May 29 Sunday
The food on our first full day was very eye-opening. From the start of breakfast, with the English-Chinese breakfast on the second floor of our luxurious Gran Hyatt hotel. Explaining to the nice chef what you wanted in your omelet by pointing to it was interesting. The lunch was amazing. We ate at the best dumpling restaurant in the city. After going to our private room, we sat down at a table with a glass spinning circle in the center of it. The food came out and all of the dumplings disappeared off of the serving tray to in between pairs of black chopsticks. I poured a lot of soy sauce on my plate, my dumpling then fell away from my chopsticks and splashed Kelly and me with soy sauce. The beef was also very good and so was the steamed rice.
Dinner came at the top of a 7 story building. All of us were pretty groggy because of the jet-lag as we sat down at the dinner table in our velvet and mirror laced private room. We could see the tops of buildings in the city from the high windows in the room. As the food came out, not a lot of it disappeared onto peoples plates. The teachers in the International Department introduced themselves and then we reciprocated the introductions. The Peking duck that was served was delicious. It came at the very end of the meal so most were full from the delicious and crave-worthy beef and chicken. There were also our first fried rolls which were a big hit on my side of the table. The Peking duck was intriguing and fun for everyone. It was similar to making a taco, but you need to dip the duck skin into the syrup stuff and then add the actual meat with some sugar and cucumber, and then you fold the ends together and eat it from the bottom. I loved the food on our first day; experiencing the new culture that we are going to be apart of was eye-opening and comforting to know that it is just as good as our comfort food.
After traveling to Tiananmen Square, we traveled to the Forbidden City. The fact that a majority of the people who were visiting the Forbidden City were Chinese or from another part of Asia interested me a lot. I had expected that most of the people there would be tourist from places such as America or Europe. Overall, the whole group was amazed by the colors and architecture of the buildings in the Forbidden City. I found it particularly interesting how there was an emperor that was 3 years old. When I first heard about the 3-year-old emperor, I was shocked because I thought they would let him make decision and rule the country. But later the tour guide told us that really his mother ruled the country “behind a curtain.” This interested me even further because they did not believe that a woman could do a good job, but she obviously did pretty well. I learned the importance of the number 9 on my tour also. There are said to be 9,999 and a half rooms, which means that they were just below heaven because heaven was supposed to have 10,000. My group and I were overwhelmed when were trying to take a picture of the throne. Many of the people there were very pushy and didn’t care about the pushing. After taking the photos, I saw the group of students that I was with and after one second they were gone. I had a quick moment of terror, but I quickly saw some of my other classmates and felt better. Overall, I found this part of the day to the Forbidden City very informative and fun.
May 30 Monday
This morning, we had our first breakfast at Beijing 101. It was a big change from our food in Atlanta. I enjoyed the sweet Chinese sausage and rice with egg in it. There were also boiled eggs, steamed white dough buns sometimes stuffed with meat or veggies, and pastry with bean paste. The chef also prepared cereal and milk, which is something familiar that goes along with a banana. The milk was lukewarm, and we could choose regular or soy milk. After having a full breakfast, we had the introduction to the Beijing 101 students. I spotted two familiar faces that I knew from the exchange at Westminster in the winter, Mona and Daniel. It was excited to see them again and catch up since I last talked to them when they left. It was also cool to see Daniel more in his element at Beijing 101. In Atlanta, he seemed like a fish out of water, maybe because he was still learning about the American culture. However, at Beijing 101, he is confident, talkative and has a great personality. In the evening, Addison and I were surprised with a birthday cake. It was very cute with a blue animal face on top in icing. It said “happy birthday A and I.” It tasted very good and was light and fluffy. Most of the students I met throughout the day were very kind.
May 31 Tuesday
We attended a Chinese class. We first were assigned Chinese names (although most of us were previously assigned Chinese names in middle school), and then we practiced reading poetry. I especially enjoyed this class because I got to sit and converse with Sophie, who I will be staying with next week. This provided a lot of time for group interactions with the exchange students, which we all loved! Interacting with the Beijing 101 students in both Chinese and English has been one of the most pleasant parts of the experience thus far. We also went to the stadium to view and partake in daily exercises. Although we looked a little ridiculous, it was fun to participate in this aspect of their culture. After this, we traveled to the kitchen to learn how to make dumplings. This was an exciting hands-on experience. We helped mix pork with onions, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, and pigskin. We then helped roll out the dough using the special procedure a Beijing 101 chef taught us. The chef boiled the dumplings for us and we ate them as a pre-lunch snack. They were delicious. Our lunch consisted of rice, steamed buns, squid, pork, and chicken wings. Although the food here is very different, we have all been adventurous in trying new things, even when we don’t recognize them.
Once we finished eating, we went to tour the Summer Palace. This was one of the most beautiful sights we have seen so far in Beijing. I was incredibly impressed by how they were able to construct such a monumental piece of architecture in the eighteenth century. Because it was built on a mountain, we walked up to the top. While up there, we visited a Buddhist sanctuary, which was full of golden statues. Though the hike was long, the view at the top was stunning. We then hiked to the bottom and got to see Kun Ming Lake, an outstandingly beautiful green lake. One of the most beautiful sights there was a giant marble boat used for parties. This whole area was full of elegant traditional architecture, especially the colors of green, red, and gold (primarily red). My favorite part of the day was getting the opportunity to eat dinner with Cassie, Jasmine, and Alice, which are students our age who live at Beijing 101. It was great to practice Chinese with them and get to know them better.
