Posted by Matthew Corcoran on 10/14/2014
I would like to start by saying that this trip has been so amazing. I can't believe I ever had doubts about coming here. My host family is wonderful. My host mom has some sort of heating/contracting company and my host dad is a tax guy in charge of one of the 8 zones of Beijing. My host sister, Theresa, is turning 16 tomorrow. She is VERY friendly. She is turning out to be a great companion here.
Life here is extremely busy; I don't know where the time goes. It seems like I just got out of school and grabbed a bite and it's already 6:30pm. Sometimes I feel like I don't know where my weekends went...I'm either travelling with the group or just over-sleeping and eating all weekend.
I also didn't realize how much $$ I would be spending here. I admit that I am a big spender but I didn't even expect this much spending considering I haven't REALLY started shopping yet. I can only imagine how much I will spend when I start BUYING. I'm looking forward to it *wink wink*
I don't think 4 months is enough of a cultural exchange (that comes from me not wanting to leave). 4 months seem only enough for a little taste of the other culture but definitely not enough. With that said...can I stay longer?? *angel smile* I can't believe this experience is already half over...I've gotten so used to this and I love it.
Life here is still going strong. The city grows on me daily and is finally getting warmer (it was 68 degrees today!), the group is having a whole lot of fun, and, of course, the food still doesn't fail to please. My newest obsession is Jianbing, an inside-out omlette/tortilla with sauce, onion, and a mysterious crunchy thing in the middle. It's a bit hard to explain, but it's absolutely delicious and only costs 2 yuan (25 cents!). It's just one of the many things I'll desperately miss when we leave in June.
The weekly schedule for our group has been full of all sorts of excursions. Every other weekend the school takes us on trips around Beijing, such as to the Forbidden City and to the Llama Temple, all of which have been pretty cool to see (but some of which I'd already seen. Of course, no harm in seeing them again!) During the free weekends, the group (or at least a few of us) has been going outside of Beijing. So far I've been to Xi'an, Pingyao, and Shanghai with people from the group. All were really amazing experiences, each in their own different way. Xi'an was amazing for the obvious reasons of the Terracotta Soldiers, which make you remember that this is pretty important stuff here, the peaceful Winter Palace, and a modern city with an even longer history than that of Beijing. Aaron and I later went to Pingyao, and, due to the mysteriousness of the train system in China (can't buy return tickets until you get to the destination) we had a much shorter time there than we had planned. Pingyao is a very old walled city with a more countryside feel than some of the other cities I've visited here, from the gutted dirt roads to the food (the first place I've seen dog on the menu!). A lot of it seemed pretty touristy, but we were unable many of the "must-see" sights, many of which are a short drive away from the walled city, due to a lack of time. We both agreed that it was worth going, including for the travelling experiences (overnight trains, drives with 35 people crammed into a 20-person bus...)
Some of us spent this past weekend in Shanghai, which we all loved. It is an incredibly modern city, accentuated by a scattering of skyscrapers that belong in the 23rd century. In terms of size and modernity, Shanghai can be compared to New York. There were many refreshing things there; green plants everywhere (including palm trees), rain, a river, and amazingly delicious thick honest-to-god hamburgers (really cheap too, none of this Hard Rock Cafe Beijing stuff). I love Beijing to death, but it was pretty nice to experience all of these after a period of two months without much of any of these.
Although the school days are much longer than we're used to, they seem to fly by. Part of the reason is that every day the American group has a private creative class geared towards our level of inexperience, which splits up the day. Fine arts, calligraphy, and kung fu are the favorites, and there's also history and Chinese. We have good times seeing who painted the best gold fish and pretending to be kung fu masters. Afternoons and evenings are spent chilling with the family, exploring new areas of the city, or attending events such as the weekly Wednesday night free showings of really good movies at the Mexican embassy.
Yesterday, Jon and I decided that we haven't seen enough of Beijing so we hopped a cab over to Haidian, the university area. Getting out of the cab we were amazed that we have lived in Beijing for 2 months and we didn't recognize the area at all. We said we might as well be in some other city. We explored and grabbed a bite to eat, and after getting back into the cab I was equally amazed to find that the area was a short 5 minute cab ride from Yayuncun, the area that I live in. I have a lot to learn about this city.
China has been an awesome experience so far. Last week, a few of us went to Ji'nan, a province that is about a 4 1/2 hour train ride outside of Beijing. We took hard seats, which I found out were pretty uncomfortable considering 3 people have to pack themselves together on a row of seats that are very hard. There were also no dividers, which made it hard to fall asleep because it was so easy to hit the person next to you.
We arrived in Ji'nan at around 11:30 p.m. and were hassled by taxi drivers outside of the Ji'nan Railway Station. Apparently according to guidebooks, Ji'nan's cab drivers are the most aggressive in Ji'nan, but what I noticed is that they are the most friendly and much cheaper in Beijing considering fare's cost 6 yuan and it's 1.20 yuan - 1.30 yuan instead of the 10 yuan starter and 1.20- 2.00 yuan in Beijing. We arrived at the hotel at 12:00 and it was cool to talk down the price of the hotel room. They started off at a ridiculous offer at 500 yuan, but after several minutes of bargaining, the lady agreed to 380 yuan for a room for 2 nights. We pretty much went to sleep after we got our rooms.
