After my journey to Japan concluded and second semester kicked off, Chinese New Year was just around the corner. Seeing as I’m staying with a host family, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. About a week or two before the holiday, my host Mom informed me we’d be going to their house in the suburbs of Tianjin for the festival, to celebrate with relatives. A few days before we took off, my host Mom’s older sister and husband came, and soon enough Grandma, my host Mom, and my host Aunt and Uncle all took off to the suburbs as Beijing quickly became a ghost town, with most of its residents heading back to their hometowns to be with family. The drive was short and was mostly fine aside from Grandma getting a tad car sick. At one point, we even had to stop by a nearby elementary school to let her use the restroom, the poor dear. However sick she may have felt, she kept a calm demeanor to her, insisting we need not help her, modest as she is.
The house was very nice and the neighborhood seemed very new as well, although people were scarce, likely because the homes all seemed to be used as getaway spots for people working big-time jobs in either Beijing or Tianjin. There was enough space for me to have my own room, so I settled in nicely. During the first few days, I was able to spend a lot of quality time with both my host Grandma and host Mom, and well as my host Aunt (who’d come all the way from Jiangxi Province in the South to spend the holiday with us all). My host Mom is a lawyer, so she’s incredibly busy, working most weekends and going away for work almost weekly for days at a time. It was the first time we really got to do stuff together. She had a nice coffee machine there, so I took the liberty to make everyone coffee, which turned into a daily ritual as I put a twist on it, adding a small chunk of chocolate to each cup I gave out. We also baked some bread together, and on New Years Eve–as is tradition–we rolled dumplings and at them as the clock hit midnight as the New Years Extravaganza rolled on the TV, the nation’s biggest TV event of the year.
Each day during the afternoon, my host Mom, Aunt, Uncle and I would all go to the nearby gym and play badminton together, something I hadn’t done in a while but still really enjoyed. We also would go to the nearby markets to buy food and snacks, often blabbing back and forth about what to buy and how much. Each night, Grandma only wanted to do one thing–play Majiang. Being the first time to play Majiang, I was a very intimidated. While I could read the bricks with Chinese characters, many of them have separate symbols, which are different suits, much like cards. It took me a few days of watching and reading online before I had the courage to sit down and play, but it was really fun when I did. The game is fast-paced and always moving; you really have to be on your feet the whole time.
Despite her age, Grandma schooled us all most of the time. The whole experience was awfully immersive, and it was just so fascinating to see how the holiday works; the traditions, customs, food, games etc. all play a big role in the liveliest time of the Chinese year.
As first semester came to a close, a new journey would begin for me. A mere days after the semester wrapped up, Jesse–my roommate from last year, a previous exchange student from The Netherlands to Linfield–came to Beijing. I couldn’t wait to begin our travels together! I took him everywhere I knew around the Capital, all the best spots–The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Great Wall, etc. Having some more local knowledge, I also brought him to more obscure places, hoping to give him a more authentic feel of Beijing. We didn’t come across any major issues until one night. In order to save some money, we decided to stay at a hostel. The hostel was fine, especially since we were out and about nearly all the day anyways. One night however, we had a bit of an experience. We had just laid down to go to sleep, it was probably about 11:30 pm or so, and it was just us two and one other patron. Minuets away from falling a sleep, a noisy, middle aged man barged into the room–and not only once. For whatever reason, he went in and out of the room for around a half an hour, terribly noisily. Finally, he laid down to go to sleep. Thank God we all must have thought as he finally drifted off. But just as we thought it was over, the nightmare began. Within 10 minuets of the man passing out, a snore began to emit from his mouth–a snore that only grew louder and louder. After about 30 minuets, the three of us just got out of bed. I spoke with our fellow patron and asked what we should do about it. We decided to talk with the desk lady–she merely told me to whack him and tell him to can it. I figured this wouldn’t do any good, because it would just continue when he went back to sleep. Therefore, we simply decided to go out in order to avoid the loud drawl. After hanging around a McDonalds (the only place open at the time) for what seemed like an eternity, we finally returned to the hostel in wee hours of the morning in the hopes that our newest roommate would already be gone. After a few seconds of silence, our hopes we dashed when it was broke by a loud snore. We groaned, went to bed, plugged our ears, and eventually fell asleep. The next day, I asked the lady behind the counter about it and she said, thankfully, he had left.
