The first event was an acrobatics show at the Chaoyang Theatre. It was a good show, plenty of stunts and good choreography and execution of the various acts. The end was the best by far; it involved five motorcycles racing around a ball of death. But what really took it over the top was the addition of three more bikes near the end. It was pretty crazy, especially because the entire act was completely unexpected. This event was the beginning of many trips in the coming days.
I believe it was the next day that we had a presentation by a graduate student on campus about Beijing’s city planning, along with its layout’s history. After that she led our group onto the subway and headed for a Hutong (narrow streets with specific characteristics and traits) northwest of the Forbidden City, which is located around a historically important waterway. We spent some time exploring; I unsurprisingly managed to find a military-style apparel shop and bought an awesome satchel. Dr. Luo then took us to a Muslim-Chinese restaurant, and we again had another amazing meal in a private room. We then walked around the waterfront and took in the sights and sounds. It is an area I definitely plan on returning to when I come back to the city in the near future.
Now, having used the subway just one time on that previous trip I realized how simple and easy it was to use. I now had a way to go to places that were not easily accessible by biking. This opened the flood gates of exploration! On Friday afternoon I stopped by Josh’s room to get some info, and after a few minutes of discussion we decided to head to the Olympic Park. We headed for the stadium first, and with our PKU ID’s we got a 50% discount on the entry few. We went up to the upper level and took in the view. We then walked around the section we were on for a bit then slowly went down levels as we navigated around the stadium, all the while taking in the different and stunning views. From there we explored the outside area, and saw the Olympic Torch and some practice fields.
Since we were a little limited on our time, we were unable to explore the north end of the park and that is another adventure for the future. We did however make it to the aquatic center. Upon entering we discovered there is a water park inside along with a swimming club which utilizes the practice pool as its facility. The main pool was amazing to see. Now, it’s not that I am unimpressed with significant things like the Stadium or the Forbidden City, but that pool really gave me a strong feeling when I sat down and paused for a moment. I remembered back to summer 2008, when I was watching Phelps’s epic race where he narrowly got 1st place, in my neighbor’s basement, all of us freaking out to his victory. I love sports but when I watch something I really like, the Olympics, the Tour de France, USA National Soccer games, etc, I get VERY emotionally involved. So being able to be present at that pool where so much history was made was nothing short of amazing. It also made clear to me just how lucky I am and how far I have come in life in such a short amount of time.
On Saturday we took a two hour bus ride to the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, located northeast of the city. Getting up to the wall was an adventure in itself, because although there are trails on the south side, accessibility is tricky, you are scaling the side of a mountain to a defensive structure designed to hold back vicious invaders. When you first glimpse the side of the wall, before emerging on top of it, for me it was a dumbfounding moment, it’s the freaking Great Wall! (My actually thoughts on the Wall were much longer and of a different kind of language) We had a few hours and I managed to walk a major section, see many of the guard towers, and take in the awesome views, all the while appreciating this defensive structure. Each section of wall has some unique twist to it and makes you understand the magnitude and undertaking it was to build. We were in some high terrain and on top of the mountains and stretching into the valleys the Wall extended for as far as one can see. I also managed to take a picture with a friend from the Washington group, Sonor. His family is Mongolian and it’s ironic, cool, and funny to be atop the Wall with him. This experience again reminded me that although I have a wealth of knowledge, to learn about this country will take me years of study to fully comprehend, but for now I can at least appreciate a lot of what I see and experience.
On Sunday I teamed up with Max, a Washington student who I walked much of the wall with the previous day. We had decided to go see the National Museum, located directly east of Tiananmen Square. We first headed for the Ancient China exhibit. There was much to take in from a few thousand years worth of history, but the biggest thing I learned and saw was that the Chinese really love their wine. Many of the exhibits were wine containers; I thought it was funny but really interesting as well. I also enjoyed seeing the weaponry, especially blades called dagger-axes, they look really awesome. After that two hour adventure we headed up a floor and viewed exhibits post 1911. These modern things were laid out in a fairly academic sense. The whole thing is oriented in a Communist fashion, but I did not find it to be an overwhelming or overriding element, merely the angle by which things were presented. When 1949 comes up, you again climb up one floor, and Mao and the Communist Party become the focus. There were many interesting items, and after 1976, you drop down a floor and see some more interesting modern things. This symbolism, the dynastic period below, modern-communist China above can be found all over the place, but again I felt like it was not over done, because one has to remember the end of the dynastic period, along with western colonialism put China into a weak position for a few hundred years, a position that it has only emerged from in recent times. This element is intimidating to realize, China has only been weakened for basically the entire length of American history, but that is only a fraction of their entire history. China will soon reaffirm itself as a strong state (it’s an inevitability given their history), and we in the west must maintain good relations.
