Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lucky Duck Dinner

It was finally time for the Peking duck dinner! The restaurant was not far from PKU, and its interior décor was gorgeous with glimmering chandeliers, thick purple table napkins, and a well-dressed wait staff.

The dinner consisted of a lot of interesting dishes that are not really served on campus or in restaurants we have gone to so far. Of course there was the Peking duck, which you were supposed to eat with a wrap filled with sauce, cucumbers, and onions. This was delicious, however, the duck’s feet were not. The duck feet are served cold and have a very rubbery texture. This mixed together in my mouth was not very appetizing. Normally I can eat a lot of different kinds of Chinese food, but I will not eat duck’s feet again.

There was no rice or noodle dish served during this dinner. The 主食 (zhu shi - staple food) of this meal were some small cakes served at the end. One cake I tried was filled with some sort of meat, possibly duck.

I also was one of the winners who won the rock-paper-scissors challenge for the two serial numbers of the ducks we ate. It was a small postcard with the duck’s serial number written on it. I was not really sure what to make of this souvenir except that it holds good memories, and the challenge was very entertaining.

From A Small Chinese City To A Big One

 After participating in the Beijing language study abroad program at PKU last summer, I was pretty confident and excited to enroll in Chinese again and study at a higher level than last year.

 I have also been working in China as an English teacher for a year and studying Chinese somewhat intensively for about a year and a half. This and my familiarity with the program has really made my own perceptions of PKU and China as a whole different from many others studying here for the first time.

I remember when I first came to Beijing last summer before I started teaching English in Zibo, I was scared out of my mind during the first night. I knew that I would not be going home any time soon. But this time, other than adjusting to the change of the big-city environment, I really felt no different on the first night of the program than if I were to sleep in my teacher’s apartment back in Zibo.

I feel my own perceptions and understanding of China and the Chinese language differ greatly from last year’s. Of course, the time spent working and living in the culture has had an enormous influence on this. Working at Shandong University of Technology has allowed me to live in the “Chinese” world because it is located in Zibo City, a small city in the Shandong Province, and there are few foreigners except for the foreign teachers at the university, primary schools, and a few other foreign workers for various companies such as Siemens. When you go anywhere in Zibo, very few adults speak enough English to hold a casual or functional conversation. Whereas in Beijing, many Chinese natives speak at least some English, and it is often easier to get around as a non-Chinese speaker as opposed to in a smaller city.

There of course are some wonderful opportunities and venues for foreigners in Beijing. As a foreigner, one could even possibly get around without knowing hardly any Chinese or making any Chinese friends. I am not saying that as a foreigner you cannot be completely immersed in the Chinese culture in Beijing due to the high amount of foreigners, but after living in Zibo and comparing it to my time in Beijing so far, I definitely think it’s easier to really get immersed in the culture and language when you are not surrounded by other foreigners.


Since I have been working in China for a year, I decided that it was now time to put my Chinese language skills to use and help others with interpreting/translating whenever I can. I had recently passed the HSK IV exam, which states that I know roughly 1,200 Chinese characters and that those who passed HSK IV can communicate and travel in China, and I can talk to native speakers about a variety of topics.

I also have been doing interpreting for my fellow peers in the BU group since I have some experience with using Chinese. During the first week, I did some basic translating/interpreting for the BU group such as reading menus, helping everyone buy and add minutes to cell phones, and asking for information about campus facilities and directions to places.

I think when I go home to the US for a month after this program, I am going to miss this part of the adventure in Beijing. Since I am somewhat familiar with life in China, helping others get around when they need it is not a bother to me. Doing this also gives me a scope of what language/aspect skills I am currently very good at and others that I need to improve.

By the end of the trip, I hope everyone’s Chinese will have improved so that they are capable of doing what they need to do and are confident enough to use the language in various situations. It should be an interesting time watching everyone (including myself) progress with Chinese.

The Beijing “儿”

I often cringe when I hear the character “儿” so much when working with Chinese.

 However, in the PKU classes, this is common because classes are taught in the Beijing accent, and this is one distinguished linguistic feature of the Beijing accent. It sounds like “er” and makes the words it is added to feel odd to me.

 Maybe I’m just picky or pay too much attention to things. Maybe I just think it makes everything sound rougher. Also, I speak Chinese with a mild Shandong province accent because I’ve been living in Zibo for a year and they don’t use 儿 as much. I am also starting to pick up on the finer points of Chinese pronunciation that I haven’t really noticed before. It really is difficult for Americans to pronounce a lot of the sounds in Chinese language. My spoken Chinese teacher always makes faces when she is emphasizing the difficult sounds or when students mispronounce them.

Thinking about the accents and dialects are fun because in China, sometimes Chinese people have trouble understanding other Chinese people due to the multitude of dialects. I hear people all the time in public saying “What?” when they talk to people on cell phones. Given that the number of dialects is a powerful distinction where people must learn “Putonghua” in school, I don’t think bad cell phone service is always the cause of this.

As a second language learner, the standard Chinese 普通话 (Putonghua) sounds great if spoken clearly. The news anchors on the CCTV news do this, and it is very smooth-sounding to me. Then there are other people who seem like they blur all of the words together when they speak.

Even though the standard Putonghua sounds good to my ears, there is also an advantage for being able to listen to and try to understand and appreciate dialects and accents in the people’s speech.

Mount Tai Storm

This was definitely my most memorable Mount Tai climb because a massive thunderstorm occurred about halfway up the mountain.

We all started to climb together, but soon everyone was separated into small groups because some moved at a faster pace than others. I ended up climbing with April and Ashley. I carried the umbrellas, water, and other supplies since I was the only one who brought a backpack during the climb. We agreed that we would all take turns carrying each other’s water and other things during the day trips.

As soon we completed about 1,500 of our 3,300 stairs of Mount Tai, the sky suddenly opened up, and rain heavier than the Beijing 暴雨 ( torrential rain) poured all over us. Soon after, close range thunder-cracks and lightning flashes flickered before our eyes and echoed in our ears.

Ashley wanted to get to the top of the mountain as quick as possible, so she went ahead. I walked with April going up the rest of the mountain, and she felt electricity surge through the handrail after the loudest thunder-crack.

Soon after we made it to the top, Ashley told us she had seen lightning strike the ground close enough to see the sparks from it hitting the mountain. We were still some of the first people to make it up the mountain despite the treacherous weather. Bruce and Susie, our tour guides, were both so happy to see that we had all arrived safely.

Eventually everyone arrived at the top with soaked clothes, bent umbrellas, and exhausted legs. We then all had lunch at the top of the mountain. During the descent, the girls walked together and sang songs to keep our minds occupied as we all tried not to slip down the mountain. Luckily everyone made it down the mountain safely, and we all had a really memorable climb up and down Shandong Province’s most famous mountain.

Confucius’ Tomb Decorated

We went to Qufu to see Confucius’ home and tomb the day after we climbed Mount Tai. Everyone was tired from the previous mountain climb, but we all still managed to enjoy the ancient history and monuments found in Qufu, the ancient capital of Lu area.

I especially enjoyed seeing the cemetery and tombs that contained Confucius’ family’s remains. This is located in a wooded area and is a big change of scenery compared to Beijing. This was my third time seeing this place, but I still tried my best to get something out of it. What I got was a different perception of the place itself. I could sense that my knowledge of China had increased compared to the previous years, and yet all of those ancient remains really haven’t changed. That’s just how time works.

