Thursday, August 29, 2013

A moment to last a lifetime

One of the events that we got to attend was an acrobatics show on Wednesday July 17. This was by far probably one of the best shows that I have ever seen! We traveled from Peking University to Chaoyang Theater by bus. So, again we got to travel through the insane traffic of Beijing. Cars kept getting so close to the bus that I thought that they would hit the bus, but we ended up making it to the theatre really early and without getting into any accidents.

Once the show began, it was absolutely amazing! The acts were phenomenal. There was a girl doing handstands on at least five chairs high, and she had absolutely no fear. This girl could even switch her hands that she was balancing with and not even fall off of the chair that she was on. Another act consisted of guys jumping or flipping through these small hoops, but they made that difficult task look like it was the simplest thing ever. I was just in awe for some of these beginning acts.

During one of the last acts, these girls would form a pyramid while only one of the girls was pedaling the one bike that everyone was on. It was amazing to be able to see that so many girls were capable of squeezing on one bicycle. Then a total of eight motorcycles all were driving around this gigantic sphere at precise times, so no accidents would ever occur during their time to shine on the stage. It was shocking that so many motorcycles were able to fit into that small of space.

My personal favorite act was these young girls would balance these glass bowls on either their heads or their feet, and these guys would toss them in the air or hold the girls up. Then the girls even did some flips or other gymnastics stunts. While performing these acts, the girls never once dropped those glass bowls. It was absolutely fascinating that the Chinese acrobats had this amazing sense of balance and precision. All of the acts required precise timing and they performed so well. This show will be one that I will remember for a very long time.

Being On the Great Wall

On Saturday July 20, we had the opportunity to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World: The Great Wall of China. We actually only went to the Mutianyu Section, which was a part that was preserved very well, even though some of the stairs on this portion were so large that I had trouble climbing over them. This was probably the one trip that I was most excited about going to. It was a nice and clear sunny day, which is the perfect day for us to be going to the Great Wall. However, it was really hot.

When we got there, we had the chance to either take the cable car or hike up lots of stairs to the Great Wall. I decided to try the hike up. But, not long after I started walking the heat started to get to me, and I was having some trouble with finishing my hike. I was proud of myself for making it up to the Great Wall. Since I was really slow going up the Great Wall, I was not able to catch up to the others in my group that rode the cable car up. So, I spent most of my time at the Great Wall with Sarah just walking around and enjoying the sights.

The view from the top was absolutely amazing! You could see mountains and the beautiful scenery for miles and miles. Even when you would look behind you or in front you can see that the wall just stretched for what seemed like forever. No matter where you went on the Great Wall, you were always guaranteed to have a great view. This made going to the Great Wall an experience of a lifetime. Even though it was really hot, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip. By me just being able to walk all around the wall by going up and down many more stairs made me really feel immersed in the ancient Chinese culture. Also, it was just amazing to now say that I have been on one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

The Joys and Sorrows of Shopping in China

I have been constantly writing about all of the events that we have gone on, but I haven’t really written much about food or the culture of living in Beijing. So, I decided that I would talk about a few adventures that I have had while in Beijing.

Even though my Chinese is not the best, I am getting better at navigating my way through the Chinese subway. This is a major accomplishment for me since I am terrible when it comes to directions. One day this past week (July 21), Laura and I decided to travel via the subway to the Silk Market with some friends from our Chinese classes. The subway is actually very clean by the standards of what I have seen in the New York subways. Some of the subway lines are very beautifully decorated with pretty paintings and beautiful artwork. It is really an interesting thing to compare to the subway system back home. Also, the subways in China tend to get really crowded and you almost always have to stand, but other than that the subway really is a very efficient and cheap way to travel.

After a really long subway ride and one transfer stop, we made it to the Silk Market. Now, shopping in China is far different than the how we would shop back in America. In America, everything usually has a set price or even a sale price that is unable to be changed. In China, you are able to bargain to get an item for a price that you are willing to pay. In my Chinese classes, we have been talking about shopping, so I knew some basics, but most of the people in the market speak English really well. Laura and I asked the one salesperson where she learned English from and she explained that she picked it up from working at the market, so we tried talking with her in both English and Chinese for a little while we were shopping for presents for our family and friends.

Shopping in China is an amazing experience, and very interesting. Some salespeople are very persistent and will yell at you, and others will even grab you and try to get you to come in the store or to even look at their items. I am mainly used to browsing when I shop at home not being bombarded by so many people. I believe that the experience that Laura and I had this past week will really help us when we go to the Pearl Market this Friday (July 26), since we now have an idea how to bargain to get the lowest prices that we could, even though we may have overpaid for some of the items that we bought on this trip.

The Many Places of Beijing

During the last week of the study abroad trip, some of the group wanted to be able to travel more and be able to see more of the great places that Beijing has to offer. One day (July 22), Jackie, Ed, Andy, and I decided to travel by the subway to the Bird’s Nest Stadium. We all wanted to be able to see where the 2008 Beijing Olympics were held at.

It was only a short ride on the subway till we got there. But, when we finally got there, the stadium was amazing to look at. I never realized just how large of a structure the stadium is till I was standing next to it. (We have passed the Bird’s Nest Stadium a few times when traveling by bus to some of our other scheduled events.) Just looking at the architecture of the building was astounding. It really had the appearance of a bird’s nest with all of the steel looking poles everywhere.

The inside was just so huge! And no matter where we sat in the stadium we had a great view. We walked around and got to watch some reruns of the 2008 Olympics. It really was amazing to know that so many amazing athletes were at that location just a few years ago.

Another day (July 23) Jackie, Laura, and I wanted to go to the National Library of China to see one of the largest libraries in the world. This library had over 26 million books and it was huge. It had five floors; the library even had a cafeteria and a gift shop. And, we wanted to be able to practice some Chinese while we were there. One of the lessons that we had during our classes was having us ask where the library was. So, Jackie wanted to walk up to someone after we got off of the subway and ask where the library was in Chinese. The person helped us by pointing in the direction of where the library was. I am really glad that we got to go and see one of the largest libraries with so many books and so much to do inside.

On July 25, we wanted to be able to see China’s most iconic animal: the panda. The only place that we would be able to see a panda was at the Beijing Zoo. Our zoo trip included Jackie, Ed, Andy, Josh, Laura, April, and I. It really was a good time seeing all of the animals such as the pandas, lions, and elephants. It was a very hot day, so many of the animals were exhausted and just sleeping. I was disappointed that the tigers were not out to see, but other than that the animals were all very interesting to see.

The only animal that was shocking to see was a raccoon in the zoo. We have them all over Pennsylvania and in China they have them in a zoo! Jackie decided to tell some Chinese woman how see ran over a raccoon with her car. The poor woman was so scared she quickly walked away after looking completely terrified. The only problem I had with the zoo was some of the people were treating us like an exhibit and were taking pictures of us like we were some weird type of animal walking around the zoo.

After the zoo, we went to the Beijing Aquarium to see all of the large variety of fish and others such as the belugas. The belugas were swimming all around with a driver and doing some really funny tricks. We got to see many fish of all different sizes and colors at the coral reef exhibit. It really was so pretty to look at the coral reef fish and see so many different species and to learn a little about them.

So, we have learned that Beijing has so many places to visit that were not on our agenda to do, and all of us had an amazing time.

On the Stairway to Heaven

On Friday July 26, we went to see the Temple of Heaven. When we were there, we got to stand in what the Chinese believe to be the center of the universe, and where the Chinese would make sacrifices for the over 700 gods. Some of the gods were even trees that were over 500 years old. And, then we got to see one of these tree gods, which was a Juniper tree that was over 550 years old! Chinese legend says that you are to stick out your hand and see what you feel. For example, if you do not feel anything then you are considered to be a bad person. Or, if you hand feels warm then good things will happen to you, such as good health. And, with the majority of our group being sickly with some form of a cold at this point, we were all hoping that we would feel some warmth when we stuck out our hands.

Seeing the Temple of Heaven was amazing. The buildings all looked amazing, even though one of the largest buildings (The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests) has been rebuilt since it was destroyed in a fire in the past. Just being able to look inside of the building and see all of the amazing and colorful artwork that was all over the building was absolutely amazing.

As Jackie, Laura, and I were walking around the largest building, we kept getting our picture taken by some random people since we look so different than them. So, we kept saying how we were going to walk up to some random people and ask to have a picture with them. But, Laura said that she wished that we would get our picture taken with a person with a baby. The reason she wanted that was because then we would get two people with us in the picture (the concept of two for the price of one). Right after Laura said that, a woman walked over to us with her baby and asked if she could get a picture with all three of us. We all laughed and said that the Temple of Heaven has answered one of our prayers.