Other than that experience, things went well with Jesse in Beijing and Xi’an! I took him to all the places I know in the Capital, including many areas already featured on this blog. After 2 weeks of traveling China together, Jessie and I boarded the plane bound for Tokyo, Japan. Upon arriving, we immediately began hanging out with some of our closest friends we have been so lucky to meet, entirely thanks to Linfield. Our friend and fellow Linfield student Yuria Osawa picked us up at Haneda, and thank god she did; it’s unlikely either of us could have navigated the complex Tokyo train system without her to our hotel. The next day, Yuria took us to visit nearby Yokohama, where we saw the pier, the famous ferris wheel in Yokohama, the Yokohama Chinatown, and the Cup Noodle Museum. Chinatown, for obvious reasons, intrigued me a lot. What would a Chinatown in Japan be like? Why was there such a concentration of Chinese there? I had a lot of questions! It certainly didn’t disappoint me; I got to speak with some of the locals, who directed me to a Hunan restaurant where we got lunch and I got to talk with the waiters a bit. I learned that they mostly moved to Japan to earn some extra money, but just ended up staying after enjoying life there. The waiters I spoke with were from Fuzhou (福州), capital of the southern Fujian Province (福建省). They all also spoke excellent Japanese! We then met up with some of our other incredible friends (Asahi, Rei, Yuria, Edna) at Shibuya for some food later that night, reconnecting and catching up after half a year of being apart.
A day later we met up with our good friend Nono, who took us to see the Tokyo tower, which was incredible! I noticed the colour got more and more yellow and less and less red the closer you got to it for whatever reason. Regardless, the tower is truly and icon of Tokyo, and the view from up top is absolutely stunning. The three of us then met with Kiki and Zeno, two other previous Linfield study abroad students. We all got some dinner and caught up. A day later, me and Jesse planned to go to a Comicon in Tokyo and meet Yuria there, however we ran into some trouble on the way there; we got horribly lost on the Tokyo trains. See, in Beijing, the subway system is run by a single state-run company, keeping a single, integrated system extremely convenient and easy to understand where to go. The Tokyo system, while very fast, efficient, and clean, is instead ran by multiple competing companies such as Japan Rail and others. This means if you get a ticket to ride on one line, that ticket is only good for that company. Additionally, there are dozens of different maps, each only showcasing the lines ran by the company of that line. Thinking the Tokyo system was integrated like Beijing, you could imagine the confusion when I tried to navigate the two of us across Tokyo. Lines that appeared to be transfer stations on my phone weren’t
displayed on maps, our tickets could only be bought so far, etc. Long story short, we spent so long trying to get to the convention we unfortunately missed it, arriving as it closed. Despite this, we didn’t give up on the day. We decided to go to the Skytree and see what it had to offer. We took a cab and went into the line. An American lady working for the tourist group running the Skytree tourism approached us to sell us our tickets; I noticed on her name tag she could speak Chinese! I spoke with her using Chinese, and interaction that granted many stares from onlookers. We discussed Japan and China’s differences, and then talked price. After learning going up the Skytree was nearly $40, me and Jesse decided to look at the aquarium instead. While our first two attempts to do anything had failed, the aquarium was well worth it. The main tank showcased a large shark, three massive rays, and a smattering of other sea creatures. The penguin enclosure was awfully cute!
Pretty soon, the New Years holiday was upon us. As planned, we went and stayed with our amazing friend Emi and her incredibly kind and welcoming family. The moment we walked into that house, we could feel the love and kindness from her siblings and parents, who were excited to return the favor many American families had given Emi while she was at Linfield by hosting us for a few days during the New Year. After meeting with her family, settling into our rooms, etc, we had some incredible home-cooked Japanese curry, which was to die for. Emi’s mother really knows how to cook! On New Years Eve, we all ate traditional Japanese New Years Eve food, watched the New Years program, and Emi’s family was even gracious enough to include me and Jesse in the tradition of the parents and elders giving their kids packages with money inside, a tradition carried out in many East Asian cultures and known as Hongbao (紅包) or red packet in Chinese. After the clock struck midnight, Emi took us with a few of her friends and her friend to a nearby shire where we participated in Japanese New Years activities, such as paying a small penance then praying, ringing a large bell, and others. After New Years, Jesse and I went to some other nearby shrines and interesting places where we got some food and just did other touristy things. A day or so later, Emi took us, Zeno and her sister to Mt Fuji and its surrounding areas! We visited the infamous suicide forest, which was far less creepy than the movies make it out to be, a nearby village with a gorgeous view, and of course the famous hot springs later that night. That day was one of the best we had during our time, and I can’t thank Emi enough for giving us the opportunity. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay at Emi’s house forever, despite not wanting to leave the kindness of her and her family. We went back into Tokyo to the hotel a few days later for the later half of the trip.