I also helped some of my friends buy hand-written scrolls that read some of the ancient Confucian teachings. I loved watching calligraphers write the scrolls, and I understood some of the words even though they were written in an ancient format.

Finally we reached Confucius’ tomb, and it was decorated with all sorts of flowers. Our tour guide said that students now on summer vacation had decorated the tomb. In Confucian teaching, studying (if you are a “good” person) is regarded with upmost importance. I thought it was interesting that the students, whether or not they are aware or fully understand the history or Confucian thought, pay homage to Confucius by leaving flowers on his tomb.
    — Sarah Halter '12, teaching at Shandong University of Technology, China

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

KFC, Bartering and Google China

When I first met Dr. Jing in his office, he told me about an annual trip where he takes students to China for study abroad. I thought for a while about going to China; but after discussing with my parents, I felt it would be a great opportunity to study Chinese at a prestigious university and to experience Chinese culture.

Although I can hear and speak at least some Chinese, I don't consider myself to be totally fluent. I am not much better at reading and writing characters either. My desire to further improve my Chinese was one of the reasons I chose the study abroad trip to China.

On Tuesday, Dr. Luo invited us to dinner at KFC. As we walked approximately a mile to the KFC, I jokingly thought to myself what Colonel Harland Sanders has in store for us.

After crossing several busy intersections, which involved many automobiles, pedestrians, and bicyclists, we had reached the KFC.

The KFC inside was very busy, and we nearly had some trouble finding a place to sit.

As I looked at the menu, the first thing I saw was not a bucket of the Colonel's chicken (although I later found it on the right side of the menu) but several sandwiches of which I have never heard before. Also the side menu contained some items that no one can probably find in any KFC in the States such as black fungus and fish ball soup, even though the mashed potatoes still exist.

Because I wanted to try something that I may never have a chance to eat again, I chose the new shrimp burger, the black fungus, and milk tea, all of which are very low prices.

I speculated that the shrimp burger would have chicken, based on the picture I saw, or at least have the Colonel's eleven original herbs and spices. As soon as I got my meal, I was intrigued on how my meal looked slightly small. Although the food was a little different, I enjoyed every bit of my meal. Perhaps the Colonel did place his original recipe in my shrimp burger.

After finishing the meal, my friends Andy, Ed, and Jackie wanted to get some pizza to eat. So we walked to the Pizza Hut, which was right next door to the KFC. A Pizza Hut employee that stood near the door of the Pizza Hut talked to us in Chinese. After listening to what he was saying, I tried to relay to my friends that the employee said they are very busy.

I responded as best as I could in Chinese that we wanted to take out. He pointed his finger up as if he was motioning us to go upstairs. We all walked upstairs, where a waitress gave us a menu. I was amazed at how the menu showed so many choices – more than what a typical Pizza Hut back in the States would offer. We soon left the Pizza Hut without getting anything.

While we walked back towards the Global Village, I was eating in the sights and sounds of Beijing and taking pictures of things of interest until I found an intriguing sight.

“Andy! Look to your right! It's your favorite company!”

Sure enough, it was the headquarters of Google China. Originally, I thought that Google China headquarters was closed, and that they took their business to Hong Kong. Perhaps I was wrong. We took some pictures of the Google China sign. Andy and I tried to go inside and take a tour, but security wouldn’t let us in. It was great for us to see the famous American search giant in China. We continued to walk on until we saw a table with some artifacts.

I saw some Buddha statues for sale. I noticed an object that looked somewhat like a maraca. I asked the seller what is it. She picked it up and shook the object in a circular motion in which a piece of string spun in the air. She, along with a female assistant, put their hands together like praying hands, and bowed. I realized that it must be used for religious purposes.

As for Andy and Ed, they bartered with the seller on buying stone elephant dolls. Ed only wanted one for 60 RMB, but the seller reduced the price to 100 RMB for two elephants. Finally, Ed paid for the elephants.

Adventurous Flight from JFK to Beijing International Airport

After arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, I was ready for takeoff into a country where people speak very little English. After passing through security, I waved good-bye to my parents, who were able to see by the food court. As I boarded the plane with my other classmates, I noticed that each seat had a touch screen computer. The most helpful software allowed me to view a map of our current location as well as view information such as plane speed and outside temperature. During the entire flight, I watched Skyfall, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and some of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but I also kept referring to the map to see where we were.

At first, I thought the plane would travel through the Pacific Ocean to get to Beijing. To my surprise, we flew north towards the Arctic Ocean. I wondered if I could have been able to see polar bears. Unfortunately, I did not get a window seat. The whole flight itself seemed monotonous, which was interrupted by the air stewardess either offering us drinks or telling the passengers in both Chinese and English to buckle our seat belts due to turbulence. We had gotten dinner and breakfast on the plane, which was delicious.

By the time our plane landed in Beijing, I noticed it was evening.

As soon as we stepped out of the plane and into the terminal of Beijing International Airport, I anticipated some culture shock. I had originally thought that everything would all be in Chinese. I was 99% correct, except I noticed that some signs had English words along with the Chinese characters. Even the announcer in the airport train we took spoke in both Chinese and English. Another thing I noticed was that the terminal felt rather humid with hardly any air conditioning.

I had noticed that the air outside was smoggy. When I saw a lady wear a surgical mask, I was afraid that the air might not be safe to breathe once we went outside the airport. However, breathing the air did not feel so bad, but the humidity made me sweat.

Arriving at the Global Village

We arrived by bus at the Zhongguanyuan Global Village, which is a Peking University dormitory built to accommodate international students. At the front desk, we were each given a key card, our Peking University ID cards, and an information packet containing a schedule of events and maps of Peking University and Beijing. While I was at the front desk, I noticed a vending machine that gives out drinks; but it would only accept RMB and not debit cards.

When I tried to search for my room, I was confused by the last digit of my room number. Once I opened the door, I saw three doors and one bathroom. I realized that behind each of the three doors is a one-person bedroom with a dresser cabinet, a desk, a telephone, an air conditioner with a remote control, a bed, and an electric pot for boiling water.

I tried to set my air conditioner to cool my room, but I had some difficulty with reading the characters on the remote control. I did recognize the character 睡 from the characters 睡觉 (shuìjiào), meaning “sleep”. I turned on that setting and a moon icon appeared on the remote control. I assumed the AC would run on low power. Afterwards, I unpacked some of stuff from my luggage and later went right to bed, since tomorrow would be a big day.

First Chinese Breakfast

The next morning, I got up early to wait for Dr. Luo and the others to meet near the front desk of Global Village. Once we all got together, Jocelyn, a Chinese-American archeology student who met us at the airport, guided us through the East Gate of Peking University and took us into a place to eat a Chinese breakfast before we head for the placement test.

The breakfast was the first meal I ate in China. One of the foods I ate was bāozi, a steamed white bun filled with meat and/or vegetables. I also drank a bowl of soup, of which I was not sure what it was. Rather than eat the soup with a spoon, I drank it from the bowl.

First day of class

The day after orientation, I had walked with my friends to Lee Shau Kee Building 2 for our first day of class. We have two two-hour classes. I was sent to a classroom where none of my other Bloomsburg University classmates would be in since I was in one of the intermediate classes. As I walked into my classroom, I was a little nervous. I wondered, who will my classmates be? What would the teacher think of me?

