape. That day, we struggled to find the bus stop; it was hidden further away than Maps indicated. We finally got on the bus. It wasn’t too crowded that day. We were standing on the bus, talking in our broken Chinese, as we would usually do. After a couple minutes, we felt the stare of an elder man, sitting in the seat next to us.

Nanluoguxiang Hutong

He started talking to us, asking us if we had gone to Nanluoguxiang, the newly renovated, most famous Hutong in Beijing. When we said yes, he asked us where we had gone and if we liked it. I thought it was very pretty, although very crowded and a little too pretty to be an accurate description of the typical Beijing Hutong. Hutong are traditional neighborhoods, made up of one story houses, with a square courtyard on the inside. They are the image of an older Beijing, which is a nice step away from the noisy and busy streets of the city.

Street vendor at night, Nanluoguxiang

Most of the time they don’t have bathrooms integrated so they share a public bathroom on each street, easily recognizable from the smell, meters away. The man told us he used to live in one when he was a kid. From the looks of it and the words I understand in his sentence he didn’t like it. ‘太小,没有空间’, it was too small, there was no space, too crowded. He thought they should be destroyed to build new housing. Luckily for us, we had studied construction related vocabulary so we were able to express ourselves. I told him I thought they were pretty and they created the charm of Beijing, the mix of old and new, that makes Beijing so peculiar. The man seemed very amused by our conversation and attempted to convince me to move to Beijing to live because opportunities were endless for young foreigners.

For some reasons, the conversation drifted to beauty standards. Our friend group  was made up of a Vietnamese American girl, a White American guy and me, a White French girl. The man seemed to think Elliott and me, looked very similar. He thought we were brother and sister. That sounded very odd to the both of us because Elliott is blond and I am a brunette. In my opinion, we look nothing alike, but in the old man’s opinion, all White people look

The man on the bus

alike. Our stop was approaching and we had to say goodbye to the man. As I stepped of the bus, I was struck by how different perspectives are in different countries and I was glad this old man started talking to us because he allowed me to see from his point of view for a couple minutes.

Real life Tinder

Beijing, China

This weekend was my last weekend in Beijing. I decided to wander around the city all day Saturday, to see as much as I could. I hadn’t gone to the Forbidden City so I headed to Tiananmen Square. For breakfast, I stopped at my favorite café, by Dongzhimen, a neighborhood near Tiananmen. I got to the Forbidden City a little later than I originally planned. From the outside, the Fortress didn’t look too busy. There were a lot of tourists outside, but nothing crazier than any average Saturday in China. I waited in line for the first security check, at the entrance of Tiananmen Square. Chinese people seem to be very worried by safety and there is a safety check before any entrance, whether it is a famous historical site or the metro. As I walked into the Forbidden City, I saw a line for what seemed to be tickets. I was surprised by how short the line was but I bought a ticket without questioning what I was buying.

I made my way through the first gate, and saw a beautiful building. There was a ticket check, when I showed my tickets the guard said it wasn’t the right one and if I hadn’t bought it yet I wouldn’t be able to visit it today because all the tickets were sold out. It was only 11 and the thousands of tickets allotted for the day had already been sold out.

Matchmakers sitting in the park

I must admit, I was a little sad. Had I gone all the way to China not to see the Forbidden City? It seemed so.  I decided to go visit a little garden, part of the Forbidden City, for which I didn’t need to have a specific ticket. I made my way to the park. It had a lot of shade, which was very agreeable after the blazing sun of Tiananmen and the Forbidden City. We could see the river, which circles the Forbidden City. I couldn’t help but notice the amount of old people gathered in the park. They all had little posters at their feet, it intrigued me. I tried to read what they said, some were handwritten, and some were typed. They said people’s ages, names, sex and social situation. I thought these people were seeking a job. I asked the man sitting next to a sign what he was here for. He answered, that he was there to help couples meet and help people find love. So the man wasn’t looking for a job, he was a matchmaker. I couldn’t help but think “Woah, a real life Tinder”.

People discussing an offer.