Overall, it was a really good and sad day. It was fun getting to learn more fascinating history about Beijing. However, it was sad since this was the last day of our cultural field trips during the summer study abroad program.


After spending one month in Beijing, I have learned so much about the Chinese culture and language. I have learned how to speak and write some basic Mandarin. I even passed both of the exams in my Hanyu and Kouyu classes. I really feel as though I have accomplished a lot while being in China such as being able to see some of the most amazing places that I have ever seen in my life.

Many people have their own types of misconceptions about the Chinese culture and way of living. But, experiencing the culture teaches you that many of the things that you hear about a foreign country are not always true. Just being able to experience a culture and see right from your own eyes how the people do everything teaches you to form your own opinions. I learned that even though China is considered a developing country, their way of living and handling themselves as a country is working pretty well for them. Many of the people that I got to know that lives there believe that China is a great place to live. Beside the air quality with the pollution, I would agree with them.

I am going to miss a lot of things about China, such as the food since it was absolutely amazing. I will also miss my teachers since they taught me so much. Even though my classes were tough, I am glad that they were able to teach me so much in one short month. And, I am going to miss all of the amazing people that I had the opportunity to meet and get to know over the past month.

Overall, China is an amazing place with many historical aspects to offer. I am very grateful that I have decided to go on this study abroad trip. And, I recommend that you should always try to study abroad while you are in college. It is a once in a lifetime experience, where you would get to meet some of the greatest people. It is probably the best decision that I have ever made in my life to do, and I have many memories that will last a lifetime.

Not at all what I expected

One of the coolest things I’ve seen since being in China was the Chinese acrobatic show. There was not a single act that did not amaze me in someway. These people were seriously superhuman. No need to watch the Avengers, there’s real superheroes right here in China! Just kidding, you should definitely watch the Avengers, but as far as real life goes, this was pretty amazing. There were people standing on one hand while balancing twenty feet in the air on one leg of a chair, there were people that could walk down these pegs with while another person stood on their head on their back.

Seriously it was absolutely fantastic. The ending show was a motorcycle riding around in a circular cage driving in circles and upside down. The craziness didn’t end there though… The China men put three more motorcycles in that cage… and then four more after that. A total of eight motorcycles were driving around in a very confined circular space. I couldn’t believe it was even happening. However, this show showed me that there really is no limit to what the human body can accomplish if you are disciplined enough.

The Great Wall of China

The Great Wall of China is the most spectacular place I’ve ever been to. There’s so much to it. I loved how peaceful it was, it was great to just escape the craziness of the Beijing City for a little while. It was another great climb up, not nearly as long and tiring as the climb up Mount Tai, but still very tiring. Once up on the wall, the view was so amazing. Everywhere you looked you could see mountain stretching on everywhere. No skyscrapers, just the wall and the mountains, with small towns in the distance. It was also very humbling being there, because of all of the history behind the Great Wall. Just contemplating the building of it amazed me. It’s seriously amazing what humans can accomplish. The only regret I had about the Great Wall is not being able to spend a longer amount of time there, I would have loved to have climbed all the way to the top of it, but time was not on our side. Overall, the Great Wall has been my favorite site in China.

The Birds Nest Stadium

On Monday some of us took a trip to the famous Birds Nest Stadium. The Birds Nest Stadium is where the 2008 Olympics were held. The 2008 Beijing Olympics marks the first time China has ever hosted the Olympics. This is a big point of pride for the Chinese. The stadium is one of the coolest modern man made structures I’ve ever seen. The architecture is so unique from anything I’ve seen in America. Being in the Olympic stadium was a great feeling in and of itself. One of my favorite moments was when we went to the fifth floor and just sat and took it all in for awhile. It was a great feeling to be at a place were so much history was made. It wasn’t just another stadium, it was the Olympic stadium! It was especially cool because I’ve never been to an Olympic stadium. There was also an opportunity to ride around on a segway on the track there, but time kept us from doing that. Overall just being there and seeing the stadium was a great experience.

Dinner with Professors

During the last week of classes my classmates from Bloomsburg and I had the opportunity to take our professors out to dinner. It was one of my most favorite experiences. We let our professors pick the place to eat, which turned out to be a fantastic idea. Not surprisingly since they know the area quite a bit better than we do. At dinner I fell in love with one of my favorite dishes in China: Qiezi. Qiezi means eggplant. I never thought I would say eggplant would be a favorite of mine, but it was absolutely fantastic. Oddly enough it’s also what Chinese people say when they’re posing for a picture; like us saying “Cheese!” It was great to be able to talk to our professors outside of the classroom to get to know them better. They had the opportunity to learn more about America from us, and we learned a little more about China life from them. Overall a great experience.

Temple of Heaven/Pearl Market

Our last excursion in China was to the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market. Both were very cool and unique places. The Temple of Heaven reminded me a lot of the Forbidden City; it had traditional style buildings, and just had a very traditional Chinese feel to it. The Pearl Market was completely the opposite. We got a look at China’s idea of a Capitalistic economy. At the market we were attacked by the Chinese merchants trying to sell us whatever they possibly could. The problem with stuff in China is that even if it looks legitimate, it most likely is not. This is the reason you can get things for so cheap there. The one fun thing about China markets is bartering. Bartering isn’t something commonly done in America, but it turns out it’s quite a bit of fun. It makes the act of buying things much more fun. This is probably a bad thing in retrospect.

Reflections on China

China was not at all what I expected when I imagined going to China. I loved the experience, but I think I’ve realized that I’m not a big fan of cities, and China in general is a place I would not ever want to live. However, the opportunity to live in China even for only a month is an experience that I will never forget, especially the bonds with friends and teachers that were made. Not to mention getting to fully immerse myself in the Chinese language was fantastic. I still love speaking Chinese, and look forward to continuing to learn it. Not to mention the opportunity taught me a lot about myself, and other cultures. It also convinced me that I want to go visit other countries and experience their cultures as well.

Zaijian China!

    — Andrew F. Rector, digital forensics major

One Great Adventure!

Who missed going up stairs?! This girl! After our Mount Tai trip I think I'm pretty sure none of us wanted to see another flight of stairs again, but this is the great wall! It's worth it! (and there was a cable car to it). Not everyone took the cable car, but Jackie, Laura, and I did so we got to the wall pretty quickly. Then we had plenty of time to explore. The view was breath taking, some of us who are from outside of the city felt right at home.

It's a very strange feeling to see something for so many years on television, in books, on posters, etc. and then actually be physically standing there. The connection takes a while to make that is is what you've seen for so long and you can actually reach out and touch it. I'm horrible with heights and it was pretty high, so for some parts I had to take a step back and re gather myself, but it was really worth it.

Fear is not something to keep me from a world wonder! I felt very lucky to be able to see the great wall. More than any of the historical places we've been, here I felt like it really was this little snap shot in time and for a moment you could be a part of the past is no longer present. Maybe it's that the great wall is so big and it must have taken so much power to construct that you feel very small in comparison. It's a very strange feeling. I think we all felt it though and we'll probably hold onto that for the rest of our lives. And someone I'm not going to say who really wanted to hold onto it, and actually took a piece of rock from the wall!

Cheaper! Cheaper! I'm a poor student!

I never thought that line would ever get me anywhere. It never does at home! Today we did some bargaining for things like shirts that said I hear BJ. It means Beijing! Not what you're thinking! As Jocelyn says, if any foreigner from America is wearing that shirt, they're doing it to be funny! Anyway, today we went to the Pearl Market and got to be overwhelmed first hand by all the sellers. Most of them only know enough English to really accost you when you walk buy yelling things like, “Hello! Come look! Pretty ladies need the bags!”

At first it's not too bad, until every shop owner there does it to you! I ended up just walking with my eyes down until I was sure of what I wanted to buy there. The other girls had lists so they ran off in different directions trying to hunt down for the best price on the things they needed. For someone like me though, I just wanted to look around, but it became apparent really quickly that I wouldn't be able to do that. Anytime I would look at something someone would ask me how much I wanted to pay.

Eventually I found Laura and decided to stick with her because she knew what she wanted and while she was bartering things down, I could have a minute to look around without being accosted at every turn. We found the strangest shop owners the first time we both were trying to buy something, you could tell they were pros at this. While Laura was looking at fans I watched some man who wasn't have much luck with the store owner.

He told her 150 for 15 fans.

And the woman had a fit! She was acting like a 5 year old having a temper tantrum. She yelled no no how dare you! How am I supposed to eat, I can't sell them to you for that what do you take me for! The man then took out 200 yuan and tried handing it to her saying 150 repeatedly, but she just got angrier and then they both started arguing again. Finally the man walked away. She yelled at him 200, but he came back saying 150 and the argument started again.