On Monday I rode my bike, in rush hour traffic to the Yuan Dynasty Wall Relics Park. It’s a park located on the site of a former Mongol-era, stamped-earth, defensive wall. It was really nice and peaceful and I enjoyed it very much. And for anyone who doesn’t know about biking, especially long distances either in China or America, it’s always an interesting experience. It is made more intense here given the “chaotic” nature of traffic, basically everyone is trying to get from A to B, however they choose. I have gotten comfortable enough with the traffic and figured out how they do things here, so much so to the point that I am able to dart across intersections and cut off cars when I have too. I love dodging traffic, it’s quite a rush. In different ways then back home, it’s safer to ride around the city.
On Tuesday I jumped onto the subway and went to the Military Museum. It was built in the late 50’s, and the building’s architecture is very Soviet in nature. I knew it was under construction, but I didn’t realize the building was being completely gutted. They had an early-mid 20th Century exhibit in a building next door, with a lot of small items and plenty of pictures. However they had a lot of the larger items on display outside in temporary buildings. I was shocked by some of their collection. They had plenty of Soviet tanks and Soviet/Chinese jets, but they had a variety of German, Japanese, and American pieces. I really like this kind of stuff and I had not seen Japanese tanks before, it was not a main area of armament for them during the war and most were destroyed, so seeing them in person was awesome. I definitely will love to see the museum once it is done being renovated.
Now, I cut a lot out of the past few days, but I still wrote a lot, I guess I did a lot of things. With the final week here, I have learned a lot and have gained a lot of insight into how I will pursue things for the next few years, but that all is for the next blog. I have taken many pictures during all my travels, and will likely post them on Facebook, and share them with whoever is curious. Thanks.
… but planning for more adventures has only just begun!
Well it has been an EPIC adventure in China for the month of July, 2013, but unfortunately our time was at an end. By this point I was feeling about as normal in the country and culture as much as one can in such a short amount of time. Even in these last days, there was still much to do. Jocelyn, our PKU International Office Student-Liaison, who is also studying archeology at PKU, kindly arranged a lunch for me to meet with a current PHD student, in the same field. Its an area of study I have always enjoyed and a potential career field. We ate noodles at a restaurant on the street, to the west of campus. Having this lunch really gave me a lot of clarity as to how to pursue a wide range of options within the field, and was another enlightening experience in China.
On Wednesday evening, the BU students in my level one language class invited our teachers to dinner. We went to a restaurant on that same west street area. The group and our teachers selected a variety of dishes, most of which we had yet to try in China. All the food was great, especially the eggplant. We all conversed with them throughout the meal, a lot of the initial conversation was about class and Mandarin. The conversations then became more personal, and we covered a range of topics, from where our school is in America, to what our professors do for fun. It was very insightful and I look forward to contacting my professors from time to time. We had our finals the next day, and although I was not confident in my abilities I still did the best job possible. The next day we just kind of hung out in class and chatted with our professors, and at noon our time in this PKU program was over. Afterward I took one last, long, bike ride around campus. I, along with everyone else received our PKU Certificates, another major accomplishment.
After all our official academics were done for the program, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, only to be replaced with a growing sense of sadness because I would not see many of the cool and interesting friends I had met in China, for a long time. The only remedy, hang out with them as much as possible. So I did. First I went out Friday night with the Washington Group to a club in Wudaokou. I was able to have an awesome time, especially with my good friends Marty and Sonor. We spent the later part of that night talking outside the South-East Gate of PKU. We all just talked about random things, but we also came up with a general plan for winter break, one way or another I will be going to Washington State and hanging out with them. We said goodbye, those two headed onto campus for one last time and I slowly walked back to the Global Village. The next night Devon, Harry, and I went out one last time in Wudaokou. We went to Laker's then met up with students from the “Clerk” group. It was a crazy night.
On Sunday, after I had failed to get up on time and be fully packed, we promptly left at 5:30 AM for the airport. Even when we were boarding the plane I was still pretty out of it, especially because of the fact we were going home. From then on, and into the following days I was caught in limbo, which was only multiplied by serious jet-lag. It was nice to be going back home, but a part of me still had so many questions, so many things to still do and see in Beijing, let alone the rest of China. Once we took off, I put some music on and passed out. I also watched Cloud Atlas on the way home, now that's a great movie. We landed in JFK on Sunday, my father picked me up, and we took a couple of trains into New Jersey, where we hoped in the car and went home. Once I arrived home my journey had finally ended, but planning for more adventures has only just begun!
I would like to THANK everyone who was apart of or helped make this trip such a success. This trip has really helped me out in so many different ways, socially academically, etc. The physical experience of traveling somewhere brings more clarity to ones life. I cannot emphasis enough how important this kind of experience is, especially for college students. I have gained so much, that it will take me months to fully unravel and understand exactly everything I did and saw, because right now the whole experience is just an abstract blur of excitement in my mind. Again, THANK YOU to everyone I met along the way, Dr. Luo, and China. My future is brighter than ever before.
— Vikram Mookerjee, history major