As I write this I'm about 10 hours through my 15 and a half hour flight from Hong Kong to New York. It's hard to believe that in just a few hours my incredible semester abroad in China will really be over.
Last Friday, after a stressful week of final exams, my Dad arrived in Beijing and we both attended SYA's Christmas party. The faculty did a very good job of integrating the Chinese host parents with the American parents and students, and most SYA students put on performances or demonstrations from activities they had been doing during the semester. For example, I did my Tai Chi routine with some of my friends. I was also chosen to be the student speaker at the party, so I recounted some of my experiences living in Beijing and had a chance to thank all my teachers and the host families.
Being in Beijing with my Dad was fun because I was able to take him to all of my favorite spots around the city and act as a tour guide for him. It was also exciting for me to put my language skills to good use getting us around. The first day we went to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, Jingshan Park, and HoHai lake, where we rode special ice-bikes on the frozen lake. While in Beijing, we also went to Olympic Park, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace.
From Beijing we took the bullet train to Shanghai. I enjoyed our stay in Shanghai, and I can definitely say that it is my favorite Chinese city I have been to so far. It is amazing how much more modern the city feels than Beijing, especially in the Pudong New District, which consists almost exclusively of soaring skyscrapers (including the second tallest building in the world, the Shanghai Tower) that were all constructed within the past 15 years.
Finally, we flew to Hong Kong, which was very different than I had imagined it would be. I liked that most of the city is very concentrated along the coast of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, making the city very walkable, which is quite different from both Beijing and Shanghai. However, because of its origins as a British colony, I was expecting to find a modern and Western city, but I actually found that most of the city seemed far less modern than Shanghai and much of the infrastructure older than Beijing. One of my favorite finds in Hong Kong was the small area of Stanley, located on the opposite side of Hong Kong Island from the main city. It was interesting to find a more quiet, suburb-like area just a 20 minute drive from downtown Hong Kong.
With Hong Kong my final destination in Asia, it's now time for me to return back to the U.S. In just a few hours, I'll see my family again after so much time away, and I am looking forward to that. Thank you for following my photo blog! I hope you have enjoyed reading about my experiences over the past semester.
I really can’t believe that of my 16 weeks in China there are only 5 more days left until my dad arrives. I certainly have mixed feelings about leaving Beijing, but overall I feel great about the experience I have had, yet ready to come home. I have been slowly packing over the past few weeks and this weekend I am really making a push to try to finish (or at least as close to finish as I can with a few days left). I brought so many clothes with me and I’ve purchased so many new things since I’ve been here, I don’t know how I’ll fit it all!
I had a very interesting opportunity on Wednesday to visit the offices of Nice, which is a photo-sharing app startup company based in Beijing. The app is very popular in China already, and now they are trying to expand into the US. I will be interning with them and helping them remotely when I return to the US.
During my last weekend in Beijing I went to a friend’s apartment where his host parents taught us to make dumplings. It was really interesting for me to get the perspective of what a different host family and apartment was like.
Next week is packed with final exams for me, but I’m really looking forward to our SYA Christmas Party on Friday night and then spending the next week in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong with my Dad.
This will be my last post from China. USA, here I come!
At the end of this week, all SYA students presented speeches in front of the other students, teachers, and even some host parents. The speeches were memorized and entirely in Chinese. I spoke about my passion for exploring the city of Beijing and how this also benefits my Chinese speaking. At first I thought presenting in Chinese for three full minutes would be impossible, but I was able to do it and I am proud of this accomplishment.
Last night, I enjoyed Peking Duck at Beijing’s most famous roast duck restaurant, 全聚德(Quanjude), which has been around for 150 years. It was fun to experience this Beijing tradition.
I also got a haircut this weekend, and I was interested to compare getting my hair cut this time to when I went in September. I noticed a clear improvement in my Chinese level, and I was able to have a conversation with the barber about the Michael Brown case, democracy in the US, and the different Chinese dialects.
2 more miscellaneous pictures:
On Wednesday after school this week I went back to volunteer at the China Care Home orphanage. I really enjoy talking to the children there because their language level is so much closer to mine, so I'm more comfortable speaking Chinese with them.
Thursday was Thanksgiving, which is not celebrated in China, but we had a special celebration at school anyway. There was an amazing buffet for lunch with all the traditional dishes like turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy. They even had some of the best pumpkin and apple pies I’ve ever tasted. As part of the lunch, I and all the semester students received cards signed by many of my classmates saying goodbye. I was very touched by the nice things my classmates wrote to me.