At 8 a.m., our 口语 (kǒuyǔ) professor started class. Even though she also speaks English and a little Spanish besides Chinese, she spoke in Chinese for the entire class period. Fortunately, I can hear most of what she was saying. She asked us to introduce ourselves by saying our Chinese names, country of origin, and what place we like to travel – all in Chinese. When it was my turn, I spoke as best as I could in Chinese my Chinese name, and that I am an American, and that I like to travel to New York. (Actually I liked to travel to more places in US than just New York.)

After the introductions, we began to read from a passage, which consisted only of Chinese characters. After an hour of teaching class, we all took a ten minute break. Our first homework assignment was to send her an email with our name. The first assignment was easy enough. Eventually, in later homework assignments for the rest of the week, she would have us study certain characters for a dictation quiz the next day.

Around 10 a.m., after a twenty minute break, our 汉语 (hànyǔ) professor arrived. Like our first professor, he too spoke Chinese for the entire class period. We all introduced ourselves in Chinese. After he introduced himself and we students introduced ourselves, we read characters and passages (without pinyin) from the textbook. He was a very nice and helpful professor. When he asked who would like to read one of the passages, we hesitated; but he told us to read it even if we make a mistake.

That made me feel better, and I read the required passages, even though I made some mistakes. He also assigned us our first homework: studying about fourteen characters for tomorrow's dictation quiz.

Ordering Lunch at Peking University

The number of places to eat in Peking University is countless. In addition to the place to we went for breakfast on the day of orientation, I went with Jackie, Ed, and Andy for lunch. We first went to the noodle house. However, because we had trouble reading some of the characters, we were unable to order what we wanted. So we tried the restaurant next door.

Again, we had trouble with reading the characters. I tried to talk to the person, but my Chinese was a little broken. We ended up trying another place, but with not much luck either. I was starting to feel bad that I was not able to order successfully, especially when Jackie, Ed and Andy depended on me to speak and interpret Chinese for them. Finally we went to the last restaurant in the building. Thankfully, the clerk knew a little English and got most of us chicken with rice and vegetables. As I sat down to eat, I felt awkward after our attempts to order our meals; but I did not want to let this stop me from trying to improve my Chinese.

After visiting many eateries as the days passed, I got somewhat better with communicating Chinese when ordering dishes; but I am still learning new things and am not totally perfect.

Safety differences in China vs America

The Chinese have some different views when it comes to traffic safety. Many Chinese ride bicycles or motorbikes, but they rarely wear helmets. Sometimes, they may have people riding in the back of the bike, and they too do not wear helmets. Also, some riders can be in a hurry and zoom past us. Believe it or not, cars can drive on pedestrian roads or even sidewalks.

In addition, I was even surprised to find out that they do not use leashes on their dogs. In fact, on the night we were walking back from KFC, I noticed two dogs sitting near the street without a leash. Perhaps the dogs are trained not to run away from their masters.

Dinner at the Global Village

On the night of July 4, Sarah invited some of my classmates and I to dinner at the restaurant next to our dorm. I had discovered a few things that are different in China than in America.

Once we were ready to order, Sarah said, “服务员” (fúwùyuán) to call the waitress. Rather than pen and paper, the waitress used a mobile phone-like device to take our order.

We all ordered a variety of Chinese dishes, although one of us ordered onion rings. Because I wanted to try something new, I ordered fried kelp and minced meat for the main part of the meal and frozen green tea cake for dessert. As I placed my order, I asked the waitress in Chinese what kind of meat the dish had. She told me it had pork. I expected it to be a plate of pork and kelp, but to my surprise, it was a bowl of kelp and small bits of pork. Eating the kelp was almost like eating spaghetti in a bowl of water using chopsticks. Also, the kelp did not look like it was fried. Nevertheless, the meal tasted great. I even sampled other people's tasty meals.

I remembered Dr. Luo telling us that tipping is not allowed in China because it is considered an insult, so we did not leave a tip.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Ahhh. Saturday morning. Today is not a class day, but a field trip day! As usual, I woke up around 6 a.m. and met the others at the first floor of my dorm building by 7 a.m. After breakfast, we went for a bathroom break. I noticed that the urinal has round, colored rocks on it.

We finally arrived at the Shao Yuan Building #2 at meeting time of 8:15 a.m., where our bus will take us to Tiananmen Square. Around 8:30, the time we were supposed to take off, Jocelyn told us that we are going to have to wait for a group from Australia.

Around 9 a.m., our bus departed for the Forbidden City. Our tour guide spoke to us in English using a portable microphone and speaker. During the drive, the bus got stuck in some heavy traffic. The tour guide explained to us that overpopulation causing such traffic problems is the reason why the two-child policy is implemented. I had two initial reactions to her comments. One was that she seems to be promoting this two-child policy as a justifiable means to the end. My second reaction is that, referring to Dr. Luo's textbook, who would take care of the elderly if there are not enough young people to support them?

As we reached our stop, our tour guide advised us to take plenty of water as it would get very hot today. I already had a 1.5 liter bottled water in my backpack, but I took two of the bottled water, just to be on the safe side. She also had Peking University flag which she would wave it so that if we got separated, we knew where our group was.

The sight of Tiananmen Square was simply magnificent. I even noticed some of the government buildings for the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, one of those buildings is portrayed on the back of a 100 yuan note. We took pictures near the statues of soldiers. As we walked closer to where the famous portrait of Mao Zedong hangs, I felt as if he was watching all of us.

As we were walking, I noticed lots of people wanting our business. Some were selling ice popsicles while others were selling umbrella hats. Photographers offered to take pictures of us – for a fee. We had finally managed to walk into the Forbidden City, in which is the home of the emperors, in the midst of crowds of people. It was definitely a huge place for a home. I was hoping that they might take us inside the building of the Forbidden City and perhaps see the rooms of the emperor and his family, but that never happened. Of course, we did see some of the interiors from the outside such as a garden. I suppose only the professors and archeologists are allowed into the “secret” rooms.

At last, we had finished our tour of the huge city-like mansion. I went to the small store and bought a bottle of orange juice with pulp, in which I drank it so quickly to quench my thirst. Soon, we walked under the intense sun towards the site where the bus would take us back to Peking University. After climbing on the bus, I soon fell asleep.

Time really has gone fast! Classes have been going well so far, but it doesn't mean that I had nothing exciting happen.

Kong-fu Show at Red Theater

On Wednesday, July 10, we took a bus ride to the Red Theater to see a Kong-fu show called Chun Yi: The Legend of Kong Fu at the Red Theater in Beijing. Although the show would not start until 7:30, we had to board the bus by 5:15.

Originally, I thought the show will be about 4 hours long, which is why the schedule said 5:30 to 9:30 PM. I later realized that heavy rush-hour traffic would delay us in getting to the Red Theater on time, which is why we had to leave early.

During our bus ride, I noticed many unique buildings and landmarks. One of the landmarks I discovered was one of the places I hoped to visit: the Beijing National Stadium, which is the bird's nest stadium that hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Once we had arrived 30 minutes early at the Red Theater, I did some exploring inside the theater. When I looked at the items in the gift shop, I saw nunchucks, a weapon used in martial arts. The clerk talked with me about the goods I was interested in buying. As I communicated with her, she commented that my Chinese was really good, but I responded that my Chinese is not that good. Finally, I bought the DVD/CD set and the two Chinese clothes. I did not have enough RMB in my wallet, but the clerk told me that I can use my credit or debit card to pay, which is what I used.

