Best Wishes

I’ve been home for about a week now, and the reverse culture shock is starting to wear off. When I first got here I remember being shaken by the lack of squat toilets and the absence of signs in Chinese. I’m still getting use to the little things, like being back in suburbia and no longer eating dishes like black fungus or squirrel fish. I wish I could have stayed longer! I decided to take Chinese classes this fall quarter since I miss learning it at Peking University (thank you Professor Qiao!) and plan on going back. I was able to get some good practice, not without embarrassment and drawing on paper, by talking to two middle school students next to me in the plane from Shanghai. I initially helped translate the food choices the air hostess had given them in English, but then I started trying to make conversation. They were part of a group of students on their way to a Chicago middle school for a program that sounded a lot like the one I had just done, one based on cultural exchange with academic peers on the other side of the world. Neither of the two girls had ever been to the United States, so I got in-flight wi-fi to show them some of my pictures of Chicago. I told them about deep dish pizza, the Bean and Chicago hot dogs. To say thanks, the two girls gave me a signed postcard that said “Best Wishes” and “we hope you get to visit Taizhou (their hometown)”! It will be yet another reminder of my experiences during the Wanxiang Fellows program, and the people that made it so memorable.

Recommendations of Places to Visit!

Outside from the daily classes of Chinese language and Public Health, there are many opportunities to explore some of the major tourist attractions in China. Out of all the different places, two of my favorites were the Temple of Heaven and the Beijing Olympic Park. Both are easily accessible, with the most cost efficient method being through the subway and the most comfortable method being by taxi.

The Temple of Heaven is a beautiful complex of religious buildings situated within an area that almost looks like a park. Every aspect of this historical complex is beautiful! When going to the Temple of Heaven, make sure to not only plan to visit all the different buildings, but to also take a casual and relaxing stroll through the beautiful park. After visiting the Temple of Heaven, try visiting the Pearl Market which is right next to the east gate of the Temple of Heaven. Here, you will be able to bargain and purchase some souvenirs for an extremely reasonable price!

The Beijing Olympic Park is also very worthwhile to visit. Here, you can visit the famous Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube. The Bird’s Nest is massive, and the Water Cube looks like block of bubbles. My friends and I visited the Olympic Park before sunset, toured the area while the sun was out, and waited for after sunset to tour one more time when the lights on each of the buildings came on. All the buildings look completely different when the lights come on, so I would highly recommend that you plan your trip so that you would be able to see the complexes before and after sunset.

Half way done!

I am writing this while in Qingdao, a city in China famous for its beaches and German influences. I am in Qingdao for the short break we have in between the first and second half of the program. I cannot believe four weeks have gone by so quickly- but at the same time I cannot believe how much I have done and seen and learned in just one month. I got to see so many more cultural sites in Beijing, like the Capital Museum.

Qingdao is so different from Beijing. Its much smaller and a lot less hectic. On our first day we went to the May Fourth Square and walked along the pier to one of Qingdao’s Bathing Beaches. Then in the evening, we went to the Olympic Sailing Center and enjoyed the nice weather by the sea.

The next day we went to the old German town. It was an interesting area because it did not feel like we were in China. The architecture was very European. We stopped at a castle by the sea and toured it for a little bit before moving on to another part of the city. Later we went to the Tsingtao Brewery, which also acted as a museum.

I am really glad that I made the decision to visit Qingdao and I wish I had more time to explore the city. But now it is time to return to Beijing and get ready for the second half of the classes and adventures!

Tower to Tower

Even a year ago, I would have never imagined that I would see the Great Wall of China with my very own eyes, let alone climb it.

The day began at 6:00 AM, when we boarded the bus for a two-hour drive to the section of the Great Wall that we would climb. I had no other shoes other than the Vans that I had brought with me, and after contemplating whether I should buy athletic shoes last-minute, I figured it couldn’t be THAT bad.

I was wrong.

We began the trek at around 9:00, where we began at a small village at the foot of the Great Wall. The total walking time up the Great Wall was about 3 hours. No two steps up the Great Wall were the same size, and it was probably one of the most difficult hikes I’d experienced in my entire life. It was difficult to imagine that soldiers used to patrol the wall from tower to tower. However, each view from one tower to the next was different and breathtaking in its own way. At the top of each tower, it was possible to fully take in the beauty of the mountainside and the Wall itself.

