Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Becoming a family pioneer

Hey everyone back at home, my name is Devon Walton Jr., and I’m a senior studying Political Science with a minor in Chinese. I’ve decided to take this trip to Beijing, China, to fully get an understanding of the language and culture; also to use all that I’ve learned in real life situations. I’m actually the first of my immediate family to leave the country and see another world; venturing out the country was a huge deal so throwing a going away party for me was natural.

My mother and aunt drove me to the airport in New York with excitement; they were so proud and happy. Personally I felt it was a huge accomplishment, I sacrificed a lot to be out here and to actually achieve my goal was refreshing. 

After landing in Beijing, I began to notice how thick and humid the air had been. It was hard to even see a couple kilometers away and I knew it would be a huge burden on my body and mood for the first couple of days. We arrived late, but I was just excited to be there so sleeping was very difficult.

The very next morning we took a tour of the campus, we seen all the places where we could eat and take our classes. I placed a step higher than I thought I would and was happy with my performance. The classes are challenging and fun, my professors are pretty serious.

Despite the challenge I find that they really want us to learn, and the professors make sure they drill as much as possible in these short but long four weeks. We have classes form 8am-12pm everyday and the rest of the day is up to us to manage.

We eat breakfast every morning with our meal card and the food is not bad at all, even though I do miss our traditional food back at home (the pictures I’ve taken are really defined and it takes awhile for them to load on this document). Recently we have taken on an exercise regiment, and I find it enriching. M/W/F consists of weight training and Tuesday/Thursday consists of morning runs, and everyday we all practice tai chi. It’s a must that we make time for study, at least a couple hours of writing and listening everyday.

Despite our rigorous twelve hour days the social aspect is incredible. In just this short week we all met people from all over the world. Africa, Australia, S. Korea, Russia, Mongolia, India, Europe just to name a few and meeting the locals from different provinces has given me a new insight; life is truly precious.  Even though we all have several backgrounds we ted to mesh pretty well. Applying the language in everyday life situations has really helped me to understand the language and has enhanced my vocabulary.

This past weekend we took a trip to Tiennanmen Square and the Forbidden City. The people wanted to take pictures of us because I believe we were the first foreigners they’ve ever seen. The tour was amazing and I learned a few cool things. One of which is that the forbidden garden was like a chill spot for the imperial family; the emperor would choose his beautiful concubines and have drinks as he watched over the scenic view.

The night life in Beijing is pretty cool, we learned a lot about the district. The Wo Dou Kou district has a plethora of different clubs to attend. The music is great and the people seemed to be very friendly. I hope to learn a lot more and hopefully see more of the city over the next couple weeks.

Today was like a typical day of class, we split the larger lower class into two smaller groups. We had two hours of speaking and two of writing, then got the afternoon to ourselves. My friends and I were planning on going to the zoo, but it has been raining the last three days in a row which made it very unlikely. We did have plans for this evening with the Bloomsburg and Washington group to see a martial arts show.

It took about an hour by bus to get there because the traffic is so crazy in Beijing and so unlike American traffic. There is almost always someone honking, but it appears that horns are used just to let other drivers know that they are coming. When we got to the martial arts show we had almost an hour to do whatever we wanted so most of the Bloomsburg group decided to take pictures outside because the building itself was really cool. When we went inside we discovered that the inside of the building was even more magnificent than the outside. Almost everything red and gold, from the carpets to the ceiling. There were even beautiful chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Some of us went to the gift shops where they had martial arts and traditional Chinese decorations on display. There were small China dolls, nun-chucks, and dresses. We were soon hurried into the auditorium style room to see the show. I was so impressed by everything the people could do. The show told a story about a boy becoming a great martial arts master and eventually to leading the whole temple. I had lots of fun.

We were then permitted to shop some more and then board the bus back. The way back didn't take nearly as long as it did getting there because there wasn't so much traffic. One member of our group got a laser pointer for 20 kuai but instead of receiving yuan back he got money from Belarus. Unfortunately he lost almost 80 kuai, but taught the rest of us to be really careful when exchanging money.

Yesterday, the Bloomsburg group left Beijing and traveled by bullet train to the Shan Dong province. It took about two hours to get there by bullet train, but by a regular train it would have taken almost 12 hours. On the bullet train we traveled at a speed over 300km an hour! It didn't feel that fast when you were on it. Today, we climbed Mount Tai, the holiest mountain in China. We took a bus half way up and had the option of taking the cable car the rest of the way for 100 kuai each.

No one was willing to part with their money that easily and most of us wanted to see the view on the way up. I wish I had taken the cable car. I was having a lot of fun taking pictures on the way up and going at my own speed, but about one thrid of the way up it started pouring which eventually turned into a huge thunderstorm. I didn't even have an umbrella or poncho to keep me dry.

Chinese salespeople on the mountain kept trying to sell me ponchos, but I didn't have my money either. I was just going to have to suck it up until I made it to the top where we were supposed to have lunch. I kept going and purchased a red ribbon which one tied to a tree to bring good luck to their family.

I had trouble climbing all the stairs and keeping my red ribbon. I felt like the stairs were never going to end and they just kept getting steeper and steeper. I saw someone slip and fall in the rain, but was caught by a few other people. I decided I would take the cable car down. I finally made it ot the top and realized it was so cold on the top. We had to keep climbing a few more steps to get to the restaurant and ate soaking wet.

After that many of our group tried to take the cable car down, but realized it wasn't working due to the bad weather. We all had to climb down. It was really scary climbing down and I was still really wet, but got a poncho like the rest of our group. I got past the first part which was the worst because of how steep it was and keep going. Eventually, we all made it to the bottom, which didn't take as long as getting to the top. We all boarded a bus to take us to our other bus which took us to another hotel an hour away. I thought I was never going to get dry! But we made it to the hotel and took showers and ate a big dinner. I definitely felt better after I ate and had some dry clothes.

After the long, long journey on Mount Tai everyone in our group is exhausted! My legs feel like wooden sticks. After we all had breakfast we had to go to Confucius's Temple and mansion. It was so hot that I don't think anyone was too interested.

I felt bad because it was so cool and full of history that I wanted to know about it and see everything, but I felt so awful from the day on Mount Tai all I wanted to do was sit down and take a nap!

The temple and mansion were full of trees though and beautiful architecture! Everything was painted with red, blue, and green. There was a tree in the Temple that was over 1800 years old! When I touched it, it felt smooth like it was impossible to get a splinter. There was this random wall in one of the courtyards at the temple with a well beside it.

We learned that the well was Confucius's well and the wall was full of books that Confucian students wanted to save when others were trying to destroy Confucius's works. I really wanted to open the wall and what was in there because although the books were saved no one could learn from them if they were stuck in the wall. It was still really interesting. We then had lunch and traveled to Confucius's cemetery where he was buried along with his son and grandson.

There were others buried there as well such as emperor's, but many just wanted to Confucius's tomb. I was still really tired and had trouble walking, but I loved seeing the tombs of Confucius and his family. The headstones were enormous and Confucius's had flowers and decorations all over it. After we saw the tomb we had time to explore and shop and the little stands that lined the street outside the cemetery. When you walked by the vendors would all yell, “Yeah, hello!” because they knew you were tourist. I bought a few things and practiced my bargaining skills. After that we returned to Beijing by bullet train and bus, where I fell asleep because the weekend was so exhausted, but fun.
    — Devon Walton Jr., political science major

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