It reminded me very strongly of Mulan, where at the very beginning she visits a matchmaker to help her find a husband. I thought it only happened in movies. For some reasons, I expected that was one thing social media had replaced. It was very interesting to walk in between alleys and read everyone’s offer. Some people seemed to be grandparents, others seemed to work as third parties and finally, some people were there, representing themselves. This one man, gave me his card when he saw I could speak Chinese and after I told him I was studying at Beijing Da Xue. Guess, I could be a good match.

Woman reading the proposal

The more I walked, the more interesting it got. There was an area for girls, another for guys. Some people seemed to visit it themselves other sent their families or maybe they came on their own, to find the perfect match for their sons and daughters. Most people were in their 30s, were educated people with an apartment and a car. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a picture because people’s numbers were on there and a man explained if I took a picture he ran the risk of losing clients.

This random encounter, was far more interesting that visiting the Forbidden City or at least that’s what I convinced myself of to make myself feel better about not being able to see it. This place was a gem, a cultural center were various generations intertwined together. I am very glad I stumbled upon this park because I was able to witness a very unique moment and grasp the difficulty of finding your perfect match in a city as big as Beijing.

The taste of Xi’An

Street vendor on the Muslim Street

Food occupies a very important place in my heart. I love nothing more than a good a meal and whenever I travel I always try anything I am offered. In my opinion, a culture transpires by the food cooked by locals. It is no wonder that Xian has been one of my favorite Chinese experience so far. The Xianese food is famous in China to be tasteful and spicy, one of the best. Our trip schedule consisted of meals scattered by visits to various tourist attractions. Xian’s most well known street is one dedicated to food, the Muslim street. It is a 丰富多彩 street, rich and colorful place where a great diversity of food is laid out in front of hungry tourists’ eyes.

This street is a paradise to anyone who loves food. Sweet options, salty options, adventurous options, comfort food, you can pretty much find anything. Amongst the most famous options figures sour plum juice, rice cakes, biang biang noodles and the 肉夹馍, pronounced Rou Jia Mo.

肉夹馍being made

The 肉夹馍 is the equivalent of a Chinese burger, and it was by far my favorite thing.  It’s simplicity makes it convenient to eat at any time and the content is delicious. I tested it twice, the first in a muslim restaurant and the second at a Muslim street vendor.

Street vendor selling various sauces and spices.

Xi’an’s Muslim community is one of the biggest in China. So more than simply the taste experience, eating肉夹馍 was interesting because it shows the impact the Muslim influence on Xianese cuisine.肉夹馍 are often made of beef and rarely of pork, depending on the shops you can sometimes find pork ones though. In Xi’an, finding pork is harder and most restaurants don’t offer dishes containing pork. There is a lot of sheep instead. Beijing food contains a lot of pork and beef, so testing sheep dishes was a nice break from what we ate on a regular basis in Beijing.

肉夹馍 is cooked in a savory sauce and a variety of spices are added to it. The bun in itself is pretty salty but it balances very well with the sauce of the meat. It is also very simple and plain which surprised me at first, it is a little hard on the outside while being softer on the inside. The overall taste is amazing; it is an explosion of savors.

Overall, I would recommend to anyone travelling to China to take a detour to Xi’an, if not only for the food, also to visit the Terracotta warriors and the other touristic attractions.

Different but the same

Xi’an, China

       While travelling, I often reflect on cultural differences. I like to observe people, trying to understand, how their culture differs from mine. In China, I have enjoyed looking at how people interact, how people observe foreigners, how they eat, what they eat, what they do while riding the subway. These small details allow me to piece up together a greater and more accurate image of how Chinese live.

Xi’An’s wild goose pagoda

We travelled to Xi’an this weekend. Often considered the cultural center of China, it is the home of the Terracotta warrior, an entire army of soldiers that were buried along the side of Emperor Qing, amongst many other famous 名胜古同, historical sites。In my country, France, we treasure our cultural tradition to the extent that cities have done everything possible to maintain the cultural identity and historical tradition in every city. China does not have the same desire for authenticity. It is quite the opposite actually. Even though Xi’an is a very renowned city in China with constant flows of visitors, the city’s charm is far from being comparable to a European city. Most buildings are from the 70’s, the colors have started to fade and they are cramped together. I know the purpose is to create a new, 现代化, modern city, where the 8.06 million people can live and work. Beyond the modern appearance of the city, which, is far from the small provincial town I imagined before arriving in Xi’an, the city holds many treasures of old dynasties. When I talked to a local, on Thursday night, I realized people take great pride of living in this city. They like it for its safety, the old architecture and the tourists. The guy I was talking had great pride in his cultural cultural heritage. I was surprised nonetheless when he explained to me destroying smaller districts to ensure the growth of Xi’an was a good thing. It was very interesting to see his point of view when, for me, destroying historical districts to build modern buildings breaks my heart.

