25 Jan 2008
Here are the notes I would write down from the first few days in China…I keep a travel notebook with me at all times so I figured I would just post it here so you all can read about my thoughts and experiences…Hope all is well!
First Day in Beijing 1/18/2008First off, Beijing is very smoggy. Sometimes I find it hard to breathe but its not too terrible. Hopefully it wont become too big of a problem in the coming months.
People on this program are amazing so far. Last night we had dinner as a group at the dining hall where we were served cheese pizza. Quite the change from our American cuisine we were all so used to. However, it was in fact, a different taste. I also learned how to say Coca-Cola in Chinese (cuu-leuh). The language barrier is already prevalent but I believe it will serve an even greater reward in the end. I just hope I dont get lost anywhere yet without any knowledge of the campus, let alone the language. Although, there are several English speaking students here aside from our program.
We met some Tsinghua students today as well. They were incredibly open and willing to help us feel more comfortable in such a foreign place. They offered to take us around the campus, help us get cell phones, buy a good, inexpensive bike. Colleen and I broke off from the large group of kids going to the bike shop only because we wanted to explore a little more and venture off without the overwhelming sense of a crowd. We got a little lost on the way to Wal-Mart (we actually never found it) but met some interesting people. We stopped in this little restaurant that seemed to be a knock-off McDonalds and came to find that it was, in fact, a McDonalds faux pas. I completely forgot there were no copyright laws here in China.
Chris has been here for seven months teaching a class. He was at Brown University before he came to Tsinghua. Chris was very smart but he drooled while eating his shake-n-bake drumstick from QQ. But a very helpful person, indeed. He did point out that we couldnt hide anywhere because of how American we looked which was a little bit of a reality check for us two wide-eyed American girls.
Soon, we were back on track headed toward the East Gate (which later became the South Gate due to a wrong turn). We reached the edge of campus and we both felt a sense of accomplishment for getting around on our own with no tour guide or language advantage. It was a small step that later will be seen as somewhat ridiculous and miniscule in comparison to places and people we will see but we were proud in that moment.
There was an even greater sense of adventure and curiosity as we left the gates and entered the small city right outside of Tsinghua. Shopping was fun and exploring a new foreign city was even better. We stopped to grab some food then we went into this little marketplace called Lotus Center. I bargained for a camera which was scary at first because it was the first time I had done it here and it was fun! Apparently I have a knack for it because I got a camera from 2,279 RMB down to 1,700 RMB. In USD, thats about $200 (1700 RMB).
We had a meeting with Caroline today. It was our first one to introduce us into the program. She gave a very touching speech about how we are a family. We need to look out for each other and be there for one another when needed. I felt so much more at home when she said these things because I believe it made us really consider why were all here. We all realized that we are here for the same reasons. We want to learn about a completely different culture and we want to envelop ourselves in something out of our element. China is culturally known to be different and while it is studied intricately in our classrooms, I feel it is still so undiscovered by our generation. We listen to our teachers in high school talk about the Terra Cotta soldiers and the Great Wall of China but we only see pictures. This trip will put me directly in that history. Its something I could never have imagined myself doing and I am so excited to live this now.
I learned that Tsinghua is the top university in China. Peking is number two. Tsinghua is considered to be the MIT of China and rapidly becoming a growing superpower in academic excellence. In fact, the chairman of China was a Tsinghua graduate and four of the nine administrators in the government are Tsinghua grads. Learning these intense facts made me realize two things: (1) Im walking among some of the brightest minds in the world when I walk through campus, and (2) this will be the hardest semester of my college career. Im ready to accept this challenge but there is always the fear of failure in situations such as this one. However, I believe with the help of friends and family, Ill pull it off. I got on the plane to Beijing that, to me, was the hardest part.
Tonight, we played cards with Alex and Katie (two of the Tsinghua students we met today). We taught them how to play Bullshit but instead of saying bullshit whenever someone bluffed, we would say shwa-lie which translated to liar or cheater in Chinese. It was a lot of fun and we learned a little more Chinese as well. We only used Chinese numbers when laying cards down. Amanda was really good at the game. I like her a lot because shes got this spunk to her. Ashley and Ryan were good too. Alex and I were terrible and Katie couldnt bluff to save her life. Quite funny.
Out & About 1/19/2008We went to the Lotus Center today and had lunch with Hu Tao and his friend. The whole group came along. It was really nice getting to eat with everyone and get to know a few more people. We bought a few things and had a wonderful lunch. Everyone tried new things including myself and some of it was incredibly spicy. My stomach was a little upset but I dont think it will be a recurring thing. I just need to get used to the food.
When I went back to the room, I cleaned up a little and finally got organized. I got a bike as well. That was quite the ordeal. We stopped at this little bike stop on campus so that we could bargain and I got into a little argument with the merchant. I bargained the bike down a little bit and before I even got it off of the lot, it broke three times! So I went back to the guy and said I want a new bike. And of course, being the salesman he was, he said no; he would just fix it. Well being the customer I am, I said forget it after too many arguments and I said Give me my money back. He gave me back 10 RMB less than I gave him and he called me a liar when I asked for the 10 back and after another few minutes are arguing I just said ENOUGH! Im leaving. Keep the money. I was so pissed but it didnt matter in the end because I got a bike anyway at the student store. I may have paid more but I just dont care.
We leave for Xian tomorrow and I still need to pack. The bus departs at noon for the airport and were all so pumped! We cant wait to start exploring and getting to know one another.