Then Laura and I got to try our luck with her partner. I wanted a wooden fan that smelled like flowers and she wanted to buy 4 fans. Laura said 100 and didn't have much luck with this woman. I said 40 for one fan and she wouldn't go lower than 50. So eventually Jocelyn, our favorite assistant, came to the rescue, but even she couldn't sway these girls.

We left that stand and I ended up buying the same fan I'd offered 40 yuan for for 10 yuan at another shop with a really nice man. I decided to buy some stuff from him because he didn't harass me when I walked by and he also gave me the price of 10 yuan for the same fan I wanted upstairs without me even having to barter for that price!

It's a crazy game! I'll never really know if I got a good price for any of the stuff I bought, but It was fun getting to practice my Chinese and argue with people. Many of the people I bargained with were laughing with me when they would say ridiculous things to try and get me to buy stuff. It was a very fun experience.

What I learned from China

I'm home now, and a little sad. I learned so much from China and I already miss it. I have to suppress the urge when at restaurants to stand up and yell “Hey, waitress!” While in China I learned how to balance on my bike with someone on the back of it. Something I have yet to try at home. My mom doesn't want to try it? I'm not sure why...

I learned how to get into places I really want to go, when I'm not really allowed. Just pretend like you know what you're doing, you're really important, and if anyone is like hey wait a minute you're not allowed in here... just close the show a bunch of IDs at them and press close on the elevator doors. I learned that in Beijing it's acceptable to butt ahead to the front of the line. Especially if you say something like, “I'm sorry I've had a bad day” Even if it's only 7 in the morning.

But one of the most important things I've taken from this trip is how foreigners must feel at home. This experience made me feel like every single immigrant in the states who can only speak in broken English. Even thought I knew the words to get what I wanted done I still felt awful. I felt like I couldn't make the pleasant kind of conversation I would at home with store owners or random people. I couldn't make connections with people I didn't know. The closest thing I could was smile and hope that it portrayed everything I was feeling, but a smile can only say so much.

I realize I'm not completely inept in Chinese. I can go to a restaurant, order what I want, when some other Americans not with our group I saw couldn't even do that. The relief on the clerk's face when I told them what I wanted in Chinese after the group that knew nothing was apparent, but at home I would try and talk to them ask them how there day is, etc. Here I couldn't do any of that.

The best example is the first day I met my friend in class from Korea, Chae ri. She is from S. Korea, but has been in Japan for the past year. I was so happy to meet here because I'd taken 2 years of Japanese when I was younger. The first day of class she pointed to me and I said “April” and she nodded and repeated my name then I pointed to her and she said, “chae ri.” I repeated her name. After this we both just stared at each other and I could tell we were both trying telepathically get our word across to each other. All I could think was, “Know what I'm saying in my head!!!” And for that day we just kept repeating each others names to each other. After the first day our talks were in a weird mix of English, Chinese, and Japanese.

I came to China to learn the language and have a fun vacation, but many people come to the states not because they want to, or want a vacation, but to help their families or because they have to. If I took one thing away from this, it's to be as understand as possible to those who don't speak English. We don't know why they're here or what they've come from and it can be kind of overwhelming at times not being fluent in the language of the country you're in, but being angry at these people is not going to help the situation. I've never be one to angry with someone for not knowing English, but I know I could probably be a lot more amiable.

Feats that Surprise and Amaze!

Be prepared to be amazed! And in my case terrified! On July 16th we went to the Acrobatics show. I was amazed and scared for their lives as I'm sure some of the other girls were! There were plenty of beautiful scenes, but I'll tell you about first, but then the last act had all of us speechless. The first act was a woman who kept stacking chairs one by one by one until she got to the top and began to balance herself at the top. There were other performance with beautiful umbrella tricks, juggling hats, and bicycles. I've never been to Cirque du Soleil, but I imagine it's probably quite similar.

By the time the second to last act came out with all the girls piling onto one bicycle I thought it couldn't get much dangerous, but I was wrong. They ended up putting 8 motorcyclists in what seems like a metal circle cage of doom. They all ride their motorcycles around inside and somehow manage not to die! Every time they added one more cyclist Jackie, sitting next to me kept yelling, “no!” Laura one the other side of me had her hand over her mouth the whole time, and I who was almost certain we were all about to witness a death kept filming on my camera phone in case the police needed evidence later, but thank goodness, they were all safe and came out fine. I think we all let out the breath we'd been holding once the last cyclist rode out.

Hi ho, hi ho! It's off to Houhai we go!

July 15th was a first for some of us. It was the first time we rode the Beijing subway! After we attended an urban planning lecture on campus by Ms. Hu Yingjie, we were off to take a look at the changes in the city of Beijing for ourselves.

The first comment I have to make is how clean these subways were! It's crazy! The subway station is like an air port! Another great thing is that the lanes are enclosed so no one can fall in! After a quick subway ride that wasn't really anymore crowded than a NYC subway ride during rush hour, we ended up in 南锣鼓巷 or the South Drums and Gongs Lanes. It was a place with lots of shops and it kind of reminded me of the promenade back home. Most things in the shops were expensive enough to be at the promenade. It was really interesting to see the fish bone structure of the lanes in person, after seeing them on the PowerPoint slides, and try and imagine how the lanes might have looked only a few years ago before the urban planning helped out the area.

Next we went to Houhai for dinner. We had a great traditionally meal full of all the questionable things that you try first and ask what is later. Then it was off to do some more sight seeing. The area was surround a huge lake and had many bars and restaurants. I think this will definitely be a place to come back to once we're all done with our tests. :)

The best haircut I've ever received was in China?!

Today I got a haircut! I know, I know. So what? Well, let me explain. My friend Huiting had always told me if you get a chance to get a haircut in China, jump on it! She had described to me that it was sooo cheap and they even massage your head. So of course, when Sarah asked if I wanted to get a haircut, I dropped everything! Devon, Harry, Sarah, and I all went to a place just down the street that looked like a fancy hair salon your would find in any big city on the good side of town.

Initially I was a bit worried about pricing, but I was told it would only be 50 yuan, which is about $8 American money. So cheap! Especially for me, my hair is like a Chiia pet! Darn you Greek genes! At home it usually cost me 30 bucks to get a even a trim because they take one look at my hair and say, that's gonna cost you extra! But, here in China, I got the same price Harry did who has like 5 times less hair than I do!

We all sat in the waiting room, Sarah told us what to say to only get a little bit cut off: bu jian tai duo. So while the guys were talking to some staff I kept practicing. I had just dyed the tips of my hair recently and didn't want them to cut it off. I could tell they probably weren't used to our types of hair because one of the girls came into the waiting room and exclaimed, “woah!” as soon as she saw us. Harry went first, then I was next. They washed my hair, massaged my head and even my ears. It was very relaxing. Then we went to get our hair cut. I was sitting next to Sarah who'd paid for a better barber, but I really couldn't tell on my end. I was really happy with what I got.

I'm not particularly picky, so I told him to do whatever, just don't cut off the blonde ombre that took me so long to do. The barber took an hour and a half on my hair. I didn't know what to say, he was so thorough. At times he cut some strands of my hair individually to make sure it was perfect. And as many girls know, hairdressers in America don't always listen to what you want and just do what they think you should have, but this guy kept asking Sarah to ask me if it was okay to cut more and he only cut a little at a time. He seemed worried I'd be upset he cut too much off. I was baffled he'd actually listened to me!

For the guys this wasn't something they liked because I'm sure they're used to fast haircuts with such short hair. I however was sooooo happy. I can't count the amount of places that I've gone to that just chop my hair off and try to get me in and out as soon as possible. This guy really tried to make my hair perfect before I left, he even followed me up to the register when I went to pay and continued moving my hair around until he thought it was perfect.

So guys, you probably don't want to get your hair cut in China, but girls I think you should not pass this up. I can tell you first hand, you'll feel like a little doll that they just want to make sure looks perfect before you're done. It was really nice to feel like the hair dresser actually cared what I looked like before I left.

    — April Mavroleon, French major and Chinese minor

I couldn’t miss this opportunity

Tonight we and a few other foreign-student groups went to an acrobatics show in Beijing. I was very excited after hearing that previous students thoroughly enjoyed the performance.

We arrived early and were able to do some shopping and bargaining at the gift shops in the theatre lobby. Interestingly enough, in China almost all places that sell things are willing to significantly reduce the price of their merchandise if argued with. This skill ending up being crucial on every one of our journeys in order to acquire reasonably priced souvenirs. I was able to buy a chess set, a pocket watch, and a pair of chopsticks for a great price. Before long, the show began and the performers came rushing out.