The show itself, which is about the story of Chun Yi and his training in kong-fu and Zen Buddhism in order to become a warrior monk, consisted of actors performing kong-fu martial arts and acrobatics. I was surprised that the narrator of the story, a Buddhist monk, and the boy in the show spoke in English. I noted its use of symbolism, in which a female character played a spirit.

Some of its martial arts performances were daring and dangerous. One of the scenes I witnessed showed Chun Yi lying on top of a “bed” of swords with another man placing some heavy wood and a stone block on top of Chun Yi's chest. Then, one of the men took a sledgehammer and struck the stone block, which crumbled into pieces. Chun Yi, on the other hand, suffered no harm.

Overall, I thought the entire performance was excellent, except for one negative factor. After the climax occurs at the scene where after Chun Yi makes a prideful fall, the priest visits Chun Yi. However, during this quiet but emotional scene, the audience members were talking in the background. I tried to pay attention to what was happening on stage, but the noise distracted me. Thanks to the rude audience, they ruined a great emotional scene. Yet, despite that small distraction, I overall admired the amazing martial arts performance of the actors.

In the end, I took a picture with one of the actors in the show.

Peking Duck at Quanjide Restaurant

The next day, we went to the Quanjide Restaurant for the long-awaited Peking duck dinner. We walked on the same route we used to go to KFC. After passing Google China headquarters, we climbed the stairs towards the artistic “trees” to get to the restaurant.

As we entered restaurant, we all sat like King Arthur's knights in a round table with a rotating glass circle on top of the table. When we ordered our drinks, I ordered watermelon juice.

As we waited for the Peking duck, we were almost immediately served a wide variety of dishes. I had enjoyed every dish I tasted, including the squid “rings”, lamb, jellyfish, flounder, salad with thousand island dressing, Chinese vegetables, and a fish eyeball.

Finally, the cook arrived with the Peking duck and carved it into small slices. I ate one of the slices of the outer parts of the duck. It was very oily, of which the oil could have been duck fat. Soon, the leaner slices of Peking duck was cut for us. Then, one of the waitresses showed us how to make a wrap using the Peking duck, the duck sauce, and the strips of celery and lettuce. After dipping the duck into the duck sauce and placing the vegetable strips into the wrap, I rolled up the wrap and bit into the delicious texture of the wrap.

I enjoyed the whole dinner, even though I later had to take Pepto-Bismol to settle my stomach. Nevertheless, the meal was so delicious that you have to eat it to believe it!

Shandong Province Trip: Traveling to Tai'an and Mount Tai

On Friday, after finishing class, we packed essential belongings for our weekend trip to the Shandong Province, home of Mount Tai and Confucius.

Our guides, Jocelyn and Susie, led us into the minibus, which took us for about an hour to Beijing South Station, a train station in which high-speed trains, or bullet trains as I called them, pass by. Even though we could have taken a regular train which would have taken us to Shandong for about ten hours, the bullet train would take us about 2 hours to get there.

Once we arrived at the train station, the train station almost felt like an airport. Due to the heavy traffic near the entrance of the train station, we all had to get off the minibus and walk past the cars to get into the entrance. Them, we had to pass through security. I was amazed at the number of stores and eateries in the station as well as the glamorous electronic billboards.

Finally, I felt I was ready for the ride of my life as we stepped inside the bullet train. The seats were very comfortable, and there was a place on the top to place the baggage. Unfortunately, the luggage I brought with me from home was rather big, so I was forced to bring it in my seat, which made my feet feel uncomfortable. In fact, most of the passengers brought luggages that were smaller than the ones I saw at the airport. Even though the train ride reached the maximum speed of 302 km/h, the entire ride felt rather smooth.

After arriving at the Tai'an Train Station, our male tour guide directed us to our bus, which took us to the Taishan International Hotel. As Andy and I walked into our hotel room, I was at how beautiful and clean the room looked. At the same time, I discovered some features that I did not see in American hotels. To power on the room electricity, the room key must be placed into a slot near the door – a smart way of preventing someone from losing the key. I found additional switches that controlled electrical outlets and certain lights.

At 7 p.m., Andy and I walked towards the dining hall, where we sat at the round table just like at the Quanjide Restaurant. No Peking duck that night (we are not in Beijing anyway), but we had a variety of meat and vegetable dishes and a glass of Coca-Cola and a cup of tea. The next morning, we ate an all-you-can-eat Chinese breakfast. Some of the foods present were eggs with rice, tofu, and Chinese vegetable dishes. I felt that some of the dishes would have rather been served for either lunch or dinner.

Shandong Province Trip: Rainy Climb to Mount Tai

Climbing Mount Tai is probably not for the faint of heart, unless you have very high endurance. After leaving the hotel, our tour guide took us by bus to Mount Tai, in which a picture of it can be seen on the back of a 5 yuan bill. When we got off the bus, I only brought with me my water bottle and an umbrella. Qufu

We took a minibus ride from the foot of the mountain to about halfway up to the mountain. The minibus drove so fast up the mountain that it almost felt like a roller coaster. Once we got off the minibus, we had to make a steep stair climb to the top of the mountain. It took me about 2 hours to get to the top of mountain, which is the normal time for most people to walk. I kept making several rest stops while most of the others climbed ahead.

Then after climbing half of the stairs to the top of the mountain, it rained heavily. There was severe lightning. My umbrella wasn't enough to keep me dry, especially when I was already wet from my constant sweating due to humidity while climbing the first few hundred steps towards the top. I actually had a poncho in my backpack, but I didn't bring it with me since I thought an umbrella would be sufficient. During the torrential downpour, I struggled to climb my way up to the top of Mount Tai. I rested a few times.

Finally, I finally reached the top, where some of the others were waiting for me. At the top, I saw Buddhist temples around me. I thought the stair-climbing was finally over, but we had to climb additional stairs (and I was already feeling exhausted) to get to a place to eat. Because I was so exhausted, I fell behind from the group. Worse, the rain and fog made the walking harder.

With the help of Jocelyn and Susie, I finally got to the place where we would eat lunch. As soon as I got inside, the others were glad to see me. The guy at the door gave me an umbrella bag. It was an all you can eat buffet of Chinese food. After eating a plateful of food, I decided to get an orange juice. I was surprised at the price of the small bottle of orange juice: 48 yuan. Usually a bottle of Minute Maid Orange Juice would cost about 5 yuan. However, I soon realized why it was expensive. Because Mount Tai requires a lot of climbing, the cost of manpower to deliver the goods is high. That explains why a lot of goods on the top of Mount Tai is expensive.

As for the descent, I thought we were going to take the cable car down to the mountain. However, we were going back down to the mountain by foot. I personally thought I had enough walking, but I thought downward descent would not be so bad since the gravity would help me go downstairs. As we prepared to leave the restaurant, it was raining very hard. Our tour guide thought about waiting out the storm, but we didn't know when the rain would stop. Therefore, we went to the gift shop to buy ponchos. After that, we went outside.

I tried to catch up with the rest of the group, but I was falling behind. Luckily, Susie and Jocelyn accompanied me to descend Mount Tai. Descending Mount Tai would also prove to be a little difficult as well, although better than ascending Mount Tai. I actually had to watch every step I made on the stairs since the stairs proved to be rather small. Some can be a little crooked. This slowed me down a bit. When I decided to speed up, I nearly tripped. Susie warned me to be careful. Of course during the ascent and descent, I actually nearly tripped or almost fell over a couple of times.
Finally I reached the bottom of the mountain. I was completely wet like most of the others; therefore, I was afraid that I might catch a cold. At last our tour guide took us by bus to the Queli Binshe Hotel in Qufu.