The next morning, we got up leisurely, which was a nice thing to be able to do, because we hardly ever have a chance to sleep in. So then we took a cab to The Hot Springs and I saw a Wal-Mart!! This sounds dumb, but it was really cool to see an American store in China, it was especially weird because I expected they have Wal-Mart in Beijing, but in Ji'nan??? Ji'nan is like a province in the middle of nowhere and it is much less developed than Beijing. After the Hot Springs, we went to lunch at a restaurant in a hotel and it was pretty cool because there were no menus in this restaurant. You went up to this room and looked at plastic food and ordered it based on which dish appealed to you the most.
After lunch, we took another cab to a famous Pagoda in Ji'nan. Well actually we took a cab to the bus stop and road a long bus ride to the top of the mountain, where the pagoda rested on. The Pagoda was quite amazing. We climbed the mountains around it and at the top of the mountain, a bought a very nice looking sword/dagger. I bargained for it too! The lady told me 40, but I got it down to 25 yuan. Anyways after the pagoda, we took the same bus back to the place where we got on the bus to get to the Pagoda. After this we went back to the hotel to rest and then went out to the nightmarkets. The nightmarkets were awesome too. We had pancakes with scallions on the streets and we had a type of hot pot where we had those vegetables and meats on a stick. My mom said it was unsafe to eat, but we did it anyway. Then I called my parents and friends at a little phone stand on the streets. It was quite expensive, but we did it anyway. After that we just went back to the hotel and slept until 6:00 am. We took the hard seat train back and arrived in Beijing at 12:00 p.m.
This whole Ji'nan experience was quite interesting. It made me see that even within China, there is a lot of diversity. People are more hospitable towards foreigners and I figured out that every province has its own dialect, which is a neat yet annoying thing to deal with. They keep trying to tell me stuff but their accents are so strong that I can't understand them. Also I was annoyed that there were no DVD vendors, which is something I really look to see. Anyways, Aaron and Bevin have to go running, so I'm going to leave too. Talk to you soon!
Xi'an was a nice weekend trip. I got to get away from the bustle of Beijing and get a glimpse of rural China when we traveled to and from sites in Shaanxi. In Beijing, school has become routine and my Chinese is slowly improving. I continue to go to dinner with my father's colleagues at the Zhong nanhai and his friends in business. My host family has made me feel like I am at home here. Next week, I will meet up with a Time Magazine correspondent who did a college interview with me near the YongheGong.
Our extracurricular classes have started. The class taught by Bevin and Aaron is going well. We spend half the time talking about weekend trips and our plans in May. Today we choose the top three locations we want to visit in May: Yunan, Tibet or XinJiang. The other half of class is spent discussing the Chinese lit packet. Today we discussed religion and the Cultural Revolution. I feel that the Cultural Revolution is as distant here as the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war are to Americans (though like the cultural revolution both occurred within the last 50 years).
This weekend the whole group will visit the YongheGong and on Sunday Dave, Maggie, Jake and I will go to Hebei province. Next weekend, Dave and I will go to Ningxia Province with Bai Haotian.
I just returned from Xi'an which is very exciting. We visiting the Terra-cotta warriors which was very exciting but not as exciting as I expected. However the day was very nice and we were of course hawk by vendors trying to sell us everything. The next day we went to the Big Goose Pagoda and everyone was flying kites outside it was very interesting. The pagoda itself was very peaceful and relaxing. They had very nice gardens and the view from the top was amazing. Then we traveled to a museum which was really a museum but rather a collections of the largest stone tablets in the world. They contained all sorts of book and stories from ancient China. If only I could read the Chinese. Finally we traveled to the Muslim Quarter and visiting a big mosque. That was interesting because it was funny to see Chinese Muslims although I suppose now that I think about it they must have existed.
Hope all is well in America.
China is awesome! Beijing is starting to seem more like home than some far flung exotic city and life is working its way into a routine. School is fine. During our 1 1/2 hour lunch break we always go out and eat at some interesting restaurant and I love to eat. I have also started to commute on bicycle to school (it takes 30 minutes).
What has really made this trip amazing is the fact that we travel every other weekend. Our school plans trips within the city every other weekend so on the weekends we don't have plans we go places. This past weekend I went to Xi'an and saw the terracotta warriors and the city which has a large Muslim population. It was a ton of fun. Next weekend were going to Shanghai!