On Saturday I took a day trip to Tianjin with my friends. Tianjin is 70 miles away but takes only 30 mins by bullet train and costs just $10 to get there. Tianjin was fascinating to visit after living in China for so long because it is almost shockingly different. As a concession city after the Opium Wars, Tianjin looks very European. It also had a more relaxed feel to it than I am used to from Beijing, and I did’t see many people around, which was surprising for a city with 9.3 million people (the 4th largest in China). We had a great time exploring the old concession areas as well as visiting ancient marketplaces and the Tianjin Eye ferris wheel.
After getting back into the rhythm of school and life in Beijing this week, I returned to the Drum Tower on Saturday because it was closed the last time we attempted to go. Unfortunately, even though the last time we went there was a sign indicating it would be open by November 17th, it was still closed. I still had an interesting time wandering around the alleys in the Drum Tower neighborhood, which have old authentic Chinese shops.
I also visited the National Art Museum of China, which had an interesting combination of traditional and modern Chinese art.
Finally, I returned to Jingshan Park, which is becoming one of my favorite places in the city because of its breathtaking views of the Forbidden City.
Because the park is far from the nearest subway station, my friends and I decided to take a rickshaw (which is basically an enclosed 3-wheeled motorcycle) to the subway. There were three of us but only two seats inside, so I was standing hunched over in the rickshaw when I leaned against the side. I didn’t realize that there was a very unsteady door there, so as soon as I put my weight on it the door swung open and I almost fell out of the rickshaw going 30 mph in the middle of city traffic. It was perhaps one of the most harrowing experiences of my time in China. Thankfully I caught myself before I could fall out though, and now I have a good story to tell!
With my day off from school on Friday, I went to the financial district, which has most of Beijing’s tallest buildings. I tried to go to the top of the Beijing World Trade center only to discover that the highest floor you can go up to without staying at the hotel there is the 32nd. There was still a nice view from the there, though.
I also went to the see the CCTV building, which in Chinese is known as the 大裤子, or big pants. I think it is a really amazing building and a marvel of engineering.
I finished off the day by visiting Beijing’s antique market, which had some interesting artifacts from Chinese history, but also a great deal of touristy items.
On Saturday, I also decided to go out because I didn’t have too much homework to do before my school trip. I went to visit Beijing’s Drum and Bell towers. Though it was cool to see from the outside, they were closed for restoration, so we were unable to go inside. Instead, we walked around some of the surrounding hutongs.
Since we had some extra time, we decided to return to the Tiananmen area to visit the Workers’ Cultural Palace, which, despite the name, is really just a small park next to the Forbidden City where the Emperors used to go to worship their ancestors.
On Sunday we left for our trip to Shanxi province. I did far too much to describe it all, but I'll write about the highlights of each day. We took a slow train to Datong on Sunday, which was seven and half hours and swallowed up almost the entire day. Upon arriving, I was stunned to find that Datong was not a small rural town in the middle of nowhere as I had imagined but in fact a large city with a population of well over a million people. Additionally, everywhere you turned there was new construction as more people continue to move from the countryside to cities in China.
On Monday, we went to a local high school called 北师大大同附中(Datong High School Associated with Beijing Normal University). Although I felt awkward at first, it was an amazing experience to meet high school students in a place that is so different from both the US and Beijing, and they were so excited to meet foreigners. We even had a talent show in the evening where some SYA students performed and we were able to see both traditional Chinese dances and western performances from the Chinese students.
On Tuesday morning we visited a coal mine just outside of Datong, which remains one of the biggest coal producing cities in China. I enjoyed putting on the mining outfit and descending so far down to get a sense of what working in a coal mine is like and the true costs of China’s production of coal. From the mine we drove to the Yungang grottoes, which contain large Buddhist statues that were carved into the side of a cliff more than 1500 years ago. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. We finished the day by doing a scavenger hunt that led us to the major sights around Datong.
We left Datong early Wednesday morning to begin our 9 hour bus ride to Pingyao. Luckily, on our way, we stopped at the Hanging Monastery, which is spectacularly built right on the side of a mountain, and a pagoda which is the 3rd tallest in China.
Thursday was spent exploring the city of Pingyao, which is a magnificently preserved Ming Dynasty city. We stayed in a courtyard hotel and slept on Kangs (beds made of concrete). It was great to wander down the streets full of artisan shops in old Chinese buildings.
Friday seemed to just disappear as we drove from Pingyao to Taiyuan, the capital of Shanxi province. On the way we stopped at the mansion of an ancient Chinese merchant family, but places like that are all starting to look the same to me. In the afternoon I left my classmates to go to Taiyuan airport, where I was flying to Shanghai to meet my aunt, who was there doing business. I was very excited to be able to navigate transportation — the taxi, airport, and plane — all by myself and all in a foreign language.