At the end of the grueling yet rewarding climb up the Great Wall, we took a lift in order to get back down to the small village. The lift provided a different view of the Great Wall that could not be viewed from the hike. As I watched the stretch of the Great Wall that I had successfully hiked on the way down, I felt a sense of accomplishment of having climbed one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

Food! Excursions!

I’m back in Hangzhou again for the 4-day break! I am currently finished with my 4 weeks of global health in China class and cannot wait to begin learning about traditional Chinese medicine! I will have a new Chinese teacher when I return to Beijing. I’m enjoying not having to do homework for a couple of days. In the first 4 weeks, I’ve visited The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and many other museums and places. The excursion to the Great Wall included views that were well worth the intense hike. The part of the Great Wall that we went to was one of the more difficult parts to climb, but has fewer tourists. There’s a little touristy town at the bottom of the mountain that served visitors food and drinks. Most of us were so exhausted once we reach the top that almost all of us opted to take the cable car down. At the beginning of the program, we met our language buddies and they took us to purchase our daily necessities and gave us a tour around campus. Ours even took a group of us to Nanluoguxiang (drum and bell tower district), which is a traditional street filled with souvenirs and street food. The area used to be the center of the city, before it expanded. The neighborhood has narrow streets that used to be common in Beijing called “hutong”. I had rice-stuffed chicken wings, Peking duck wraps, and this special yogurt desert called “shuangpinai”.

rice stuffed chicken wings, tofu, lamb, and Peking duck wraps

The Great Wall!

People-watching

It’s been a while since I was last in a country where I don’t fit in, so to speak. There are not many immigrants in China, so seeing a Black person can be rather uncommon. As a result, I’ve gotten a lot of stares, and even had some people take pictures of me. When I first got to Beijing I decided to start an album of pictures of everyone who’d taken a picture of me (the pictures in the post are examples).

By the time I left Beijing a month later, though, I decided this just made me worry about it more. It can be kind of stressful drawing unwanted attention but at its best discomfort is an opportunity to look at your surroundings with fresh eyes. I’ve realized that unlike many of the other place’s I’d been, I was never going to “blend in” and would be constantly singled out as a “foreigner”. In Hangzhou I was finally able to accept it and feel more at ease in public. It can be hard ignoring people when they are talking about you right under your nose, but developing a thick skin was definitely worth it. I began smiling at people like I would at home, and sometimes they would smile back. I’ve even been able to joke around with some people when I speak Chinese! I’ve been reminding myself that the people staring are most likely not doing so maliciously. Now I see adjusting as a good experience; it reminded me not to stress about things I have no control over because it might draw away from valuable moments and making the most out of my time here. When I come back (yes I’ve already decided), I will know better and be prepared.

Exciting Fear and Fearful Excitement

Hi! My name is Josh, and I am a rising sophomore! In a couple days, I’ll be off to Beijing, China from Los Angeles, California. I will be studying at Peking University for two months, where I will be studying Public Health, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Chinese. While I am excited for what new experiences I’ll encounter during this trip, I am also gripped with fear and nervousness as I imagine being surrounded by a society whose culture and language of which I am not particularly familiar. Although not Chinese or Chinese-American myself, I believed that having interacted with Chinese people for as long as I could remember would give me the expertise needed to fully immerse myself in the society and successfully get through each day. In middle school, high school, and even college, I had many friends who were of Chinese descent, thus initially causing me to believe that I knew much about the Chinese culture. However, when I really thought about it, it occurred to me that the aspects of the culture I knew were simply a small portion of what the culture actually consists.

 

Now that this trip is approaching closer and closer, reality is beginning to hit me as I begin to wonder whether I am truly ready and equipped with the skills necessary to live two full months in a foreign country. A month ago, one of my friends jokingly mentioned, “If you don’t know what is going on, just say ‘wo bu zhidao’”, which essentially translates to “I don’t know.” What seemed like a light joke at that time suddenly feels like it would become a frightening reality.

 

I hope that during my two months in Beijing, I will be able to immerse myself in the academic and social aspects of the study abroad trip, and also gain valuable life skills!

Update!

