Off to a place many have not seen
From what I learned in my political science and history courses, China is a unique place with an outstanding history. One can argue that the culture in East Asia and more specifically China is far different from the one college students are accustomed to in the United States.
The flight itself was exciting at times but for all intents and purposes, it was extremely long and uneventful.
Fortunately, long international flights include free entertainment in the form of movies and TV shows. I spent my 13 hour flight watching The Hunt for Red October, Captain America, Iron Man, three episodes of Family Guy and I continued reading 1421: The Year China Discovered America. I did fall asleep at times but not for extended periods of time unfortunately. The monotony of our flight was interrupted by the three meals we were provided with and a glance of the North Pole from the window.
Once we landed, we went through customs, which in my opinion was rather easy. We took a bus from the airport to our apartment complex. The complex is nice and our building is probably as tall as Columbia Hall. Each person has their own room and there is a communal bathroom (thankfully with a western style toilet) and a common area. Overall, the trip to China was long but I anticipate my time here will be well spent.
No General Tso’s Chicken
Eating on campus at Peking University and off campus at any one of the seemingly millions of restaurants, shops, and/or vendors can prove to be an experience. The food on campus is generally bland but there are many places for us to eat at. Campus food is generally limited to noodles in a broth (ex. beef broth or curry), rice (white rice only), dumplings, assorted vegetables, and some sort of mystery meat burger. I have gotten used to the campus food after the first or second time I ate it.
The food off campus is hit or miss but it is generally very good. A group of students and I took the Beijing metro into the Wangfujing area and had the most delicious lo mien I have ever eaten. We also ordered lamb, beef, and chicken barbeque that were served on a skewer. The spices and flavors exploded in my mouth; it was a flavor I never had before in my life. The bill for the nine of us totaled 376 Yuan. Each person paid between 40-50 Yuan ($6-8 per person) to cover the bill. After we finished two students tried scorpions on a skewer. The vendor impaled the scorpions on a skewer while the scorpions were still alive and then flash fried them.
The best meals we have had while in Beijing are the ethnic meals. The program requires that we eat several ethnic meals while here in Beijing. Thus far, we have had two ethnic meal experiences. The first ethnic meal was at the famous Peking Duck restaurant.
Dr. Jing Luo ordered the dishes and drinks and it was our job to eat and enjoy it all. The duck came in pieces accompanied by several other random dishes of meat and/or vegetables. The duck liver tasted like a funny bologna. We also had duck meat, duck feet, and the best of all, the duck heart. The duck heart was tender and had an excellent flavor. Fortunately, I did not know what I was eating until after the meal. Overall, meals in Beijing are fairly inexpensive when compared to the United States and in some cases, are much better than those in the United States.
Back to Kindergarten
Unlike most of the students from Bloomsburg on this trip, I have not had any exposure at all to the Chinese language aside from hearing it in random Chinese restaurants back home. My interest in the trip were several: the inexpensive cost to study abroad in China, to study Chinese and make my political science major look more impressive, to study and discover the nuances of the Chinese culture, and of course, to be closer to the history and political scene of China. We were required to take an entrance exam so Peking could properly place us in the adequate language level class.
I have no idea whether the exam was difficult or not because since I do not know any Chinese, I did not answer any questions. I was placed in level one Chinese and we are currently learning the basics. Some of the words are difficult to pronounce because some of the sounds required to properly enunciate Chinese words and terms do not exist in the English language. Regardless, the class is challenging yet exciting. We spend four hours a day in class and we have class five days a week. I know when I first learned that I would spend four hours a day in a classroom I had second thoughts but the time just flies by and class is over before I know it. Classes end at noon so we are free to do whatever until the next day.
As I said earlier, I wanted to study Chinese to add luster to my political science major. China’s continued rise will continue to garner significant attention from United States. Learning Chinese may help me get my foot in the door to Asian international politics – a door opened here at Peking University.
When in China, do as the Chinese do
I expected to experience a lot while here in Beijing but I did not expect to take a Tai Chi class. We were informed of a Tai Chi class on orientation day. The class costs 180 Yuan (approximately $30) and begins at 6:30 am each day for a period of 12 weekdays. A few others and I were late the first day and did not know where the class was being held, so we walked around until we found the class. We almost gave up on finding the class but when we stopped, an older Chinese man riding a beat up yellow scooter pulled up and said TAI CHI?! We responded yes and we followed him.
As it turns out, that man is 75 years old and is our teacher. The class is taught entirely in Chinese but he demonstrates all the moves so we learn each movement visually. At times he will walk through the group and correct us. I was semi-skeptical of Tai Chi’s relaxing properties but so far it is exciting and is a good start to the day. Many Chinese do Tai Chi at various times during the day and learning Tai Chi helps us learn just one aspect of this ancient culture.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City
Our first field trip of the program placed us in Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. My knowledge of both places is little but I know both are extremely historic. I cannot help but think of “tank man” when I hear the name Tiananmen Square. The square itself is quite large and is filled with hundreds of people. In the center is the Monument of People’s Heroes which dedicated to the eight major revolutionary episodes during the 19th and 20th. The square is surrounded by several important structures.
To the west is the Great Hall of the People. This building acts as center for legislative activities in China. To the east is the National Museum of China and to the south is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum, the final resting place of the current government’s “founding father”. To the north is the Tiananmen gate. We entered the Forbidden City via the Tiananmen gate. The complex is ENORMOUS! There are numerous gates and plazas within the city. It seemed as if the tour would never end partially because the Forbidden City is so large but also because of the thousands of people visiting the city. The architecture was exquisite and colorful while all the gates within the city were large and expressed a unique grandeur.
We learned that the city was constructed between 1406 and 1420 by third Ming Emperor Zhu Di. His throne is preserved and is displayed in a palace room (it was nearly impossible to get a picture of the throne). I plan on returning to the Forbidden City on a week day before we leave. Dr. Luo explained that it would not be as crowded during the week so hopefully I will be able to get better photos. Sometimes, it is necessary to visit historical sites so one can become inspired to help improve future history.
— Matthew Albertson, history and political science major