We then met up with a few other of our friends in Japan, including Hitomi, Marina, and others we had seen previously. Marina took us to the Tokyo zoo one day, which was really fun. We got to see a lot of really gorgeous and fierce animals, and we tried Takoyaki–a snack involving fried octopus–for the first time! On the last few days, Jesse and I made it a point to hangout with all of our friends and say goodbye. I bid farewell to Jesse after a month of travelling together as he took off to catch an earlier flight–a flight he ended up missing due to confusion on the trains, although he later got a different one. I met up with my friends that morning before I left for Narita, and was soon welcomed back to Beijing with it’s bitter wind. I was glad to be back home, so to speak, although I missed Japan. I was, however, extremely grateful for the amazing experience I was given by going there. I’m so thankful of my friends there and to Linfield for bringing us all together in the first place.
As finals week slammed us CSI students in the heart of fall, our pressure ramped up significantly. Countless days spent at the nearby student hub Wudaokou coffee shops preparing for our finals rendered us tired beyond belief. But before we knew it, the 50 or so students in the programe were split into our two chosen lines–the Purple line bound for Tibet, with me and 14 others taking the Green bound for South China–and were off on a new adventure.
First stop for the Green Line: Xi’an, Shanxi Province. Once known as Chang’an in ancient times and bearing the nickname “City of Capitals”, Xi’an is the ancient centre of China and served as the seat of government for the Han, Tang, and countless other significant dynasties throughout China’s long history. Today, Xi’an contains loads of historically significant landmarks, such as its famous Bell and Drum Towers and the world-famous Tomb of Qinshihuangdi guarded by the Terracotta Soldiers.
My second time to Xi’an, I was just as captured by the awe-inspiring traditional architecture, local food, and vibrant culture Xi’an has to offer. Haggling with locals is always fun, but it’s especially interesting in places such as Xi’an, which Mandarin-speaking foreigners are a rarity. Next to the Drum Tower sits what’s known as the Hui Fang, which is essentially a neighborhood of a local Muslim ethnic minority who have lived there in Xi’an since the original Silk Road connected China with the Middle East nearly 2,000 years ago. The Hui Fang contains a large a famous street packed with nearly as many food carts and restaurants as people. Side streets veering off of the main drag have loads of shops selling various items from chopsticks to silk scarfs, a perfect place for bartering. The Xi’an city wall was especially beautiful to revisit. Surrounding all of the Old Chang’an City, the Xi’an city wall is the most well-preserved ancient military fortification in the world. The wall is absolutely stunning, and walking along it you’ll notice
both the ancient parts of Xi’an on one side of you while the modern side of the city is erected to the other. But of course, the Terracotta Soldiers were truly amazing to see again. Since I had last visited, so many more had been uncovered at the site, and it’s hard to believe they have barely scratched the surface of what was hidden under the earth over 2,000 years ago. Our last major stop in Xi’an consisted of a lecture learning about the local Hui Muslim population and visiting the Great Mosque of Xi’an, which is still used to this day by locals to pray. The site is constructed completely with Chinese architecture in mind, making it very unique for a mosque.
Next stop on the Green Line was Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province and home to China’s Giant Pandas. After visiting some of the older parts of Chengdu known as the Kuanzhai Xiang, or wide and narrow alley, the day came to head towards the panda research centre and get my first glimpse of the Giant Panda. The animals were absolutely gorgeous, and so graceful. They looked as if you could just give them a big hug and take a nap with them. After that, I got the opportunity to meet a long-time pen pal of mine who happened to be studying abroad at a school in Chengdu from Portland State University.
We hung out two times during my stay in the Sichuan province, and it felt like we should have been friends all these years. Our mutual interests in China and Chinese culture is sure to keep us connected into the future. Our last stop in Chengdu was an ancient dam system built nearly 3,000 years ago and still in use today, helping irrigate Sichuan Province, especially Chengdu. The complex was absolutely astounding, with high mountains and blue water rushing between them.
After Chengdu, we finally entered the Southwestern Yunnan Province, an absolutely gorgeous place bordering several Southeast Asian nations and filled to the brim with varying minority groups. Lijiang was our first stop. An ancient city with a huge, gorgeous, and well-preserved old-town, Lijiang is easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen before in my life. The old town really is ancient, many with winding canals of fresh mountain water rushing through and small, narrow streets made only for pedestrian traffic. The weather was a comfortable 70 or so degrees all day with not a spec of air pollution to be seen. Towering over Lijiang is the stunning Snow Mountain, the farthest-south snow capped mountain in the northern hemisphere. Whilst climbing the mountains near the 18,000-foot peak for a better view, we came across a small Buddhist temple home to a Lama, or Buddhist Priest.