It’s been several weeks since the start of the program and I finally feel well-adjusted to my new life at Peking University. A day at Beida usually starts with me walking to get breakfast at the Jianbing store. Jianbing is a savory crisp-fried crepe that contains egg, cilantro, sausage/chicken, and a special sweet sauce. Then I spend three hours studying Chinese. I’ve even learned and memorized multiple Confucius saying that are called “lunyu”. My favorite part of Chinese class is when we watch a dating show called “feichengwurao”, because it is representative of the young generation’s dating behavior and includes lots of spoken language that is not included in textbooks. Peking University’s cafeterias have amazing Chinese food that are very affordable. There are special sections for noodles of all sorts, fruit, hotpot, and even American food. A plate of Kung Pao chicken costs only around $1. The only downside is that the cafeterias are filled with people and it’s impossible to find places to sit. After lunch, I have my global health class from 1-4pm. I enjoy having different professors teaching different aspects of the Chinese health system and current challenges. We’ve visited Beida’s medical school, Desheng community health center, and the Third Hospital attached to Peking University. What really stood out to me from these visits was that hospitals in China are equipped with highly-efficient technology to accommodate the huge number of visits every day (doctors at big hospitals see around 60 patients per day). For example, automatic, vending-machine style pharmacy allows for convenience and accuracy.

Eating Jianbing!

Cafeteria food

Oh, The Cafes You’ll Go

From Monday to Friday, classes fill up our schedule: 9:00-12:00 Chinese, 12:00-1:00 lunch, 1:00-4:00 class (Public Health/Political Science/IMC). Trying to study and finish homework and, more or less, experience something new, I sometimes go to a cafe afterwards. There are multiple coffee shops in Peking’s campus like Paradiso Cafe and Beautiful Time Cafe. The latter also serves tea and various meal choices so you can even stay for dinner!

There are plenty of cafes outside of Peking University too. If you go near EC Mall and City Gate Mall, there’s a two-story Starbucks which has great wi-fi. Inside the two malls, there’s also Maan Coffee and another Starbucks so you can get dinner afterwards and shop!

But by far, my favorite cafes are in Wudaokou. Less than a 20-minute bus ride, Wudaokou is filled with much activity, food and fun. There are Korean chain bakery-cafes like Tous Les Jours and Paris Baguette, where you can study and get some small pastries for breakfast the next morning. There’s also a sloth cafe (a drawing of a sloth on top of their open door) and it’s usually the most quiet one of all. But the down side is that you’re expected to pay for a pretty expensive drink if you study there. Close by though, there’s a popular cafe among NU students called Bunny Drop and here, there’s no need to pay to stay. The coffee shop has food too like burgers, salads, pasta and other non-Chinese dishes, and I ended up eating dinner there multiple times.

Bunny Drop aesthetics

Dinner at Bunny Drop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike the States where most people grab coffee at either Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, the cafe culture in China is quite diverse and ubiquitous. Some cafes even have sit-down, warm meals delivered directly to wherever you’re sitting–almost like a restaurant. Even though I go to these cafes after class to study/do homework and it all seems mundane, I’m also learning parts of Chinese culture along the way. Not everything needs to or can be attained from intentional planning and doing. Sometimes, it just happens.

Day 39 of 42

Hey again… I’m almost at the end of my trip and I am in disbelief that it is so close to being over. These last two weeks in Hangzhou have been a lot of fun and I’m glad that I had the chance to see a different perspective of China aside from Beijing. During my time in Hangzhou, I have spent time with the student ambassadors, toured many parts of the city, and went on many study visits to various energy plants. My favorite was the Jiande Hydroelectric Plant. It was built in the 1950’s and was a major engineering feat, which I find absolutely incredible. We were able to stand on top of the dam and look out from both sides. A cool fact that I learned is that the reservoir side is called Thousand Island Lake because the water level is so high that only the mountain tops show, creating islands.

Jiande Hydroelectric Plant

We also got the chance to test our skills at some different forms of Chinese art. We practiced the art of tea making, paper cutting, dough sculpture, and dumpling making. I am certainly no artist, but it was a lot of fun to learn about these traditions and to try them myself. I am hoping that I can actually use what I learned in our dumpling making class to go home and try to make dumplings for my family.

My Dough Sculpture!

Tonight, we have our closing ceremonies for our time in Hangzhou which is bittersweet because I’m going to miss the ambassadors as well as this beautiful city. However, I am excited to go on our next adventure which is to Shanghai for two days. Then, I am on my way home to the US! This has been the trip of a lifetime but I am certainly ready to see my family again and sleep in my own bed. My next blog post will be my last one and I am looking forward to reflecting on my entire trip in China. Stay tuned!