I spent Saturday morning Pearl shopping with my aunt, and in the afternoon we ascended the Oriental Pearl Tower to do some sightseeing. We then finished off the day by walking along the Bund to enjoy the spectacular skyline of Shanghai's new Pudong district.
I am writing this blog post on Sunday (11/16/14) as I am on the bullet train back to Beijing. In the morning my aunt and I did a bus tour and walked around People's Square, and then I had to go to the train station. The time with my aunt flew by too quickly, but I had a really great weekend and I’m so glad I made the effort to go to Shanghai. It was an adventure to figure out the train system myself, but I'm loving the bullet train, which is really nice inside and going so fast! As I type this, the display at the end of the car says we are going 188mph!
On Saturday, I went to the National Museum of China, an absolutely gigantic building next to Tiananmen Square that contains thousands of artifacts from ancient China. They also had an interesting exhibit on how China regained its prominence after being dominated by foreign powers during the Opium Wars, and it was fascinating to hear the story from its point of view. Click on some of the pictures of the signs below — the way they describe the Communist Party is interesting.
Afterward, we were able to climb Tiananmen (the Gate of Heavenly Peace), which afforded a nice view of Tiananmen Square.
Today I am just doing homework in my apartment, but I think I’ll bake some cookies later this afternoon too!
Next Sunday morning we are leaving for our week-long trip to rural Shanxi province, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do another blog post until after that.
On Wednesday I went to the China Care Home orphanage on the outskirts of Beijing. At GFA I am very involved in the China Care Club, which raises money for this orphanage, so it was really rewarding for me to finally see it after hearing about it for so long. The Home is a temporary orphanage where small children can stay while they await medical care in Beijing, which the Home also pays for. Unlike a typical orphanage, though, when the children have fully recovered from their procedures, they will return to their home orphanages. When I was there, there were about 30 kids staying at the Home, most between 0-6 years old. The China Care Home is actually inside a large residential home. The downstairs is largely administrative space, and the bedrooms on the second floor each house a few kids. I was pleased to find that the kids all seemed happy and really well cared for. There is a “妈妈” or caregiver for every 2-3 kids, and they get a lot of individual attention. I had a great time meeting and playing with the children, and it was inspiring to see how much care is given to helping these children with very serious illnesses. Though these medical conditions are very sad, it is amazing that these kids have a healthy future ahead of them thanks to the surgeries provided by the Home.
This Thursday marked exactly eight weeks since I arrived and eight weeks until I leave SYA, so I am now more than halfway done, which is hard to believe!
Yesterday, I visited the mansion of Prince Gong, who was in charge of China’s first foreign affairs office following the Second Opium War. It’s really cool to be able to learn about something in history class and then go see it on the weekend! We also get extra credit for going to certain places like this (Thanks Fu Laoshi!).
Today the pollution cleared so I considered going out to do something, but I have a lot of work to do, so instead I just went out to go to lunch and to go to the supermarket. Speaking of my homework, I have a midterm in Mandarin tomorrow, so I’ll get back to studying for that!
During the week I continued my classes and extracurriculars, which now include calligraphy, Tai Chi, robotics, and ping pong! Next Friday is the end of the quarter, which means that I am gearing up for mid-term exams next week.
Though the pollution was better over the past week, it returned to “hazardous” levels today, which makes it difficult to be outside for long periods of time, as I find myself getting headaches. However, I do have a mask that I try to wear while I am outside, and this helps a bit.
Today I went to the Baiyun Temple, which is a Daoist temple that is home to many actual Daoist monks. It was great to see the monks praying and practicing their calligraphy in addition to exploring the Temple, which was quite large and consisted of many halls.
Afterward, I took the subway to Chongwenmen, which is the site of the last remaining section of the Ming dynasty wall that once surrounded the city of Beijing. It is amazing to think that what was once the edge of the city now lies almost in its heart.
Today (10/12) was my birthday, and it has been quite an experience to have a birthday in China. Last night I celebrated with friends at an American-style pizza restaurant, and we even found a birthday cake at a Cold Stone Creamery. This afternoon I went to HoHai park, and we took out a paddle boat on the lake, which was fun and relaxing. This evening, when I told my host dad it was my birthday, he was very excited! He made me special long noodles for dinner that symbolize long life (a Chinese birthday tradition), and then he took me to Olympic Park. I hadn’t seen the park at night before, and the lights were spectacular. I received some notes and gifts from my family back home, too! Thank you all for your thoughtful presents and cards :)
On Friday night, I attended a Mariah Carey concert with a group of classmates at the Beijing Worker’s Stadium. It was a very interesting experience to see an American pop concert in the context of Beijing. I was surprised how empty the stadium was.
Though it cleared today, the pollution over the past week has been incredibly bad. On Thursday, it even reach “Beyond Index”!
Back to school again tomorrow. Have a great week!