I had a really fun weekend here in Beijing. It is one of the best of I have had here. Saturday the whole American group joined the communist Youth League from Jingshan School to go to the countryside of Beijing and plant trees and hike this mountain. It was really nice weather so I had no problem taking part in it. It was really strange planting the trees, cause they were all so close to each other, so they really didn't have any room to grow I think. The main reason why they want people planting trees is so that a forest will build up, blocking the sands from the Gobi desert. The hike was really nice and a good workout I thought. In May the American group is taking a trip to Yunan in the south of China, where we will do a three day hike in the jungle pretty much, sleeping at local villages and soaking in the jungle. Its going to be awesome I can't wait. Today I took a bike trip with some of the other exchange students. We took a bus about an hour outside of Beijing to a town called Nanshan and started are bike trip there. It was really a great 25-mile bike ride in the countryside. Beautiful setting and weather. Huge mountains in sight all over the place with the Great Wall scaling the tops, we actually biked up and down some hilly terrain. We biked past dry farm land and the curious faces of farmers and other locals. We biked through small rural sleepy towns, with all the little kids coming out to smile and laugh while looking at us bike past them. One place we stopped was a ledge overlooking a huge reservoir, which was nothing but extremely beautiful. Also some of us found a small dirt path that led down to a huge farm field, the earth was to dry to grow anything encircled by mountains and a rushing river running beside the farm plain. I saw some really beautiful scenery as you can read today. We stopped for lunch at a small restaurant where we ate outside, overlooking more beautiful mountains and fields. The food was really good and authentic countryside food. Everything was fresh and home grown, it was so good. After lunch we went for a 3-hour hike in the Black Dragon Pool, which was this natural park with really beautiful mountains and waterfalls. This again was breathtaking. It was weird though cause there was ice everywhere in the water and parts of the water that was still iced over, even though it was sunny and hot out. It was a real full day, but one I am glad I did. Hope all is well with you and I'll talk to you later.
We seemed to have skipped right over spring and on to summer. Today was a wonderful 80 degrees. First I went with my host family to the cemetery to clean the tomb of my host mother's father as there is a special day for this. The cemetery we went to is a special cemetery for people who devoted their lives to the revolution. My host mother's brothers and sisters met us there, and we all went into a small building, of which there were many, where small glass doors lined the walls. each door opened to a small shelf where urns were stored, and colorful fake flowers and pictures of the deceased when they were younger, all in revolutionary Communist clothing, were placed in front of the urns. The family took out the urn and the decorations, wiped down the shelf area and the urn, put everything back in its place, and bowed together three times as a sign of respect for their father.
Afterwards, the entire family took me to the western hills of Beijing to Badaqu, an area that has 8 temples in nestled in the hillside. There we had a picnic, where our conversations became quite confusing linguistically; one uncle and his wife were, for 40 years, diplomats in many a Spanish-speaking country and were quite excited to hear that I know Spanish, and I was quite excited to know that I could understand them. The other uncles and aunts spoke quite quickly to me in Chinese, which I had trouble understanding, so the Spanish-speaking couple would translate it into Spanish for me. I would often try to reply to the couple in Spanish but I think I successfully made up Chinnish; after trying to train yourself to think in one language for two months it's quite hard to switch to another foreign language that you haven't spoken since saying goodbye to your Spanish teacher two months before, especially when people on the other side of you are also talking to you in a language that you have to work quite hard at to understand. They were all quite amused with my attempts, however, and finally I got the hang of it.
Tonight I saw one of the worst accidents I've seen while living in Beijing. I was biking back home after seeing a movie with Bevin and Sarah. The night was warm and I had taken my school uniform and baseball cap off. It was ten o'clock at night.
I first noticed that something was awry when I saw two large crowds of Chinese on either side of the road. They were all staring at a taxi in the middle of the street. I stopped my bike and examined the scene. The taxi, it seemed, had ran into a biker who had then hit the windshield of the car bowing the glass deep into the cars compartment. The bike lay ten feet away only slightly beat up. Policemen were taking pictures and cataloguing evidence. After a couple minutes I got back onto my bike and continued on home in the dark letting my unprotected head rush through the night air. I never felt so Chinese.
China often seems most understandable when I examine my indvidual experiences. These "vignettes" of Chinese life are what I will remember from this trip when I journey back to the states and they are what stand out in my perceptions of China.
Some experiences that I can remember off the top of my head:
The view from my bedroom window early in the morning when the pollution is low and the hazy outline of the Western hills that lies behind the acres and acres of sprawling urban Beijing.
My morning commute to school as I ride with hundreds of other Chinese on their way to their day jobs.
The mob of students in varying uniforms that mob Deng Shi Kou Lu every morning bringing all traffic to a standstill.
The unfolding landscape of China's countryside viewed from a train window.
The simple art of someone making a jian bing (a Chinese style sandwich which is really a crepe with a scrambled egg, spices, a fried piece of dough and scallions) at the local supermarket.
The smells of street food vendors that I've come across all over China. From the lamb barbacue of Xi'An's Muslim quarter to the sweet candied crab apples sold all over Beijing.
Biking alongside the crumbling great wall and the Trans-Siberian railroad north of Beijing.