Shandong Province Trip – Qufu: Hometown of Confucius

After we had dinner at the Queli Binshe Hotel in Qufu, Dr. Luo began to discuss with us about the principles of Confucianism.

After breakfast, we followed our tour guide to the Temple of Confucius. The site of Confucius is where Confucius is honored. We also had visited the mansion of the family and descendants of Confucius. Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel for lunch before heading to the Cemetery of Confucius. After lunch, we walked to a place where there were two “miniature shuttles.” These miniature shuttles are actually like buses but with no doors and windows. In fact, the back seat can allow the rider to see what is traveling behind the shuttle while the vehicle is in motion.

After the shuttles drove us for about two miles, we had to walk in the hot sun towards the entrance to the Cemetery of Confucius. Actually, the Cemetery is not just for Confucius himself. It is actually a burial site for the family members and descendants of Confucius that deserve to be buried there. Once we reached the tomb of Confucius, our tour guide explained that students would come and place flowers at the tomb. Indeed, I saw flowers and decorations at the tomb. After we returned to the hotel for a quick pit stop, we all got on the bus and headed for the train station to take the train back to Beijing.
    — Joshua Meyers, digital forensics major

We were in beast mode

Hey everybody! My name is Harry Schultz. I’m a Mathematics Major from Bloomsburg University. I needed a few credits so I thought that I’d see the world in the process. My family and friends fully supported me in this endeavor, which I appreciate very much. Let me just take this moment to tell everyone from home, my family, my co-workers, Thirst crew, Delta Pi and everyone else that I miss you guys very much.

So we’re one week in here at Peking University, Beijing, China. Let me say that again, BEIJING, CHINA! It is literally the other side of the world. It really makes you sit back and see how small a world we inhabit.

Let me just remind our readers that I am 25 years of age and have never been outside the country let alone on a plane! It is so like me to take my first flight as far as possible.

Here’s some of the view.

I’m not going to delve too much into our courses because I’m sure you will hear enough from others and learning the language is more of a bonus than a career necessity in my case. I’m meeting a lot of great people from all over the world on this journey. A few examples are China (obviously), Japan, Korea, Turkey, Holland, Canada, Italy, and even parts of distant America such as Hawaii and the West Coast. I bought a track phone so I could meet the locals and possibly some long term friends because who doesn’t want friends from all over the world?

Don’t fret my dedicated BU partiers. Some of the crew and I tested out the night life waters here as well. We tried out a few local places, quickly becoming regulars at a few. I even received a VIP card from a place called Laker’s. We are friends with the manager/DJ there already and will be sure to hang out there again very soon (I’m eating there in an hour!).

Another place called Lush had live music. The entertainment was very funny for me and my fellow Americans as we heard the singer using lots of American lines, mixing them into his music. It was outright amusing. We went to a place called V-Club that was very high class and well managed. The manager sent us a few drinks a few times throughout the night. Lastly we checked out a place called Club Wu which was your rave type of gathering. We danced a lot there, at least I did!

I’m taking Tai Chi every morning at 6:30 with Dr. Luo. It is a wonderful art. It is exactly what I need in the morning, relaxing and exhilarating at once. Let’s hope I never have to use it! I am also using the gym here as well. The food is tough to get by. Everybody rides bikes and carries umbrellas around in 100-degree weather for the shade! Chinese women are beautiful and oh there is so much to tell! But my mid section is screaming to go to Laker’s so I will continue this next week!

Quick note: I am filming everything. I run a company called Thirst Productions and will eventually be making a Thirst Adventures: Harry Goes To China Episode. So keep an eye out! Cheers.

Hey everyone! Two weeks down. Our journey is half way and I feel like we have done it all! I’ve been throwing everything at my taste buds, from duck feet, to liver, to jelly fish, to unidentified substances.

But don’t worry, for every bad tasting item was balanced with a delicious one. I initially thought the second week was going to be monotonous and mostly boring with settling in the dorms.

How wrong I was.

Thursday night was an adventure all in itself. Other international groups, Clerk (made up of students mostly from the states but not limited) and Washington University invited us out to a club called Mix. Now this was our first adventure away from the University and thus our first cab ride as well. Mix was a high end club surrounding by other high end clubs. I personally had a great time there. Though it was a little expensive for my taste, the women were incredibly beautiful and I eventually came to the conclusion that the trip was indeed worth it.

Friday after class we immediately packed and went on a weekend trip. I don’t think I was ready for this exhausting trip but am of course very happy the trip occurred. From bus, to train, to bus we eventually got to our hotels where we ate dinner, pranced around in hotel robes, slept and finally checked out in the morning. It went by so fast! Our tour guides Suzy and Bruce were amazing people. They were extremely friendly, very helpful, and so dedicated to making the weekend interesting and exciting for our group. I hope to stay in contact with them for the rest of my life.

Saturday was a day to remember. We hiked, no, climbed Mount Tai, the birthplace of Confucius. There were 6,668 steps. When I arrived with this epic challenge staring me in the face, I simply looked up, and announced, “I’m getting to the top”. My ever fit friend Andy accompanied me on this journey and we were the first to get to the top doing it in about one hour’s time. We were unable to make it to the top before the monstrous thunderstorm rolled over us.

But lucky for us we were in beast mode and accepted the downpour and roar of the storm with smiles and grunts. I was offered a poncho at one point where I simply gave a strong man pose and moved on with my task.

After eating dinner at the top, I focused my thoughts on the down climb (just as difficult) and eventually with much inner turmoil succumbed to the likes of the poncho (I was in only a tank top) thinking I would regret my stupefied bravado if I somehow got sick for the rest of the trip.

I was second to make it down, second only to the one and only Devon. Bodies by Harry. It was a journey to remember and to watch once I put my videos together in the next Thirst Productions video “Harry Goes To China.” We eventually made our way to our second hotel, a five star hotel might I add. The rest was only short-lived as we arrived late and had to wake up relatively early.

But do not fret, we made sure to enjoy what we could with the little time we had. The night was filled with funny conversations and struggled sentences.

Sunday morning after a breakfast buffet we were led to the continued Confucius tour. We first viewed Confucius’ temple.

At his temple Devon, Chris and I did our usual handstands, back-flips, and pushups, this time with a surrounding crowd. The place was enlightening. We then went to his tomb where Devon and I meditated and practiced our Tai Chi, respecting the dead as we did. I haggled for my first time, bringing an initial price of 70 yen to 40 yen having to walk away twice for the bargain. Eventually we made our way back to PKU, waving our goodbyes to our guides with Godspeed in mind.

Sunday we were ever glad to get back to PKU, exhausted and in much need of sleep. It has been such a journey so far and as I said we are only half way there. I look forward to the Great Wall this weekend where we will surely do it justice with our push-ups and back-flips. Thanks for listening. Until next time, cheers.
    — Harry Schultz, mathematics major

Preferring the Blue Cafe

Today, was one of our first days of class. I plan to switch down a level because level two is quite difficult. The food has been difficult to order and eat because I don't eat any meat. It's hard to order because many people in our group, including myself, speak very little Chinese. The first few days was especially difficult because I really didn't like anything I ate and therefore ate very little which made me feel sick.

But, most of us have been going to breakfast every day at a place called Yan Nan, but we nicknamed it the Blue Cafe. I found a lot more food that I can eat there. I try to make myself eat something new every meal so I know what I really like and what I don't enjoy at all.