After some theatrical scenes we watched some amazing stunts. We saw a girl balance her entire weight with her hands on top of many chairs, which reached a height of almost twenty feet. There were women juggling multiple umbrellas, bowls, and blankets with their feet and men doing insane aerial stunts through hoops and a bunch of other things.

My favorite part was when they brought out a motorcycle and it rode around a spherical cage going fast enough to be inverted and seemingly defy gravity. But one wasn’t enough; they brought more and more bikes out until they fit eight, yes EIGHT, bikes into one small, congested cage. I was in disbelief when they were crisscrossing without making any mistakes as they sped quickly around the cage. Surprisingly, all of the daredevils made it out safely as the crowd erupted in applause. I remember at the “Bloomsburg Fair” there was a similar cage where only one motorcycle climbed the walls and people were amazed; China went big.

Great Wall Trip

Today we went to the notorious Great Wall of China. Although I still wasn’t feeling 100% I couldn’t miss this opportunity. We went with some other groups of students via bus and arrived after about a two-hour ride. Before we arrived at our destination I observed that the area was completely surrounded by a beautiful jagged mountain range. It was similar to pictures I saw of the mountains in Colorado in the U.S. although these ones were covered in brush. We weren’t able to drive right up to the entrance so we got out and walked through various food and souvenir stands up to the Great Wall entrance. Some students, including myself, were able to take a cable car up to the wall; other students walked up the steps.

When we arrived at the top of the wall I was amazed to see the expansiveness of the Great Wall in person. It gave us a spectacular view of the valley below, which had grasslands and small towns and of the many mountains beyond the wall. We didn’t have a lot of time but we were able to walk along the wall for a while and go into the towers that were constructed every few hundred yards. Although the part of the wall we visited was redone in most parts, it was still one of the most amazing things that I’ve ever seen. After a couple of hours we walked down steps through the woods along the wall. We even saw two donkeys on the way.

Bird’s nest stadium and classes

We’ve now had three weeks of class, which consisted of four hours every day besides the weekends. It has been extremely intense but I’ve been able to learn so much more Chinese. After the first week, our classes have been spoken in virtually all Chinese, which has benefited my listening comprehension as well as speaking skills. My teachers are really good and I’ve grown to really like both my speaking and writing teachers.

Today after class we went to the location of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the “Bird’s Nest Stadium.” I believe it is now even considered one of the manmade wonders of the world. I can understand how it has gained such a reputation after seeing it in person. The architecture is stunning and I’m amazed that people were able to imagine and construct something that abstract.

We were able to tour the facility and, for a fee, one could drive around the track via Segway (although we didn’t do this). After a short visit and walking around the vicinity we returned via subway. The subway in China is very convenient. You are able to travel any distance one-way for only two Yuan, which is the equivalent of about $0.30! It really is the best way to travel throughout Beijing. The only downside is that during rush hour it becomes so crowded that you are squashed between people on every side. Luckily we barely experienced this as we timed our journeys around the most heavily populated times.

Dinner with Faculty

Today was our last day of class before our final exams. The past few weeks have really flown by and I’m getting anxious to leave; I’ve become very fond of Beijing, my classes, my classmates, and the culture in general.

Tonight my class and I took our two teachers, Hillary Laoshi and Shi Laoshi, to dinner at a place near Peking University. We successfully ordered our food in Chinese, which brought back memories of the first time we all unsuccessfully tried to order in the campus dining halls. Our teachers were even impressed by our increase in skill as compared to the first days of class.

We had a whole assortment of food including peanut-stuffed chicken, eggplant, eggs and fungus, dumplings, and many green vegetables. Dinner was served on a rotating table as it has been many other times and the food was simply amazing. After eating nearly everything and being very stuffed, Shi Laoshi bid his farewell and wished us luck on our exams. On our way out there were people painting intricate designs on ceramic animals and we all received one for free, probably because we bought an expensive dinner.

After dinner Hillary Laoshi and we went to Dairy Queen to see how it compared to the ones in the U.S. Most of us got ice cream but I got a fruit smoothie, which wasn’t very good. Everyone else said that his or her ice cream was very good and similar to the Dairy Queen in the U.S. The rest of the night was spent studying for the exams tomorrow. Hopefully we all do well and pass!

Beijing Zoo and Aquarium

Today is Thursday and we had our finals for both of our classes. After four weeks of intense learning in both written and oral Chinese I was prepared for what my teacher tested me on. I was actually surprised when I realized how much Chinese I really learned over that time period. Both of the exams went very well but it is crazy to think that tomorrow will be our last day of classes here at Peking University. As a celebration for finishing the exams we decided to go to the Beijing Zoo and the aquarium within it.

We set off on our independent excursions as we usually do, by taking the subway. After a very short time period we arrived at the Beijing Zoo stop exited and went to the entrance. Everyone who came with was eager to see the Giant Panda exhibit so that was what we hit first. It was no surprise that almost all of the pandas were sleeping as they do for most of their day but we did see one panda that was awake, which was pretty cool. We were able to see a variety of animals including elephants, rhinoceroses, red pandas, wolves, foxes, and many more. I was not particularly impressed with the animals’ cage quality. Many of them did not seem up to par, at least of what I’ve seen in the U.S.

We hurried to the aquarium, which is the biggest inland aquarium in the world. Inside they had many exhibits including Great Barrier Reef, jellyfish, beluga whale, shark, and invertebrate. All of the aquarium sites were very cool although the beluga whale and jellyfish exhibits were my favorite. Although the zoo and aquarium were very cool I would not recommend it as the first thing one should see in China. It was extremely crowded and not much shade so it would be advised to go on a cooler day.

Temple of Heaven and Pearl Market

Today we went on a field trip with our group to the Temple of Heaven and afterwards went to the Pearl Market. We took a bus to the Temple of Heaven and went to a few different places within it. The spot we went to first was a place formerly believed to be the center of the Universe. This name is what gave birth to the country’s Chinese name 中国 (Zhongguo) or the Middle Kingdom, meaning that it is placed in the center of everything that exists. We continued and walked around to a few other buildings, which we were allowed to look into and take pictures. It was an area where many years ago human sacrifices would take place along with many other ritualistic things.

After the Temple of Heaven we took a short trip over to the Pearl Market. This market is one of the most famous in China and supposedly is a model for markets across the globe. As we entered we were practically attacked by people attempting to sell us everything from clothes to electronics. There were five floors of merchandise, which sold such a large amount of different things. On some floors there were crevices that objects would be hanging that people would stand in and sell the things. At other times there were just racks of clothes or stands that people would pace around and ask you questions. On the electronics floor there were series of glass counters on either side of the rows and people would stand behind them and let you test out all the different electronics. As was usual, we were able to bargain anything they offered us to lower prices than they started.

A lot of the products, specifically electronics, were usually not what they said they were. They would try to sell iPhones and other smartphones that were just not made by the company that was stamped on it. We knew this coming in so we were careful when buying anything. I was able to buy a few cheap things from some vendors but I was skeptical about anything they were selling so I didn’t buy much.

    — Edward Davis, physics major

Textbook pictures and stories

I am less than a week away from my return trip home. I am happy yet sad as my flight approaches. Out of necessity, there are many things I need to attend to when I arrive home. I only wish I get everything I can from this trip. I hope to drain China of its lessons. This is futile with countless lessons to be had I know but I will become a better man with this goal in mind.

The main event this past week was our trip to the Great Wall. This was the trip we were all waiting for. I knew it was going to be worth it, but I didn’t expect to have so under-rated that statement. It was another step climb but not nearly as treacherous as Mount Tai. It only took about 20 minutes to reach the top. The second I stepped on the wall’s walkway and gazed out at the spear-like mountains, a rush of happiness and accomplishment washed over me. “This is why I’ve come”, I kept telling myself. I thought about how textbook pictures and stories could never compare to the real thing. To hear about something your whole life, then finally have it right there, to touch, to smell and to relish is a satisfying feeling indeed. I wanted to sit up there for hours with that view, meditate and bask in it. It was awe-inspiring and I will mark it off the bucket list.

As tradition, the trio (Myself, Devon and Chris) did back-flips, pushups, and handstands at this historical spot. Bodies by Harry. This tradition yields excellent photos which my mother will be more than happy to welcome into her scrapbook. We made our way down where I then purchased a hat for my boss in America. I haggled a bit during this transaction, one of my best actually. The hat started at 85 kuai which I then was able to bring to 30 kuai using my stone cold features and many attempts at departure. I’d make my father proud.