June 1 Wednesday
The first class we attended this morning was a colloquy class. Almost all of us were confused as to what a colloquy class was. When the class began I picked up that this is a class in which the Chinese students study different plays and they learn how to express themselves by using gestures and body language. Today the students conducted two seminars for each other on the play they are currently reading, “An Enemy of the People.” I was very impressed when the students performed their entire seminars in English. I was also surprised when the teacher gave the students a large amount of freedom in the class, and the students led the activities like professionals.
Another class we attended was calligraphy. I was shocked to learn that there are 10-20 versions of each Chinese character. With around 9000 characters and 20 versions of each, that amounts to at least 180,000 characters Chinese characters that a person can learn. After the teacher gave us a brief introduction to Chinese characters and its history, she started to show us how to write characters with our ink brushes. First we wrote 爱, which means ‘love’ in Chinese. We started with the earliest version of the character and continued to write the different versions until we got to the most recent character. It was very cool to see how the character developed from its original state to how we write it today. Once we finished writing all of the different versions of爱, the teacher let us write any version of the character on a very special piece of paper. She had explained to us earlier in the class that this paper takes 30 days to make each sheet, so we should try to do our best when writing this character. Overall, I found todays classes very fun and informative. They gave us a lot of insight on the Chinese culture and a regular day at Beijing 101 is.
June 2 Thursday
At the end of a long but exciting day, we were invited to a party thrown by the 10th grade Chinese students. Around seven at night we walked into one of the classrooms and saw everyone smiling, disco light and music playing. A few familiar faces from 10th grade were there: Mike, Tony, Jason, Alison, Coco, Alan and Blanche. We sat around the classroom and waited for the party to start. Blanche and Coco announced the performers. As soon as two Chinese students did a duet we realized that the party was slightly different from what we’ve been to. The students organized various performances. After the duet one of students did a beautiful dance in the style of the Chinese Opera. She received a standing ovation and one student even gave her roses afterwards! She reluctantly accepted them after he chased her around half of the classroom. We’ve never laughed harder. I was almost in tears; this party was better than any party I’ve been to all year! Then it was Tony’s turn to perform. I was nervous. Not because I didn’t think he could play guitar well, but I was up after him. I agreed to perform but I didn’t realize that I would be less than five feet away from everyone. Tony’s performance was fantastic he played guitar and sang like a bird. Tony finished his song and handed me his guitar. I sat down, took a deep breath and started playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which they’d never heard before except for Tony. However, they seemed to enjoy it. I took a bow and took my seat again. It was fun to be able to share my joy for music with them. Tony and I even had a conversation about Nirvana’s album ‘Nevermind’. After that a few more people performed and we played a few party games. Our friend Mike also performed. He came to America on the exchange program and he’s an AMAZING beat boxer. He went up against the top beat boxer from South Korea. Needless to say we were all blown away. As usual, Mike delivered an amazing performance and at the very end Zona got a last minute performance and sang. I hadn’t heard her actually perform in a while but every time I do, she gets better and better. After the final performance we took a group picture with everyone and called it a night. It was definitely not the most traditional American party, but it’s the most fun everybody had at a party.
June 4 Saturday
One of the most fun parts of today was the way our group spent their free time after scaling the Great Wall: shopping and bargaining. In Atlanta, there are very few places we can bargain because most stores have set prices, which is why we got really excited when we were informed that bargaining is a major part of Chinese culture. One of our group members bought a small replica of the Great Wall without bargaining at one store, then found out at the next store they were selling an even larger one for half that price and you could bargain. I found it fascinating how he negotiated the already low price down to an even lower one simply by exclaiming the product was too expensive and walking out of the store, something that is not common in Atlanta. Another astonishing fact our group learned about the shops in Beijing is that if one store is selling a product for a high price, there are likely other stores nearby selling the exact same product for an even lower price.
One the way back to Beijing 101, we stopped at the Ming Tombs, which our knowledgeable tour guide informed us was a collection of mausoleums built by the emperors of the Ming dynasty. We believe the most beautiful part of the Ming Tombs was the long road lined with stone statues of mythical animals who each had their own special meaning. One of the group’s favorites was a horse statue, which represents army.
June 8, 2016
Day twelve of the China trip, or as it is more commonly known amongst the students: shopping day. Today was the scramble day for souvenirs, as students sprint around shopping malls, desperate to please every relative on their lengthy lists, or for some, take a much needed break with a bit of retail therapy. Our first stop of the day for our shopping escapades was to Wangfujing, a pedestrian street with a wide variety of stores to choose from. While most of my classmates bolted towards the designer brands, there was one thing on my mind that I new I wanted to do: test out my bargaining abilities in a foreign language. Earlier in the week, I had tried out a little bargaining when we attended the Great Wall, but it was nothing compared to what I accomplished at Wangfujing. Getting to expand my Chinese abilities was one of my favorite treats of the day, rivaled only by my purchase of a new tea set for my sister. Later on, as we met back up to board the bus in order to travel to our next stop, I had a smile stretched across my face not caused by the idea of shopping, but by the sheer somewhat surreal experience of getting to communicate with the local vendors in Chinese. This was the sort of experience I had my eyes on when I first walked into my Chinese classroom back in sixth grade, and it is surely one I will not be forgetting to a while.