Today, I had a hard boiled egg which I like because it gives some protein and energy for the day. I also tried some type of light egg cake which is really sweet and a lot of people in our group like as well.

I also got some sort of spicy stringed bean sprouts which was surprisingly delicious and really spicy, but I getting used to all the spices now.

I'm very wary about drinking soft drinks with ice and to eat fruit that one would have to eat the skin, like grapes, because the water isn't safe unless it's from a water bottle. I purchased many water bottles and a huge jug to use back at the dorm.

I'm used to drinking lots of water so I plan to spend a considerable amount of my money on water. Although I plan to spend a lot of money on water, I also have been trying to buy gifts for people in the United States like my family and friends, but I have not found anything that really strikes me yet. I realized a lot of people from Bloomsburg spent over 300 kuai on a Chinese phone; I know it might be useful, but I feel as though I wouldn't use it enough for it to be a good purchase.

However, there are a lot of street vendors on the bridge we have to cross every day to get to campus and they are selling interesting pieces of jewelry and pretty fans. I really want to get some Chinese jewelry for my friends and I. However, I noticed a lot of Chinese women have fans in order to keep them cool during the hot days so I'm very interested in purchasing a few of those, one for myself so I don't get too hot and some for my family at home to use as decorations after I return from Beijing. I just need to practice my bargaining skills because instead of paying a set price like in America, in China one would have to bargain with the street vendors and the people at the market places. So far, I haven't spent too much money, but I did obtain 500 kuai from the ATM on campus and am really excited to go shopping at the market and with some of the other girls later on our trip.

Today is our first day in Beijing. We have all been on the plane for almost 14 hours. We departed from New York City at JFK airport and arrived in Beijing. I took a car service with someone else on the trip and we arrived at JFK with a lot of time to spare. We checked in and there wasn't a line so that went very quickly. After that, we gave our suitcases to luggage and went to get something to eat. Then, we went through security and got our carry-ons checked and waited by the gate for about two hours. I was becoming more and more nervous the closer it got to boarding time.

Thankfully, my friend and I found other people that were coming on the trip with us and we sat with them while we waited. Soon, it was time to get on the plane, I sat between two other Bloomsburg students, harry and Devon. We were able to watch movies and play games on the plane, but soon everyone fell asleep except for Harry and I. We really could not get comfortable in the plan seats. I was glad when the stewardesses brought dinner and something to drink, but I already had trouble getting a vegetarian meal which worried me. I continually checked the flight pattern of the plane to see how many more hours there was to go and where we were located in the world. It surprised me that we flew over the north pole rather than fly across the Pacific ocean, but I suppose it is more logical to fly that way. Towards the end of our flight I really started feeling sick and desperately wanted to eat something like pretzels, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to eat those until I returned to the United States.

Once we landed though I was so preoccupied with getting ym suitcase and being in Beijing I completely forgot how sick I felt. Before we got our luggage we had to get on this really tight train that took us to another part of the airport where we got our luggage. We then took a bus to Peking University, I loved the bus ride because I got to see Beijing at night and it was so magnificent and full of bright lights that it was almost mesmerizing. I couldn't believe how huge the city was and was really thankful to finally get to our dorm.

Check-in took longer than expected and we soon realized that we didn't get the roommates we asked for earlier in the year. When I went to my room I discovered I was living with a married couple and was really grateful when they said they were leaving the next day. After we dropped our luggage at our dorms, the entire group went to the convenience store to get drinks and snacks. I got a water and a snickers and was happy to have something American. I didn't realize how much I would miss home that night. I really wanted my family with me and I soon realized that would have made this trip so much better. I was really excited to ge tot bed, but quickly discovered the beds were as hard as rocks and I had great difficulty sleeping that night because of the beds and jet lag. I am so excited to see Beijing and experience China, I am in awe that I actually made it to this beautiful place!

This morning the Bloomsburg group and several other groups from around the world went to Tienanmen Square and the Forbidden City. Tienanmen Square was huge! I was so impressed by it's size. I wanted to take so many pictures. There were also a lot of buildings, one could even see some from the Forbidden City from the square, statues, and people. Many Chinese people flooded the square in order to see Mao Zedong because his mausoleum is located in the very center. The mausoleum is a huge rectangular structure that is the focal point of the square.

Although we did not enter the mausoleum, I learned that Mao's body is encased in a crystal casket inside. We took so many pictures and sometimes other Chinese families that we didn't even know took pictures of us as well; some even wanted to be in the picture with us! I thought it was funny that random Chinese families wanted pictures with us because we looked different. The groups then traveled underground to get to the Forbidden City. I was in such awe by all the architecture there and was constantly taking photos with my camera. I didn't know that it was as large as it is and only expected a few areas with the beautiful buildings, however it just seemed to never end. There was so much to see that I couldn't take pictures of everything and towards the end of the tour we all started getting very tired and hot.

My favorite part of the Forbidden City was Tienanmen Square and the imperial gardens at the end because they were both magnificent, impressive, and gorgeous. I really didn't like the people trying to sell things though; I felt like I was being attacked by vendors everywhere I turned. I was also uncomfortable with all the beggars. I already noticed all the homeless animals and people around the university, but I didn't expect so many near Tiananmen and the Forbidden City. It really made me feel horrible because I wanted to help them, but there wasn't anything I could. A great deal of them were amputees and just continually said thank you over and over again even if no one put money in their jar.

Although I'm really beginning to appreciate Beijing and the Chinese culture, I am really off put by the amount of homeless around the city. I am aware that there are many homeless in cities, especially large one such as Beijing, but they actually made me feel uncomfortable and sad. It was almost as though they were vultures and acted like the vendors by being so persistent with the tourists. Although I was saddened by the beggars, I still greatly enjoyed the experience and my time at Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It was full of history and beauty I will never forget it.
    —Jacqueline Simon, French major

Witnessing a new world

We’ve finally arrived in Beijing after an excruciatingly uncomfortable 14-hour flight! There were some pluses to the flight such as two Chinese meals that were served at intervals. These meals were definitely different than what I was used to on an airline. We had some interestingly flavored beef and a salad and some small Chinese pineapple shortcakes (that I really liked).

As we walked into the airport from the plane it already seemed like we were witnessing a new world. After claiming our baggage and taking a small tram to the airport exit, we were greeted by a large crowd of people, mostly Chinese, looking for their friends and family members arriving on the same flight as ours. 

In a strange way it felt like we were movie stars walking down the runway into a dimly lit area with flashing colored lights. As we walked outside we were, to our discontent, exposed to copious amounts of thick smog in the air, which at first appeared to simply be fog in the humid air. We drove to our dormitory through the city while gazing at foreign street signs and a new strange environment.

The dormitory is a common style of student housing with a mutual sitting area and a bathroom for three individual rooms for three students. Although we arrived late, a Chinese student named Jack, whose name is most likely his chosen American name, greeted me. There are some strange features about the dorms here in China. We were told that there is actually a limit on hot water in the dorms and that it must be recharged when it runs out by using a key card. Also the running water is not safe to drink in any areas of China so we all have water boilers in our room. Other than that, it is very similar to the dormitories in the U.S. We even have a normal sit-down toilet, which I actually did not expect to see.