Yesterday my class and I took our professors out to dinner. We got to know them a little better and I made plans to challenge my professor in bad mitten. I am very competitive being raised as a wrestler, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous of his skills. We shall see. It was a wonderful dinner and it is a shame it’s the last for the foreseeable future.

Well I’ve got some studying to do. I hope you’ve enjoyed my blogs thus far. Feel free to live vicariously. I hope to visit China sometime again and better my Chinese in the meantime. It has been such a journey so far. Now I just have to get gifts for too many people. I’m curious how this trip will affect my USD spending at home.. Did I mention I love dancing in China?


It's a good feeling to be accepted amongst peers even though you're different in so many ways

It has been a long journey. I feel as if I’ve been in China for 3 months instead of 1. This is most likely due to the many events and tours we’ve had over the course of our visit. We had to be up and ready by 5 a.m. Sunday morning, so an early wake up of 4 was in order, or would be for the normal breed of man. I am an extremist at times. I have a hard time sleeping on planes, or in a sitting position anywhere. So I decided to stay up the night and tire myself to exhaustion so I could sleep better on the plane. This backfired a bit. I was up all day Saturday, stayed up all night Saturday night, and was still unable to sleep on the plane, a 14 hour flight might I add. There is good to be had here though! Due to this extended plight of sleeplessness, I was able to somehow drastically decrease my jet lag. I crashed for 20 plus hours, and woke up Monday morning feeling light as rain. With all bad comes equal good and with all good comes a denser meaning.

I look back on my visit to China and two things come to mind. One: We are all the same. Of course there are differences. There are differences that make towers fall. But there are differences that shape our souls! In the grand scheme, we all require the same things for survival, we all strive for and enjoy communication, we are all naturally accepting of peace, and we are all very curious; of other cultures, countries, and any unknowns. Two: I miss my new friends very much. It is a good feeling to be accepted amongst peers even though you may be very different in so many ways. This acceptance molds camaraderie, deep friendship, and the ability to look at the bigger and more important picture. To the nights we felt alive, and a bit out of place. Cheers.

I’d like to make a note about our favorite place Laker’s. These wonderful employees, who we’ve come close to despite the lack of dialectal communication, shared a round of shots with myself, Devon, and Chris, free of charge. It is a small gesture but one I appreciate very much. An important toast is a strong thing where I am from. Farewell Laker’s for now. I can only hope I visit again.

On my arrival, I had Monday to rejuvenate, visit the loved ones, and prepare myself for normalcy. Immediately on Tuesday I was back at work, putting in two long, 12 hour days. My co-workers were very happy to see me back in action. I missed them very much. Personally, China was my last stop for now as far as school goes. As I returned home it sunk in that I just procured my Bachelor’s in Science, Mathematics. It took me a long time, leaving school and returning at the age of 23. Perseverance is a hard lesson to learn but a necessity if one truly wishes to accomplish anything worth accomplishing.

This trip has opened my eyes to traveling! I can’t wait to plan summer trips all around the world. There is so much wonder out there. I strongly suggest that people travel. Then after the world has been sought, I urge all to look up at the stars, to our vast galaxy and unfathomable Universe. Take chances and push yourself to your limits. It is the only way to progress.

    — Harry Schultz, mathematics major

I could barely believe where I was

Today, the Washington and Bloomsburg groups went to an acrobatic show. I was excited for this because the martial arts show was really amazing and I was told the acrobatic show was even better. We, once again, took a bus through rush hour traffic to the show. It took some time to get there, a little over an hour, but it was worth the drive. When we all got there, there was time to look around the auditorium and shop. Everything was more expensive at the acrobatic show than the martial arts show, but the items sold at the martial arts show was more interesting.

I looked around at some fans and scarves for a little while and went to get a water and popcorn. I was really thirsty and willing to pay a little extra for the water, but the popcorn was so much money that I decided against getting a snack. We were soon ushered into the theater area to watch the show. The show started with this really tiny girl balancing on a chair. She then added another chair on top of the first chair; she did this until she was balancing on one hand on top of about ten chairs. I thought that was so cool and couldn't think it could be topped, but I was wrong.

There were then more acts that followed, each was equally or more impressive than the first. There was a group of two boys and girls that balanced on top of one another while the girls held ceramic pots with one foot, girls spinning umbrellas with their feet, guys jumping downstairs on one hand, and a really exciting and nerving racking finale involving motorcycles. At the end of the show, everyone that was part of the show came out and bowed. People all around me were cheering and standing up because the show was so amazing.

On Saturday we went the Great Wall of China, which I discovered is called chang cheng. Our group did not go to a very popular spot because we were trying to avoid a large crowd. It took almost two hours to get there, but it was in such a beautiful place in the countryside I was stunned by it's beauty. We had to walk a really large hill to get to where the stairs were to get to the Great Wall, but I had learned my lesson from Mount Tai and decided I would pay 60 kuai, 10 American dollars, to take the sky lift to the top and walk down the stairs. I know a few people who walked felt sick afterwards because it was so hot. I was glad it was a bright, clear, and sunny day though because it made it easier to see the view from the wall. I was so amazed when I got to the wall, I could barely believe where I was.

There were so many people there from so many different countries, speaking different languages, but it wasn't crowded. I liked the area of the wall we went to because on the one side was a small town in a valley and the other was magnificent mountains, unlike any I had ever seen before. We went pretty far down the one side of the wall and had the freedom to go by ourselves which was nice because I was able to spend my time with who I wanted and doing what we decided to do. After a while, the wall got repetitive, but was still beautiful no matter how much it all looked the same. I loved the way it winded like a snake through the mountains. It was my favorite place in China.

Although nothing was planned for today, my friends and I decided to go to the Bird's Nest Stadium where the Summer Olympics were held in 2008. It was the last week for us to be in China and we had all been so busy with school and trips we didn't have the opportunity to do things around Beijing that interested us as much. I had the opportunity to go to the Silk Market on Sunday, but decided to stay at the dorms instead. We took the subway to the Olympic Park station. It is the nicest, cleanest, and most efficient subway I had ever been to. Every transfer line there was always some type of art that made the subway different and have some uniqueness about it. I also think it's smart to decorate each station and transfer line differently because it's easier to remember.

When we got to the Olympic Park we walked down a long, wide sidewalk filled with vendors to the stadium. They were all selling silly touristy things that I mistakenly purchased my first week in China. As we approached the stadium, I realized how huge it actually was. There were silver beams jutting in all directions that were all curved on the outside to give it an almost oval-like shape, just like a bird's nest. As we reached the stadium we paid our entrance fees, which was half price with a student ID. I forgot mine and had to pay double what everyone else paid, but in comparison to American dollars, it was not very expensive. We walked around about half the stadium, taking pictures, looking at the Olympic highlights, and some pictures of the history of the stadium. We went up the stairs to get a better look at the Olympic Park and the stairs were each painted to create a picture when one looked at it from the ground floor. I thought that was really cool. I also like that when we visited the stadium, it wasn't very busy because it was a Monday afternoon. I'm really glad I got to see such an interesting piece of architecture and visit a stadium form Olympics history.

As part of the China Today class, we were required to take our teachers out to dinner to a restaurant of their choice. The Wednesday before we left China, the four other Bloomsburg students in my class and I met our teacher on the West side of campus, from there our teacher took us to a place with restaurants that lined the street. While the one side of the street was full of places to eat, the other side was lined with street vendors. It was so interesting. I didn’t know such a place existed and so close to campus. I was so intrigued that I almost didn’t want to go to dinner, but I planned to go back to the vendors later that week. We soon arrived at the restaurant where we met our other teacher. Then we ordered a variety of traditional Chinese dishes. One of which was an eggplant dish. It was so delicious that our group got another order of it. After dinner, one of our teachers took us to a dairy queen. I was so excited to have an American dessert because it was so difficult to find sweets that I was familiar with since coming to China. After that, the other students and I returned to our dorms to prepare for finals the next day.

Today was finals for all the students in the four week program. After all of us were finished with our spoken and written finals, several of us met up outside of the dorm building to go to the zoo and aquarium. I had been so excited the entire trip to go to the zoo because I wanted to see pandas. We took the subway to get there and the ride was very quick. The zoo and Panda House was inexpensive, but the aquarium was a lot more money. The zoo and aquarium was decent. I really liked that I got to see pandas, but they just slept the whole time and it was really crowded.

Most places in Beijing were crowded and I had adjusted to the crowds by the time we went to the zoo. However, it was really hot that day which made the crowds less tolerable. There were also a bunch of elephants and lemurs at the zoo. There were also raccoons in the North American exhibit which was really funny because they are everywhere in Pennsylvania. We then went to the aquarium which was also crowded, but it was nice to get out of the sun for a while. It was really cool to go to the aquarium because there were whales, jellyfish, and dolphins. After the aquarium we quickly saw the rhinos then left because it was so hot. We all took the subway back to campus to get some rest after a long day.