After conversing with the Lama for a while and helping him translate with a few Russian tourists, he invited me to sit with him for a bit and was kind enough to give me one of his necklaces he wore free of charge. After many thanks, I took my leave. A similar interaction back in town between me and a lady from Sichuan province equally intrigued me. Wandering to one of my favorite areas in Lijiang (a small tea shop with
some cute dogs, fish, and two peacocks) one night, I ran into two ladies coming to have tea with their old friend–the shop’s owner. After being invited to sit and have tea with them, the four of us chatted for hours and ended up making a few new friends. In the centre of the old town lies what was once the headquarters of the local Lijiang government in ancient times–the Mu Palace. The Palace rests on a hillside, and the complex has a stunning view. While exploring the palace, we came across a group of elderly women of the local Naxi people putting on quite an adorable show, dancing together for a group of people in traditional clothing. Lijiang left an incredible impression on me, solidifying itself as one of the most beautiful cities in my memory.
After Lijiang, we made our way to Dali, another Yunnan city a few hours’ drive from Lijiang. While Dali’s old town was not quite up to the level of Lijiang’s, it still was incredibly beautiful. It sit next to a massive lake, on which we took a tour cruise to small islands with various Buddhist temples. Perusing the nearby shops, it is easy to see that Dali has a lot to offer in terms of items to buy. From great snacks, gifts, and the best wine I’d ever tasted, Dali certainly has a lot to offer.
Finally, we arrived at our final destination: Kunming, the Capital of Yunnan Province. Kunming is extremely clean and beautiful, and rests next to the large Dian Lake. While visiting, we went to an ethnic minority park, which includes loads of representative villages of each minority group in Yunnan province. While the stay in Kunming was short, it certainly inspired me to go back sometime soon.
The study trip ended faster than it started, and we were greeted by Beijing’s pre-winter cold as soon as we walked out of the airport. Now, I await my Dutch friend (my roommate from last year at Linfield, a former exchange student) to come to Beijing in order for me to show him the wonders China has to offer. It will be a nice weekend to sit back and relax after all the chaos of travel.
As the last warm breaths of the Chinese Summer ceased, the landscape here at Peking University (also called “Beida” (北大) for short) began to change with the seasons. The trees around Beida’s famous Weiming Lake transformed from a vibrant green to a glowing yellow as the century-old koi fish began revealing themselves near the edges of the popular body of water. After seeing Shanghai for the first time, my good friend Ivy, a bright student from American University, and I decided to explore more local and authentic locations in Beijing.
We began our adventures by traveling to some of Beijing’s most famous hutong (胡同) neighbourhoods. Hutong neighbourhoods, which are essentially small alleyways made up of homes and shops (hutong roughly translates to alley in English), once made up the majority of Beijing’s total area. However, many hutongs have been lost to the construction of things like subway lines, roads, and new apartment buildings. Despite this, many hutongs remain, such as the Nanluoguxiang hutong near the Beijing Bell and Drum towers. Nanluoguxiang was built during the Yuan Dynasty and has endured the last 1,000 or so years. Nanluoguxiang was filled with people, primarily tourists, as well as the smells of truly incredible food. I noticed the famous Beijing Jianbing (a pancake-like dish with eggs) being sold all over the hutong, as well as a disproportionate amount of people speaking the local Beijing dialect of Chinese.
After we explored the hutong, Ivy and I climbed the tall steps to the top of the Beijing Gulou (北京鼓樓), or Beijing Drum Tower. In ancient times, bell towers were used in Chinese cities to signal time, much like clock towers in the West, while drum towers were primarily used to signal different events occuring in the city, usually involving the Emperor or other government or public events. Many Chinese cities still have their drum and bell towers, and of course Beijing is no exception. The bright red tower is truly stunning, and it manages to work itself nicely into the local landscape. The towers stairs have to been the steepest stairs in the world; one tumble down those and I think anyone would be a goner, so climb carefully! After reaching the top, the proceeding view of Beijing is truly stunning. While it was rather polluted the day we went, it was still worth the hike up to the top.
The two of us also returned to Yuanming Yuan (圓明園) which we had explored together in the end of Summer. Yuanming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace, is right next to Peking University, making it easy to visit. While the Palace was gorgeous in the Summer, I almost like it better during the Fall. The yellow colours and dead grass go hand-in-hand with the ruins there.