Since everyone was hungry and thirsty, we all went to a convenience store on campus very close to our dorm where Dr. Luo bought us some small snacks since we were yet unable to access the ATM and draw Chinese money (Yuan/Kuai) to pay for ourselves. Tonight I’m going to bed early because we have a placement test in the morning, which dictates what class we will be placed in for the month. I’m nervous but at the same time excited to start classes. Ah! The excitement has risen here in Beijing University. I’m finally gaining a sense of direction in this absolutely insane city.

I had my second day of classes today, which was pretty great. I was placed in the first level of Chinese due to the placement test being really difficult. Luckily, I was placed with a few members of our trip’s group, which made making friends rather simple. All of the material covered for the past few days was learned from previous semesters in Chinese class. The teachers attempt to speak mostly in Chinese but break the trend in order to decipher what exactly they mean. The constant exposure to the language was definitely a big plus in terms of being able to begin to understand spoken words.

The food here is quite interesting. I don’t think I’ve actually eaten anything yet that I was actually really in love with besides the cake, which is a swirled soft cake with some icing on the edges. It’s kind of something that I know I can fall back on if I’m extremely desperate for food.

 Our ability to order food is almost completely compromised due to our nearly complete lack of Chinese-speaking abilities. The way we’ve been ordering food is simply to point and say “this” in Chinese although at times we aren’t even sure what exactly we are ordering. There are foods such as noodles, dumplings, eggs, ham, salads, fried dough, and soups. Everyone seemed to think that a lot of the things are very slimy. Interestingly enough, in the places we visited a lot of the food items were actually not available due to them either running out or only featuring certain things each day.

Yesterday we, as a group, went to the KFC about a mile north of campus in order to experience the difference in taste between the Chinese and American versions of KFC. It was very interesting but not like the KFCs in the U.S. at all. It was more of a chicken sandwich and seafood place in addition to the Chinese dishes implemented to give interest and familiarity to the Chinese people. The Colonel would be proud to know that all eleven original spices are in every dish haha. My new friend Josh ordered a shrimp sandwich and a black fungus, which was particularly interesting, but we thoroughly enjoyed his meal although we all thought our meals were smaller than we expected.

On our way back we were surprised and excited to find the Google building although we were not admitted into the building past the front desk. We also partook in the purchasing of two small elephant souvenirs from a street vendor. Sadly, we were scammed since we are unfamiliar with the bargaining techniques but I enjoyed the experience.

Around 20:00 three students in our group made presentations at the “Marble Boat” on the north west side of campus. It was surprisingly scenic despite our location in Beijing. The presentations covered the Chinese government, censorship, food chain adaptations and military issues. Everyone did very well and I actually learned a lot about some Chinese Culture despite the short duration.

I’m finally getting used to the food here, especially breakfast. I’ve been consistently eating eggs, ham, fried dough, and cake every morning. A strange feature of Chinese breakfast is that they don’t have drinks. It seems as though the majority of people sip on soup in the mornings but then have drinks for lunch and dinner. I’m accustomed to having a drink for breakfast so I’ve been bringing water each day. Today we took an excursion to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City with two other groups of students.

 Our tour guide Linda explained the history and current standings of these locations as we weaved in and out of traffic in our large bus. The traffic laws, whether or not they are obeyed, in China are vastly different than what we are accustomed to in the U.S. In the four car-lanes and one bike-lane we found ourselves surrounded by countless vehicles merging in and out of lanes seemingly without rhyme or reason but with an elegantly chaotic “structure.”

Tienanmen Square was our first stop and we were able to take pictures of all the structures in the vast area. There were statues of revolutionary Chinese people that resembled statues of the famous raising of the flag in the U.S.

The sheer magnitude and intricacy of the architecture were amazing. The amount of time and attention to detail that was put into these buildings is almost unfathomable. Seeing the historic picture of Mao Zedong and his mausoleum was surreal and larger than I thought they would be. Standing on such historic ground was a great honor.

In a humorous moment we were all getting a group photo by one of our instructors and a group of Chinese joined in taking pictures of us. Random Chinese people also frequently asked us during our journey if we wouldn’t mind getting pictures taken with them. In contrast there were also people wanting pity and begging for money in the street knowing that there were many wealthy tourists visiting the sites.

We were hurried along to visit the Forbidden City, which had security checks and a long line of people wishing to get in. This area was extremely large and is said to contain 9,999 rooms. This awkward number is usually said because the Chinese see the number 9 as lucky and don’t interpret the number 10,000 as being as meaningful.

 The structures in the Forbidden City were equally or more elegant than the ones in Tiananmen Square. There were countless buildings with beautiful architecture such as the ones in the picture below.

Although the tour was hurried along and rather short in my opinion, it was great to witness such ancient and historic landmarks. That night we decided to go out on the city. We decided to start out by going to a place called Laker’s which was an Americanized restaurant which offered many drinks and foods we are accustomed to in the U.S. After having a few drinks and snacks we headed to a place called V Club.

 It was a dimly lit club on the third floor of a building, which had a security check upon entering. When we went in we were blasted with unpleasantly loud music and flashing lights. The music was all American music with beats and sounds implemented to give it a Chinese feel. We had a bunch of drinks and danced with some Chinese people and at one point the manager of the club bought us all drinks. Everyone had a great time meeting new people and learning new things. We all returned home safe and sound after a long night of fun.
    — Edward Davis, physics major

Becoming a family pioneer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Adventures of Mount Tai

This past weekend July 12 through July 14, we got to travel to Shandong. We left Beijing on Friday July 12 via the bullet train. That train went over speeds of 300 kilometer per hour, which is faster than 180 miles per hour! We were passing the regular trains and other vehicles so quickly.

We made it to our first hotel located in Tai’an in only two hours. Tai’an is home to Mount Tai, one of the five holy mountains that are located in China. And, on Saturday July 13, we had the opportunity to climb Mount Tai. We had the opportunity to choose whither to walk over 3,000 steps up the mountain or take the cable car up with our tour guide named Bruce. As a person that loves hiking, I choose to hike up the stairs with Sarah and April.

There was a lot of fog so the visibility was not the greatest. I still took some great pictures walking up Mount Tai, including the one I attached. When we were a little over half way, I felt a cool breeze. This is a sign of rain coming.

I took my umbrella and decided to go on my own, so I could get up Mount Tai faster. Not long after I left my small group, a light rain started. I have hiked in the rain before, so I wasn’t that bothered by it. But, after about ten minutes, a downpour happened. It was not just rain either. It was a full on thunderstorm. The stairs, which were small even for my feet were flooding with water and extremely slippery.

My umbrella was really of no use with the wind and water rushing everywhere. But, I was determined to reach the top, so I continued to climb up the stairs. I finally made it to the top in a little less than 90 minutes! However, I did not see anyone from my group. So, I decided to venture around and see what was around, since I have over 30 minutes of free time till I had to meet up with the group. This probably was my worst idea ever. As I was walking around looking for a place that had semi decent visibility so I could take some pictures, I stopped to text Sarah and April to let them know where I was at since they were about 15 minutes behind me.

As I was texting, the ground started to shake. I looked up quickly to see a flash of light a few feet in front of me. Less than a second later it was gone and all the people around me were screaming and running away. It took me a second to process that lightning had stuck literally right in front of me! I decided that wondering around on the top of Mount Tai is not a good idea in the rain, so I walked back to meet the rest of my group. When I got there, April and Sarah were finishing their hike up.

As I was telling them what happened to me, April told me that she got struck by the lightning. Apparently, she was holding the metal railing and the lightning hit and pulsed through the metal to her hand. Luckily, she was alright. After the rest of the group got there, we went to eat lunch and the storm still continued. A majority of the group did not want to walk down in the pouring rain, so they wanted to take the cable car. However, the cable car was not running since it is not safe to run them in the storm. Now, we all were stuck walking down the Mount Tai.