  This was our last day of class; we mostly played games and learned some words we didn’t have a chance to study during the four weeks we were in China. After class, the Bloomsburg group went to the Temple of Heaven and the Pearl Market. This was one of my favorite things we did while we were in China. The Temple of Heaven was so interesting; we learned the emperors used to go there once a year to pray. There was a place on a circular platform that the Chinese believed to be the center of the universe. There were also several temples that were all circles that got larger as one continued through the courtyards. After that, we took a bus to the Pearl Market where one could bargain and get almost anything. It was set up like a mall with all different kinds of shops throughout the five story building. There was so much to buy, such as silk scarves, jewelry, electronics, and shoes. I got a lot of things there that I got to bargain to a price I thought was acceptable. It was a good way to end our trip so one could purchase last minute gifts.
    —Jacqueline Simon, French major

I enjoyed my time

On Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Luo took us to the Yifu Building #2 in Peking University to listen to Ms. Hu Yingjie, a Peking University student working for a doctorate degree in urban planning. Her presentation was on how Beijing was constructed in the past as well as how politics has clashed with the development of Beijing. In addition, she talked about how people are solving problems in balancing historical preservation and modern urban planning while figuring out how to solve the heavy traffic issues. Her presentation served as an introduction to our trip to Old Beijing.

After her presentation, she came with us to take the subway to Old Beijing. As we went inside the subway terminal, I was amazed at how clean the terminal is compared to the New York Subway. I was going to buy tickets using the machines, but Dr. Luo told us to buy the tickets from the ticket counter. He told us to say “一张票” (yī zhāng piào) meaning “one ticket” to the teller. After we bought our tickets, we had to go through a security checkpoint. Luckily, the checkpoint consisted of an X-ray scanner.

However, since I carried a bottle of water, the security guard took my water and placed it on a machine. After the machine showed the liquid was harmless, he gave it back to me. Then, we went downstairs to where the subway trains were. Like the trains at the airport terminals, the subway has platform screen doors to prevent people from falling into the rail. I was amazed that there is a security checkpoint in a subway terminal in Beijing but not in an American city like New York. I also wondered why security checkpoints in America do not have a “liquid scanner” that checks for dangerous liquids.

After reaching our destination, we walked into Old Beijing. I saw numerous stores and eateries as well as a couple of hotels. Dr. Luo gave us about an hour to look at the stores and meet back so that we could go out to dinner. I went with Andy to visit the stores. Most of the things in the stores were rather expensive, and no bargaining is allowed. However, in one of the stores, Andy bought a Chinese chess set after bargaining in one of the stores.

After visiting the stores, we walked to a 160-year-old restaurant called 烤肉季 (kǎoròu jì), a Muslim-owned traditional Chinese steakhouse known for its shish kabobs (a skewer containing meat and/or vegetables). Like most of the ethnic meals we have eaten, the restaurant is clean and decorative and has the round rotating table. The shish kabobs we ate was lamb. Also there was a dish that contained meat (I believe it was beef) and vegetables and was on a pot with a candle underneath. We would scoop that meat and stuff it into some sesame seed honey buns. The picture below is our group at front of the 烤肉季 restaurant.

Daring Acrobatics at Chaoyang Theater

The next day, we went to the Chaoyang Theater to watch an acrobatic show. We had to leave early to catch the bus due to heavy traffic.

Once we arrived at the theater, Andy, Ed, and I went inside to see what the theater look on the inside. I saw a gift shop, in which I bought a DVD of the acrobatic show. The seller told me that the DVD contains footage of an acrobatic show that would not be seen in the theater, which was one of the reasons I bought the DVD. Also, I even bought a fob watch both as a souvenir and as a replacement for my wristwatch which is partially damaged by the heavy rainfall from Mount Tai. Since I was a student, the seller gave me a discount on a the watch that originally costed about 180 yuan.

I settled for 100 yuan and paid with my debit card. As the show started, the acrobats performed things that originally looked easy but then became more challenging. A woman climbed a tower of chairs she stacked and balanced herself on it. I noticed some things that were different than the theater at the kong-fu show. People were eating insid the theater and others were using flash photography.
My favorite part of the performance came during the bicycle skill. After the scene where a group of women climbed on top of the woman riding the bicycle (that stunt definitely required balance!), a sphere was unveiled.

Then a motorcyclist drove to the stage and drove inside the sphere, where the motorcyclist made a full circle around the circumference of the sphere. If that wasn't enough, another motorcyclist came on stage and drove into the sphere. Then, a third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and, I believe, seventh, motorcyclist drove into the sphere! The chances of them bumping into each other and falling grew higher as more motorcyclists entered the sphere. After the performance, I felt that the acrobatics show was more suspenseful and engaging than the kong-fu show, but I still enjoyed both performances.

The Bird's Nest and the National Aquatics Center: Relics of the Beijing 2008 Olympics

On Friday afternoon, Vikram and I rode the subway to visit the Beijing National Stadium, which I personally called it the “Bird's Nest Stadium.” When I planned to come to China, one of my dreams was to visit the same spot where the 2008 Olympic Games were held as well as admiring the stadium itself, which, in my opinion, is an artistic wonder of the world.

After entering the East Gate of Peking University subway entrance, we tried to get a ticket from the ticket counter; but for some reason, the teller told us to use the kiosks to get our tickets. Getting my ticket was rather easy, but Vikram had trouble getting his ticket because the machines would not accept the paper yuan. I ended up using my 2 yuan coins to purchase the ticket. Word of advice: spare some extra 1 yuan coins if you need to buy a subway ticket at a machine.

After making transfers from Line 4 to Line 10 to Line 8, we finally reached our stop called Olympic Sports Stadium. As we exited the subway terminal through the Beijing National Stadium exit, I noticed crowds of people walking around the area. The weather was somewhat smoggy, but, fortunately, the smog did not completely obscure the view of the stadium as well as other buildings. As with any historical place, people are always looking for business with tourists. Food stalls offered drinks and food. Photographers offered to take pictures of us for a fee. But what struck me the most was that there were a couple of people wearing “fake” Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes, in which some children took pictures with them. Before Vikram and I entered the Stadium at gate E, we had to purchase tickets. Thankfully, because we showed our Peking University student ID cards, our two tickets costed us 25 RMB each, which is half the price of the original cost of 50 yuan.

I felt a sense of awe as we walked closer towards the steel “twigs” of the stadium. We climbed upstairs where we saw an exhibition about the stadium and the events that were held there. Then, we walked into the interior of the stadium through the opening of the arena, where I saw the track, two large Panasonic screens, and the numerous rows of seats. Although the stadium has no special event occurring at the time, I noticed that people are using the stadium for certain purposes.

Believe it or not, people were riding Segways on the track. Also, I saw people that hook themselves on cables in which they are lifted about halfway up towards the ceiling. In addition, the people wearing red shirts seem to be part of an athletic team because some of them participated in a form of tug-of-war while others were being coached. In order to imagine what it felt like to sit inside the Bird's Nest during the Games, I sat in one of the seats and let the surrounding sounds from the video that was playing in one of the screens and sights of the people take me back to the events of 2008. As we explored the interior of the stadium, I noticed some interesting things. A graphic showed how the drinking water in the stadium is purified. There was even a small fast food restaurant that is open.

At a gift shop, Vikram and I each bought a limited edition book that includes not only a Chinese-English picture book about the stadium but also a piece of steel used in the construction of the stadium. After we exited the stadium, we walked towards the Olympic Torch and then towards the Ling Long Pagoda, a tower served as the base for international television channels that broadcasted the Games. I wanted to ride the elevator of the Ling Long Pagoda, but the tower was fenced off. Because we arrived in the afternoon, we felt we might not make it inside the National Aquatics Center before closing time. As we walked closer towards the Center, a man offered to sell us tickets to the Center for 50 yuan each. I tried to say that we were Peking University students so that we could get the half price discount. Nevertheless, we both paid the 100 yuan for two tickets. Luckily, because a lot of people were inside the Aquatics Center, the place did not close right away.

The interior of the Aquatics Center had more than just the swimming pool for the Olympic team. The ceiling and the roof are transparent, meaning that we can see the sun from the inside. Also, besides the restaurants and gift shops, the Aquatics Center included a huge indoor water park with so many slides and buildings. It was like a Disney water park that was fit inside the Aquatic Center. In addition, Vikram and I discovered two more swimming pools containing numerous people swimming.