Wish tree

Within the large differences between Western cultures and Chinese cultures, Xian also showed me that we all share deep similarities. On Friday, we visited beautiful palace. While wondering around, I stumbled upon a wish tree, beautiful, with red charms hanging from all the branches, bringing them down with the weight. Magical, truly. Some charms had little bells attached to them. The bells were ringing as the wind was blowing through them. It was peaceful and soothing. I started looking at some of the wishes written on the charms. One of them particularly attracted my gaze, “我希望我和你在一起”.


It was very simple, the words said, “I hope we stay together”. Others wished for luck, happiness, health of themselves and, most importantly, their loved ones. I can’t specifically explain why but it resonated with me. And I thought it was beautiful to see so many charms from very different people wished for something as simple happiness and health. It goes to show, that no matter our cultural differences, humanity shares a similar hope. We all have different ways of attaining it but remembering the essence of our lives is the same should help us be closer.

Literally lost in Translation


I’m in line waiting to pay for my “baozi”, local delicacies that are similar to a bun of light dough filled with various meats and seasoning. The person right before me gets to the counter and pulls out her phone. Two seconds after, she walks out of the store, without having taken out her wallet. Meanwhile, I get to the cash register and struggle to count my Renminbi, before handing a chaotic pile of ¥1. I would pay with my credit card but most places don’t accept it. Instead, all restaurants have a QR scan code system that allows anyone with a Chinese bank account to use his or her phone to pay any bill. Very convenient isn’t it? No need to carry wallets around, you can just leave the house with your phone, hoping it’s sufficiently charged to get you through the day. I cannot help but wonder, what would happen if you suddenly lost your phone. Ironically, it happened to me, the first day of class at Beijing University.

Living a phone free life in the crazy wilderness of Beijing has certainly been an interesting experience. My phone is usually the answer to many of my questions. Without it, there is no longer an easy access to a Translator in the case where I forget a word. As a result, talking to locals is often followed by a sequence of mimics and gestures to try to be understood. I have to admit, it has helped develop my imagination and it has allowed me to think harder about words I had learnt but forgotten. There have also been many lonelier moments when I wanted to talk with people from home but couldn’t because I didn’t have my phone to communicate with them.

Birds nest, Olympic Center

Finding myself phone free in the capital has also proved to be interesting. Last Monday, I had to go check out a fencing club in the Olympic Village (I am on the fencing team at Notre Dame). The trip was a 15-minute cab ride but an hour-long metro ride where I had to change lines 3 times. Before leaving for my adventure, I printed a map of the city, using Baidu, the local Google, to show the cabdriver where I wanted to go. After getting in a heated argument with the cab driver who wanted to charge me ¥20 more than he was supposed to, I finally got to the Olympic village. I did not think it through enough and didn’t expect it to be this big. Since Maps couldn’t help me I wondered around for a while. I asked two people walking down the street where the “击剑场“, fencing gym, was, insisting on the tones to make myself understood.

One of the gyms at the Vango fencing gym

To my surprise they understood immediately and indicated a building a couple meters away. When I finally arrived, I was told today was their rest day, quite unfortunate. I managed however to communicate with a few people who were there. On the subway coming back, I couldn’t help but notice everyone riding the subway was on his or her phone and did not stop looking at his screen for the length of the trip.

Overall, getting lost in a part of Beijing I had never been to, with any way to communicate turned out to be an interesting adventure. I understood that I didn’t need a translator for every word I forgot. It proved more fun and rewarding to communicate with the few words I know. I also had to interact more with people, asking for directions, and help along the way. And even though at times I felt lonely without a phone to keep me company in the huge streets of Beijing, I was able to take a break from the smartphone life and go back to simpler ways.