An opportunity I didn't want to pass up

An opportunity I didn't want to pass up

Curtis Bratton

Meet ... Curtis Bratton

China Study Abroad Major: History
Location: Beijing, China
Studying: Spending four weeks immersed in the Chinese culture while visiting majestic, historical sites and studying at the prestigious Institute of Chinese as Second Language of Peking University.

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After a 13-hour flight we have arrived in Beijing, China. I’m ecstatic that we didn’t have any delays; the 13 hours were enough for me.

I’ve been looking forward to this for months now, when I first brought up that I wanted to go to China, I expected my family to laugh at the idea. Surprisingly they really wanted me to go and it was an opportunity I didn’t want to pass up. As a history major, I do a lot with Imperialism and the only China I know is from what I’ve read and the pictures I’ve seen from the 1890’s. The information’s more than a little dated and I really wanted to see what China was like today.

My entire life I’ve lived in Bloomsburg never really seen much outside of it, let alone left the country (my mother was more than nervous about that). Regardless I’m ecstatic to be in a country that has such a unique history.

Arrival in Beijing

We arrived in Beijing on July 1, everything went smoother than expected. We and no trouble getting through security and no one lost any luggage (to actually get out of that bloody plane was the best part). We found the bus waiting to take us to the dorms and off we went.

We checked in at the front desk of PKU’s Global Village and found that the manager’s had assigned us roommates, the thing was we already paired off before leaving the U.S. Dr. (Jing) Luo decided it would be best to stick with the roommates we already had (pay attention to this this will come up later on in the program).

After getting into the dorm and unpacking (which took longer than it should have) it turned out that none of our cards worked. The group was locked in the building and Dr. Luo had already left to pick up some late arrivals at the airport (we later found that Sam (Salman Haque) had the only usable card).

After getting out of the dorm we wanted to find food next. First place we went to didn’t take our meal cards, as we had no money, we couldn’t stay. We finally found a place to eat that had only one thing left on the menu, so we all had “mystery meat” burgers for dinner on our first night. Not really a great start for China.

Classes and Peking Duck

We began classes in Chinese on July 3. John (Vitiello) and Matt (Albertson) are in class with me. The three of us didn’t mark anything down on our placement exam as we knew no Chinese.

Class goes from 8 to 12 and is divided into two sections, one for pronunciation and one for speaking. I’m getting the pronunciations fine but the speaking part is a little tough for me to grasp. I haven’t gotten the correct accent yet but I hope to. After the first night there’s a joke going around that ordering at the Peking University Subway will be our graduate program.

On July 4, Dr. Luo decided to do the Peking duck dinner. Originally we were going to do it on Friday but because it was the Fourth of July he bumped it up. We got to the restaurant and they give us this giant menu and it was filled with just pictures of everything they had. Dr. Luo opened it up and started speaking to the waitress in REALLY fast Chinese and pointing at almost everything. The place we went to is famous for the Peking duck and they serve every part of it. We had the liver, the meat, the wing shredded, the heart, and the feet. The heart was my favourite. It was fried and tasted like bacon. The feet I hated, it was like chewing on a flipper, awful.

The table scape is very much different in China. All of the food is put on big plates in the center on a rotating disc, and everyone has smaller plates in front of them. You basically spin the disc around and grab what you want (all I wanted was the heart). They brought out the head at one point and Dr. Luo told us that many people like to eat the brain. Feeling adventurous John and I split the brain. I will never do that again. It was on a whole new level from the flipper-like texture of the foot, in fact it had no texture at all. It just oozed and filled my mouth with this awful taste. We finished dinner with a platter of fruits. I had the dragon fruit and it was really good. The dinner was fantastic and it was a great way to be introduced into how the Chinese take their meals and a great way to do celebrate the Fourth of July. Just don’t eat the grey matter.

Traffic in China

Chinese Traffic I felt that I needed to pay special attention to how traffic works in Beijing. To say it in one word; Madness. When we were coming from the airport we were driven by Mad Max. Turn signals are virtually non-existent. You change lanes when you feel like it and everyone else needs to watch out. There are too speeds in China, fast and faster. There is no complete stop even in rush hour traffic. It still moves, just slower. And as soon as a space opens you floor it. People ride bicycles and mopeds into open traffic and keep with the cars and busses, and all you hear are horns honking. It’s quite a sight.

Then there’s how parking works. You park where there’s space, that’s it. We’ve seen people parking in the middle of sidewalks. We asked our language teacher if a parking ticket even exists in Beijing and she said no. Though I have noticed the Chinese drive a lot of BMWs and Mercedes-Benz’s. German cars are quite popular here. Dr. Luo told me that our bus driver told him that many people buy expensive cars, but don’t want to pay the 2 Yuan (.31 cents USD) to have their cars parked. Instead they go wherever there is room.

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City

Tomb of Mao Our first outing into Beijing was to Tiananmen (Tian’ an Men; translates into “Gate of Heavenly Peace) Square and the Forbidden City. Sadly, the day we went there was quie a severe overcast, so the pictures I took where not as good as I’d hoped. We left around 8:30 and drove for about 45 minutes to an hour through the wonderous Beijing traffic I’ve described earlier. Our tour guidetold us that there would be a lot of people there so I was prepared for the worse.

When we arrived at Tianamen Square there were indeed a lot of people, but the square was so large that were weren’t crowed at all. Our guide explained that the monument in the middle of the Sqaure was built in memory to the Chinese who died during the Second World War. The Square is bordered by the Hall of the People, where the Chinese government is based out of, the Tomb of Mao Zedong, and the Forbidden City. Then we were off to the Forbidden City.

The Forbidden City I was particulary interested in. It was the home to the Emperor of China for centeriues, up untill the dissolution of the Empire of China in 1911. As a person interested in the ninteenth century, I had to go here. Our guide explained that construction began in 1406 and finished in 1420. The building involved the usage of 2 million labourers and 200,000 engineers. Even in this age it’s stll impressive. It was truly amazing for me to be allowed inside the place that commoners were barred from entering during the reign of the Emperor.

The Forbidden City was huge on such a scale that it was difficult to comprehand how such a feat could have been built in the 1400’s. The problem was, however, the people from the Square where also here. While the Square had a lot of room, the City did not. We were packed together, fighting for room and good picture shots in some locations. I missed a photo opportunity of the Emperor’s throne because I was knocked out of the way for the other tourists (bitter dissappointment). There was an ornimental pocket watch I was hoping to get, but the price was too much. We had hoped to be able to go to the site that overlooked the entire City but the crowds and the heat had bested us and we boared the bus for home.

    — Curtis Bratton, history major