Luckily, we all bought some ponchos, so we would not get as wet as we did the first time around. I decided to walk down with Sarah, April, Laura, and Jocelyn (our OIR assistant). With the water still rushing down the small steps of Mount Tai, and no one wanted to hold the metal railing after April’s incident, we decided to try to do something to keep our mind off of the storm. And, that was singing songs all the way down Mount Tai! My group sang a large number of Disney songs from Mulan, Lion King, and Aladdin.

We even sang the Pokemon theme song. It honestly helped a lot to keep our minds off of thinking we were going to slip and fall down Mount Tai. In the end, we walked up and down a total of 6,668 steps! But, it was worth all of the pain my legs felt the next day to have some of the greatest stories to tell of our adventures on Mount Tai!

They say a picture can say a thousand words …

I have always wanted to do something fun and adventurous while I am at college and being able to study abroad in Beijing was the perfect opportunity to do just that.

Being an education major, we have learned in class about how to try to integrate our students’ culture into our lessons.

I feel that actually experiencing the culture shock of being on the opposite end of the spectrum is the best way to learn how exactly those students feel.

 After being on a plane for over thirteen hours, I got to see what China really looks like. I have seen many pictures of what China looks like, but China is like those pictures and so much more. There are cars, bikes, buses, and just plain crazy traffic everywhere in Beijing. Other than the traffic the city is amazing. I have an excellent view right from my ninth floor dorm room in the Global Village, where international students stay at when studying at Peking University. I attached a picture of just how beautiful Beijing looks on a bright and sunny day from right outside my own window. Besides the language barrier, I really love China!

Even though the language barrier exists, most of the people here are so friendly. Some of the Chinese like to even try to practice speaking English with us too, which is interesting. The food here is also extremely delicious! I love the Chinese food back in America, but the food here is so much better than that. Some of the food has a little spice to it, but trying a whole bunch of different food is great.

The only minor issue that I am having in China is most of the food and drinks that you buy in the convenience stores are expired. It is almost like a game to try and find something like chips, water, or soda that isn’t already expired. But other than that, I really love living in Beijing.

Is Mandarin really that difficult to learn?

In my four years at Bloomsburg University I have never taken a language course, so I knew coming to China with extremely limited knowledge about speaking Mandarin would be a challenge. I was put in a Level 1 class with people that have some experience with the language to people that have no knowledge like me.

My class has a mixture of Bloomsburg University students, students from University of Washington, Canada, and South Korea. Studying Mandarin at Peking University is difficult since the teaching style in China is very different than in America. Classes are four hours long everyday and by every day I mean Monday through Friday.

This is very different from Bloomsburg University with only having classes for fifty minutes every other day. Plus, since we are only here for four weeks the learning process is extremely accelerated.

We are learning how to read and speak using both pin yin and Chinese characters. Learning the proper stroke order of the characters is the hardest part of learning Mandarin. It is very important to get the order of the strokes done correctly. Another difference of studying at Peking University is that one of my teachers mainly speaks Mandarin to us and very minimal English. Everyone in class was so lost for a while in that class, but after a while I understood why she was doing that.

By hearing her repeat the words over and over you eventually start to pick up the vocabulary faster. It is a very unique teaching method. Even now after my first week of classes, I am starting to pick up some words that are used when we are walking around Beijing, which is extremely exciting for me. I can’t wait to see how much more I can learn in the next three weeks here in Beijing!

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

For our first weekend in Beijing we got to see Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. On the bus ride there our tour guide told us that today was going to be a very hot day reaching temperatures of about 35°C (which is approximately 100°F). But, we and another group that is studying at Peking University were prepared with lots of bottles of water to drink.

Once we got to Tiananmen Square we saw tourists from all over the word, and it was so crowded there. But, Tiananmen Square is rich in historical background. There is a monument dedicated to the Chinese that died in World War 2. Also, the Hall of the People is located there that many of the presidents of the United States have visited before when they were in China. As we left Tiananmen Square, we got to enter the Forbidden City, which is where the Emperor of China used to live such as Mao Zedong. The Forbidden City was extremely breath taking.

It was so large that it was unbelievable. The architecture alone was so amazing for buildings that are centuries old. I got so many amazing photographs of the city despite it being really crowded. I attached a picture of my friends Sarah, April, and myself in front of one of the buildings that is located in the Forbidden City. I even got a picture of the emperor’s throne room. I had to fight my way through a large crowd of people, but I finally got a great photograph. Right before we left the Forbidden City we got to walk through the Imperial Garden which was filled with amazing rock formations, trees, and many beautiful flowers. It really was just amazing to look at, but we were in a hurry to reach the bus, so there really was no time to take pictures there, which was upsetting. One of the strangest things happened to me there though.

As I was taking pictures of statues, some Chinese women grabbed me and wanted me to be in a picture with these four young boys. We all put our thumbs up and smiled, but this gesture seems to be common in China. Many people here like to take photographs with foreigners. We were told that many Chinese people have never seen people that look like us since they are from more rural parts of the country, so to see a foreigner is an amazing experience for them. It makes me feel like a celebrity some times that many people like to take their picture with the foreigners. In the end, I had an amazing time even though we were all extremely exhausted from how hot it really was there. This is an experience that I will never ever forget, and I have many pictures to help me remember everything about Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

Peking Duck Dinner

On Thursday July 11, we got to have our Peking duck dinner. This is when the students from Bloomsburg University get to partake in a wonderful meal consisting of many body parts of the duck and other delectable food items in a traditional Chinese dinner. A traditional Chinese dinner is not the same as an American dinner. At a Chinese dinner, the dishes of food are placed on a rotating glass table that is in the center of a larger table. The smaller glass table is able to spin, so you would spin the glass table until you get to the food you want then you are able to take some to eat.

When the food was brought out, there were so many dishes to choose from to try. Some of the dishes I decided to try, and there were some that I would not try. For example, I refused to try duck feet, since I could see the scales still on them. Another dish I was afraid to try was the jellyfish. Some members of the group decided to try these dishes, and they made some weird faces, so I believe I made a good choice in not trying them. Some dishes that I really liked were squid, lamb, and this crepe looking thing that you were able to dip the duck meat in some brown sauce and add some vegetables and wrap it up. Those dishes were my favorites.

 The food just kept coming out more and more. There were so many dishes that were available to try. Some other food items were lots of vegetables, salad, duck liver, duck heart, and even duck soup. The Chinese really don’t waste any part of the animal that is available. The one thing that I learned about Chinese meals is that they end with a plate of fruit. When the plate of fruit comes out that means the meal is finally over. This was very intriguing to me since dessert is served before the fruit, but I learned a lot of how traditional Chinese meals work by attending the Peking duck dinner.

 Also, after the conclusion of the meal, the serial numbers of the two ducks that we ate were given to Dr. Luo to give to us as souvenirs. Everyone in the group wanted them, so a rock paper scissors battle began. After a few rounds the winners of the serial numbers were Sarah and Harry. I am usually not a person that likes to be adventurous when it comes to food items, since I am a picky eater. However, in China, I want to take some risks and try foods that I would never want to back at home. I am surprising myself a lot lately, since many of the things that I have been trying, I end up really enjoying eating here.
    — Ashley Boehmer, mathematics major