Xian Arrival 1/20/2008We arrive in Xian today! The plane ride was okay. I slept for about 20 minutes then started reading for class. It wasnt too bad. The readings were actually really informative. They could have been written a little better but they were clear.
Once in Xian, we were greeted by our tour guide. She told us some very interesting things about the history of Xian. It was the home of Qin Dynasty which is the first dynasty of China. The first emperor of China came from this dynasty and conquered all other seven kingdoms. Xian translates to western peace, with Xi- meaning west and -an meaning peace. It was snowing when we arrived but there is so much beautiful, historic culture here. We start class tomorrow so it should be interesting to see what we will learn. While in Xian I am rooming with Tien Tien. I love this girl! She is so sweet. She goes to Georgetown and has a very sharp wit about her.
We passed by the Bell and Drum Towers. The Bell Tower is used to ring in the New Year nowadays but it used to be chimed to mark the beginning of the day. The Drum Tower was used to signal the end of the day. These two buildings stand erect in the middle of two town squares. It is incredible how these two ancient towers stand so strong in the middle of such a chaotic and technologically advanced city. It is almost as if the progression of the years has had no effect on these buildings. I almost felt as if entering those towers would take us back in time while dimming the blur of flashing lights and noisy bars right outside their doorsteps.
There are hundreds of shops here! It sort of reminds me of New York in a way only much much smaller. There are pickpockets everywhere so weve been keeping a close eye on our things but other than that, its perfectly safe to walk around and observe the culture. There is a marketplace filled with merchants selling all sorts of items. Everything from faux designer handbags to dead frogs is sold in this market. Its pretty cool actually to see it in person.
We ate at Xian Restaurant. It was so very good too. However, there was one infamous dish I ate solely for the sake of being in the country. We ate donkey penis yes, you read that correctly. It clearly said it on the menu and we said, its considered cuisine and we didnt fly 5,000 miles to eat McDonalds why not? It tasted awful. I will never do it again. But I dont regret it for a minute! The tea was incredible. Im acquiring a taste for Chinese tea now. In the states, I was all about the Lipton but I now get disappointed if a restaurant we eat at only serves commercial tea. Jasmine is my favorite. I also tried fish for the first time! It was glazed with sweet and sour sauce and wasnt too bad. Certainly wasnt as bad as the donkey penis but I dont think Ill have much of it on this trip.
Time for bed now. We have a big day tomorrow and Im excited to see the Terra Cotta Soldiers. I miss everyone so much! More to come!
Terra Cotta Soldiers 1/21/2008Today we saw the Terra Cotta Soldiers which are considered to be the 8th Wonder of the World. The story behind the creation of these clay figures is that the emperor of the Qin Dynasty, who began planning his afterlife at the age of 13, had this tomb built for his body after he died. It took these men 38 years to build this tomb. The emperor was known for being ruthless and cruel. For instance, he burned the books on history and buried scholars alive in fear of an uprising against his way of rule. Its hard to imagine these people could have lost their lives in a matter of minutes if something went wrong. During the project of the emperors tomb building, if a single soldier looked even remotely close to another, that sculptor was killed on the spot. Imagine that being killed for a clay figure. What a world to have lived in.
Heres something I bet you didnt know. We call it China because of this dynasty. The Q in Qin is pronounced Ch-. The first emperor of this dynasty set the standard for so many Chinese traditions and followings that are still enacted to this very day. He unified China, conquered surrounding countries, unified the currency (circle with a square in the center to represent the Earth [square] and the sky [round]), and yet he died at the age of 50 because of a heat stroke. Isnt it ironic that such a strong, incredibly intense ruler dies suddenly of something as little as heat stroke? I mean it’s not little but it’s kind of ironic that such a powerful man isn’t killed by something like a war or assassin. As I walked through the hangar-like covering over the excavated site, all that kept running through my mind was this incredible sense of wonderment. To think that only a few short years ago I was
reading about these clay figures and observing pictures from a textbook. To be able to walk through this historic site with relics of a dynasty alongside me brought an overwhelming feeling of excitement. I kept thinking to myself, “wow, is this how my dad feels all the time?” He is such a history buff and whenever we visited places like this on vacation or even just a day trip to some museum, he would get so excited over the tiniest things. Well, seeing these soldiers was like stepping through a time machine and walking into history. It was hardly something I can put into words and I know it sounds incredibly cheesy and corny but it’s true. I’ve never felt like this about anything before…ESPECIALLY history. It would bore me to death to have to sit in a lecture and hear boring notes about some random period of time where some guy discovered something and “POOF” history was made. But now, I’m walking in it.
Pretty cool. So, back to how they were discovered. In the 1970’s a farmer was digging a well for his family during a drought because the water was so scarce, that people resorted to digging until water was reached. They dug and dug and dug and finally hit something – the Terra Cotta Soldiers. When they finally realized they had quite literally stumbled upon a major piece of history, they alerted the proper people and as a reward, the farmer received $5 (enough money to buy a bike back then) and the proper instruction on how to sign his name. He was more than happy with this and so content with life that he took the reward and went on his way. After the site had been completely excavated and turned into a museum, the farmer came back to see his discovery but quickly found that he could not afford the price of a ticket. The townspeople found out and immediately took action. They arranged for the man
to receive a portion of the proceeds that came from the published book sold in the museum and whenever he wished, he could come in and sign some copies and talk to some tourists. I got one of these books signed by him and it is the coolest thing. He’s like 80 years old now by the way. His name is Yang Peiking.
Posted from China:
does not exist
posted Friday January 2008