Other than exploring Beijing, I have had great opportunities to get to know my teachers more and more as well as make more friends. After a language exercise at my comprehensive class teacher’
s university, we all had lunch with her and managed to talk and get to know her a bit more. It’s truly an amazing experience to make new friends and get to know people in your second language! Our teachers and us students have really gotten close over the semester, with inside jokes and being made daily. Hardly a day goes by without the class busting out laughing at least once.
So far, Beijing has yet to disappoint. I just hope I can see all there is to see in the time I have, which is already going so fast. The more time I spend here, the more my behavours and mindset begin to shift towards the Chinese perspective. It makes me wonder what it will be like to return to Linfield in May!
The moment I touched down at Beijing’s Capital International Airport, the hustle and bustle of the 22 million-person metropolis gripped me and didn’t let go. After a grueling layover in Seattle made longer by delays and an 11-hour flight, the familiar sounds and smells of the People’s Republic wafted over my senses at the airport and welcomed me back. I found my contact and we grabbed a cab to Beijing University. It was nearly 2 am when we finally breached the Haidian District of Beijing and got to my new home. By then I was exhausted and ready to crash. After talking with the staff at Beijing University, or Beida for short, and getting my room card, I open the door to my room to find a girl sleeping inside! Me and the teacher who picked me up rushed back downstairs and discovered that my room had accidentally been given out to a different student. They gave me a temporary room for that night, then we swapped rooms the next day. It was probably 3 am when I finally fell asleep, and all students had to meet up around 8 the next morning for tours of the campus and surrounding areas. Our new teachers herded us around the Beida campus, which really gripped me. The school is mostly made up of traditional-style buildings, beautiful pathways, and the famous WeiMing Hu, a large, stunning lake in the centre of the Beida campus. WeiMing Hu roughly translates in English to “Nameless Lake”.
Our classrooms are in the History Department on the North end of the lake. After the tours during the weekend, we took our placement tests and began classes that Monday. Four other students and I were placed into the 500 level courses. After two days of classes, I realized the courses were a bit above my pay grade, so I spoke to my teachers about switching down. Two other students felt the same way, so after the three of us swapped down to the 410 class, they opened up a new course just for us three: 411 courses. When the 411 classes started on the second week, we all felt we were at the appropriate level. However, our daily homework load was a tad overwhelming. After talking with our truly kind and incredible teachers, they held back the workload a bit. By the third week, we all had settled into our courses just fine.
From an intercultural communications perspective, taking courses in the Chinese style has been very fascinating. At first, our young teachers took a very Chinese approach to our lessons; that is, one with a rather large power distance and a lot of lecturing with little student intervention. After a week or two, however, we students and our teachers happily met in the middle as everyone got more and more comfortable with our respective roles.
Our program has already taken us to some fascinating places! We went to the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. Both days were absolutely gorgeous,
In fact, the pollution in Beijing has been, for the most part, very minimal–especially when compared with the last time I was in Beijing in 2015. I had been to the Wall before, but it is always a truly amazing sight to see such an old and significant structure trail along the mountainside on a clear blue day. There truly is nothing else in the world like it. The Temple of Heaven was incredible! An absolutely clear blue sky greeted us to Tiantan Yuan, or the Temple of Heaven Park in Beijing.
Of course, I have done a little traveling of my own. A few weeks ago, I took the high-speed rail to Tianjin, a port city not far from Beijing to meet my oldest Chinese friend. I met her 5 or so years ago when I was in middle school, and she was the first Chinese friend I’d ever made.
She sparked my interest in China and is the reason I’m here today. Seeing her and hanging out with her was an amazing experience, and since she’s so close we’ve been going back and forth between Beijing and Tianjin to hangout. This last week was the Mid-Autumn Festival here in China, so I took advantage of the break to go with my friends to Shanghai! Shanghai is truly and incredible city. A mix of old and new, foreign and Chinese, all of it can be found within China’s largest city. The Bund, the modern and sleek Shanghai skyline, pierces through the heart of the city. The old French Concession–an area of Shanghai once controlled by France–would make you think you were walking the streets of Paris. Old Shanghai includes the Yu Yuan Garden, and in the suburbs you can find an ancient village called ZhuJiaJiao, complete with canals, small alley ways with tea shops and massage parlors, and excellent food.
So far, my experience studying here in the Middle Kingdom has truly broadened my perspectives. I’m so glad to be back here, and there will be more stories to come.