I wondered how people could afford the 50 yuan ticket price to get into the Aquatics Center. It turned out that people can buy a pass to use the pools and, perhaps, the water park. After seeing the two places, we walked back towards the subway. While we walked, I saw the Bird's Nest glowing. I had wished we would stay a little longer to see the lights of the Bird's Nest shown in its full glory, but it was getting late; and Vikram and I were getting tired. Nevertheless, my dream of visiting the Bird's Nest Stadium personally was fulfilled at last.

Traveler’s Diarrhea and a Saturday at the Great Wall

After returning from the Bird's Nest Stadium, I ate a dinner of 西红柿炒鸡蛋 (xīhóngshì chǎo jīdàn), which is stir-fried eggs with tomatoes. Then, I went to bed around 11 PM since tomorrow would be a big day – I was going with my classmates to the Great Wall of China!

Then the inevitable occurred, which nearly led me to miss out on the rare occasion of going to the Great Wall. I woke up suddenly around 1 AM with a painful stomachache. Quickly, I munched on two tablets of Pepto-Bismol to ease the stomachache. But I fled to the bathroom, where I had a severe bout of diarrhea. After using the bathroom, I chewed some more Pepto-Bismol tablets before going back to bed. Around 5 AM, I woke up again and used the bathroom. Finally, I took two pills of Imodium.

Fearing that I might have diarrhea during the trip to the Great Wall, I asked Dr. Luo for advice on whether I should go. He suggested that I not go since the Great Wall would not have any bathrooms. At first, I thought of staying behind and rest. But when I noticed that was feeling rather fine and that everyone else were all going to the Great Wall, I decided to take my chances of going on the trip, but I was still uncertain. As I went to grab breakfast, I noticed I forgot to bring my water bottle and Imodium. Quickly I went to the pharmacy and tried to tell the seller that I needed medicine for diarrhea. Since he did not sell Western medicine such as Imodium, he sold me a box of herbal medicine for treating diarrhea. Then, I ran to the Wu-Mei convenience store and bought a liter of water and a bag of groundnuts (peanuts) before running for the bus.

It took the bus almost three hours to get to the Great Wall, mostly due to traffic. I took short naps during the ride. As the bus drove closer to our destination, a red car blocked the road. The bus driver shouted to the driver of the red car to move, the driver of the red car would not budge. Finally, the bus driver stepped out of the bus to confront the man. I was afraid he was going to get into a fight with the driver of the red car. Apparently, the red car was meant to be a road block, so we all had to get out of the bus and walk to the entrance. I forgot the fact that there could have been bugs around the Great Wall. Fortunately, Jackie let us have some of her bug spray. Climbing up the stairs or riding the cable car were two ways of getting to the Great Wall. While Andy, Sarah, and Dr. Luo hiked up the Great Wall, Ed and I along with some of our classmates rode the cable car. Since I planned to walk down the mountain, I only purchased the one-way ticket ticket for 60 yuan.

After reaching the Great Wall, I was instantly struck by the natural beauty of the mountains and the view of the wall ahead of us. Although the stairs are somewhat rocky as the stairs at Mount Tai, most of the walk at the Great Wall was rather flat. Nevertheless, I had to watch my steps most of the time. I had to be careful not to fall into a staircase that was not fenced. Climbing to the top of one of the watch towers can be a little tricky. I had to lift myself up to get to the top of the watch tower. Once I got to the top of the watch tower, I felt like I was a conqueror who was charge of the Great Wall. After all that walking, we all sat down for a break. I opened my bag of peanuts and offered my classmates some peanuts.

Then we began our walk down the mountain. We had to continue to walk further on the Great Wall before we found the door that led downstairs. After we climbed down most of the stairs, we saw two donkeys that were eating leaves. While the others petted the donkeys, I abstained from touching them for fear that they could bite.

Finally, after reaching the bottom, I bought a refrigerator magnet of the Great Wall as well as a snow globe of the Great Wall. Before I boarded on the bus, I bought a Subway sandwich for lunch, even though I probably should have been more cautious of what I ate.

Once we reached campus, I was thankful for several things. First, I did not get sick during the Great Wall climb. Second, the weather was nice that day. Finally, I was glad that I did not miss the trip to the Great Wall.

Purchasing Art on the Pedestrian Footbridge

In order to cross the street from the Global Village to the Peking University East Gate, I had to walk a footbridge. Sometimes, on the footbridge, I would see some people selling things. Usually, I had no interest to purchasing anything from the sellers.

However, on Sunday, July 21, as I was crossing the footbridge to get into campus to eat breakfast, I noticed a small group of people gathering around an elderly man and a young woman. As I came closer, I saw that the elderly man was using plant stalks to create shapes of a bird, a dragonfly, a cricket, and flowers. I was so impressed with his artwork of the shapes that the man noticed I was interested in buying them. He sold me the flower and the bird for 50 yuan – a price I considered to be very good for I considered a work of art.

I later came back to buy the dragonfly and the cricket for 10 yuan each. I told the two in Chinese that their work is beautiful. The woman smiled and said thank you for your praise.

After I purchased the plant-made objects, I felt that these underrated objects should belong in a museum. Unfortunately, the plant art started to wither.

Time in Class

I have not given much detail in my recent blog entries in what I am doing in class, so I will briefly mention what I did in class. In both of my Chinese classes, I had to read new passages and learn new words. In my 汉语 (hànyǔ) class, I had a dictation quiz on the new words I learned in class the day before. As for my 口语 (kǒuyǔ) class, we would read new passages or practice our listening and repeating skills – that is, the teacher would read a sentence from the passage we read and we have to repeat it correctly. In both classes the teachers would talk about some Chinese culture.

Although the four-hour classes can be intense, the teachers try to make class interesting. For my hànyǔ class, our teacher would sometimes have us play a game which can be similar to the game of Taboo or Pictionary, but involves writing or saying the correct words. As for my kǒuyǔ class, our teacher would divide our class into groups and compete with each other in speaking Chinese correctly. Interestingly, the points we earn during the games or competitions we play actually count towards our grade.

In my class, I had classmates who were from America, Australia, and Korea. The classmates who were from non-English speaking countries spoke a little English and Chinese. I tried to make friends with these people with diverse backgrounds, especially when I learned a little bit about their country's culture.

Last, but not least, we get a 10 minute break after one hour of hànyǔ or kǒuyǔ class and a 20 minute break between the kǒuyǔ and hànyǔ class. On Wednesday, the day before my test, I took my kǒuyǔ teacher along with Sarah and her teachers for dinner. Unfortunately, my hànyǔ teacher was unable to come due to a family issue. Since I was taking my teacher out for dinner for the first time, I was rather nervous. Questions like what will I say to my teacher or what if I did not speak Chinese clear enough or how will the teacher think of me floated into my mind. But Sarah reassured me not to worry too much about it, especially when she took her teachers out to dinner before.

While Sarah and I waited for out teachers at the door of the third building, all three teachers later arrived. Because we wanted the teachers to decide what restaurant we should go to eat, our teachers decided to go to a restaurant within walking distance outside of campus. During the walk to the restaurant, my teacher asked questions about me. I tried my best to communicate fluently with her, but I sometimes would not know how to say a certain word in Chinese, of which I became slightly embarrassed. Fortunately, my kǒuyǔ teacher, who knew English and Spanish, patiently corrected me and helped me speak the correct words.

At the restaurant, we each ordered a dish that we would all share. One of the most interesting dishes was a fish that is made of milk curd. During the dinner, we all had a conversation in Chinese with each other. As the dinner progressed, I grew less nervous. After finishing dinner, we all walked towards the East Gate of Peking University, where all bid ourselves farewell. As for Sarah and I, our teachers bid us good luck on the test tomorrow.

Pandas and Jellyfish at the Beijing Zoo

Shortly after the exam, I rode the subway with Andy, Jackie, Ed, Laura, April, and Ashley to the Beijing Zoo. Because we were Peking University students, we got a half price discounts on our tickets. The first place we visited inside the zoo were the giant pandas. I saw few pandas today, and the pandas seemed rather inactive, probably due to the heat.

Afterwards, we went to the Aquarium. However, we had to buy an extra ticket – without a student discount – to get into the Aquarium. The Aquarium had lots of fish. The two exhibits I found most interesting was the whale dancing with the diver and the jellyfish exhibit. I later bought a wet preserved squid and jellyfish along with a DVD of the Aquarium as souvenirs. Although I liked the zoo, the intense heat robbed some of my enjoyment.

Last Day of Class; the Temple of Heaven; and Strange Goods at the Hongqiao Market

The last day of class was rather interesting, although it was meant for students who were studying for four weeks, like me. For my hànyǔ class, we watched a movie called 一个都不能少 (Yíge Dōu Bùnéng Shǎo) or Not One Less, which is based on a true story about a 13-year-old substitute teacher from the impoverished Shuiquan Village who goes into the city of Zhangjiakou to find her lost 9-year-old student who traveled to Zhangjiakou to find work. Our teacher told us that the people in the movie are not played by actors, but by the people from Shuiquan Village themselves. As for my kǒuyǔ class, we started by singing a famous Chinese song called 月亮代表我的心

(Yuèliàng Dàibiǎo Wǒde Xīn) or The Moon Represents My Heart. Our teacher gave each of us a paper copy of the lyrics, which were rather easy to learn, and provided the music from her iPhone. Eventually, the class turned into a talent show where we performed using some piece of music. While others sang or danced, I sang The Moon Represents My Heart.

After class, I went with my group for the final event in the summer program: the Temple of Heaven and the Hongqiao Market. Our tour guide told us about a common misconception about the Temple of Heaven: that it is not affiliated with any religion. Then we went to the Hongqiao Market, which was almost like an indoor shopping mall. Many clothing and shoe stores were available as well as electronics stores and toy stores and souvenir shops. As I explored the different shops inside, I was more interested in buying a new watch and maybe some electronics.

Jocelyn warned us that many goods in the Hongqiao Market are fake and may not last long, and indeed she was correct. While I was looking at the electronics, I noticed some obvious fakes. For instance, I saw a device that looks like a PlayStation Portable, but is not manufactured by Sony. I saw what looked like an iPhone, but is actually an “iPhoney” because the phone's operating system ran slowly and looked different from what iOS really looked like. I told a seller that I wanted to get an Android device, and he showed me a Samsung Galaxy S4. Because I wanted to get an Android device for a low price badly and Andy and I thought the Samsung phone is the real thing, I bargained for the phone and got a good deal on it. Or so I thought.

I soon realized that the “Samsung” phone was a fake. The camera quality was bad, and the Samsung logo appeared to be glued on the battery cover. I even had doubts that the phone was running the latest Android version. Apparently, when I plugged the phone into my MacBook Pro, Windows recognized the phone as a Spreadtrum, not Samsung, phone.

One More Day...

Saturday was the day before I would head back to the States. Although I spent time packing up my belongings, I wanted to explore something special in Beijing before we all would head back to our mother country.

Initially, I wanted to go the National Library, but I found out it was closed on Saturdays. Therefore, I looked online for places I could visit until I came across the National Museum. I decided that it would a great place to visit. Because I didn't want to go alone, I asked the others if they wanted to come with me to the National Museum. At least one of them went to the National Museum already while most of the others didn't want to go.

I later discovered that the National Museum was on the same subway line as the exit for a shopping place similar to the Hongqiao Market called the Silk Market. Finally, I took the subway to the National Museum. After transferring to subway Line 1 to take the Tiananmen East exit, I was surprised to see that there are no platform screen doors at Line 1. After exiting the subway terminal, I was standing in front of the National Museum. Unfortunately, the employee at the Museum told it was closed for the day since it was nearing 4:30 PM.

Disappointed, I paced around when I saw the front of Tiananmen Square. I couldn't believe how close the Museum was to Tiananmen Square itself. No doubt, Mao Zedong was watching me from across the street. I guess he was thinking what in the world am I doing back at Tiananmen.

Soon, I took the subway towards the Silk Market. After exiting the terminal, I climbed the stairs towards the shops that were similar to the shops at the Hongqiao Market. However, I later felt that the Silk Market had more shops than the Hongqiao Market.

At the Silk Market, I was determined to make a final effort to buy some essential souvenirs. First, I went to a store to buy some Chinese dresses. I bargained hard with the seller, who kept trying to sell me the dresses for a higher price until I started to walk away. Then the seller gave in to my price demand. Because I did not carry enough cash with me, I paid for the three dresses with my debit card. Because I used my card, I had to pay a fee, just like at the Hongqiao Market. Apparently, since I initially wanted to buy four dresses, even after I bought the three dresses, the seller kept pestering me if I wanted to buy the other dress. I said no and took the escalator to the upper floor.

At the upper floor, I bought a few other interesting items, after doing some intense bargaining. I bought a tea set which had a picture of the Great Wall. I was able to get one of my most desired souvenirs: refrigerator magnets of China. But my most interesting souvenir I bought was a Chinese-made katana – a Japanese samurai sword. Although the katana had a dull blade, it was not just any ordinary katana. It was the one of the most expensive katanas with a high quality blade the seller had. Also, it was small enough for me to fit into my suitcase.

The katana's original price was 1500 yuan, but since he noticed I bought a lot of expensive goods (a lot of sellers ask what their competitor's prices were), he cut the price, just for me, to about 900 yuan. I told him that I did not have much money, so I gave him my final price: 750 yuan. Although he reluctantly agreed to the price, he remained friendly to me. He even said that he would remember me just like he remembered the other Americans who bought swords from him. Before I left, I saw a small golden model of the Bird's Nest Stadium. I told him I was interested in buying it, so he gave me the discounted price of 85 yuan. I offered 80 yuan, in which he said, in English, “Deal!” Because I did not want to pay the debit card fee, I decided to pay cash, but I had about 50 yuan left. He graciously took the bigger bills, but let me keep the one yuan bills for the subway.

After I returned back to Global Village, exhausted and sweating from the humidity, I placed my souvenirs into my suitcases. My fear was that my luggages might exceed the 23 kilogram limit, forcing me to pay the $100 excess baggage fee. Thankfully, Laura had a scale that would measure the weight of the suitcases. The scale showed a little less than 20 kilograms each.

Ethnic Breakfast at Beijing Capital International Airport

My arms felt sore when my iPod Touch woke me at 3 AM. I had to get ready to board the bus by 4:45 AM so we will take the 9 AM flight to New York. After arriving at the airport, we had to go through security. Because some of the others didn't put their nunchucks into their suitcases, security confiscated the nunchucks. Liquids greater than 100 milliliters were not allowed on board, which was why I threw my water bottle away. When I went through security, I didn't think about placing the bottles of hand sanitizer back into the Ziploc bags they were in. Fortunately, security did not confiscate them.

Afterwards, we all went to eat breakfast at the airport. While some went to Starbucks for breakfast, I went to a Chinese fast food restaurant called Flavor Tang for breakfast. I was almost like a cafeteria line with I ordered rice noodles with beef, three small baozi stuffed with zucchini and egg, and a bottle of orange juice. I wanted to try some more Chinese dishes, but I felt it was enough since food at the airport can be expensive. In the meantime, I had a wonderful Chinese breakfast, especially since it was my last breakfast in China.

A few minutes before I boarded the plane, I wanted to buy a bottle of water. However, the seller told me I cannot be able to take the water into the plane when I pass through a security checkpoint (yes, another security checkpoint!) at the gate. Disappointed, I put the water back into the fridge. As I boarded the plane, I looked outside the window for one more time and said, “再见北京!” (Běijīng zàijiàn). “Goodbye Beijing!”

Final Thoughts

When I first stepped foot into Beijing, I was at first nervous of so many things. The language. The culture. The way people would respond to me. As the days progressed, I felt not only less afraid of the conditions in China but also more confident in learning the language and understanding the culture. I felt that the classes in Peking University as well as the surrounding environment helped me strengthen my Chinese, even though I didn't expect to be totally fluent in a month. I was able to interact more fluently with the Chinese people, even though my Chinese can still be off at times. The food is unique yet delicious.

Still, I cannot stay in China forever. First, unlike in America, China does not offer a lot of freedoms and rights that many Americans cherish such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and right to privacy. If one doesn’t pay much attention to the political occurrences in China, a foreign visitor like me would note how the Internet censorship is evidence to problems in Second, the health conditions are not as superior as the conditions in the developed countries. For me, I avoided drinking the tap water even if it was boiled. I drank only bottled water, but buying bottled water can be costly. Sometimes, I even developed stomach problems if the food I ate was not safe to eat. Third, although China is a wonderful country, America is my true home country. I love to eat Chinese food and ate Chinese food for every meal while I was in China, but I would occasionally want to be able to eat real American food again.

Nevertheless, there is so much that China has to offer that the four weeks I have been to Beijing served as a wonderful preview to China. Fortunately, the summer program allowed me to see a lot of things about China, and I had a wonderful opportunity to be able to further strengthen my Chinese by going into an environment that allows me to fully use Chinese whenever I can. Sometimes, I would like to call China my second home.
    — Joshua Meyers, digital forensics major