You're Going Where?!

You're Going Where?!

Brian Toth

Meet ... Brian Toth

China Study Abroad Major: Business Management
Minor: Chinese
Concentration: Human Resources
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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Sitting in our Chinese class, Dr. Jing Luo mentioned an annual trip to China that he and his students attend. I figured it was a once in a lifetime opportunity so I was instantly intrigued.

I was originally interested because I figured business management and Chinese would go hand-in-hand in the business world, but I then realized in a variety of different aspects of my life. After talking it over with my parents, it was settled; I was going to Beijing.

So many things ran through my mind about their culture and language. My very first worry was the plane ride. Being as I haven't flown before, a 13-hour flight isn't exactly "testing the water" on flying; I guess I was going all in. I was also curious about how difficult it would be to get by the language barrier. Knowing only minimal basic Chinese, I figured I would be doing a lot of pointing and hand gestures.

The flight was on time with no delays, which was good because I was anxious to arrive in China before even boarding the plane. The flight was great, after watching the godfather trilogy on the plane, it felt like we were there in no time. After getting my passport checked and conversing with the employee for a while, I realized that might be that last time that a foreigner actually understands what I'm trying to say.

Many people have asked what the first thing i felt when arrived in Beijing, my answer, the heat. The temperature and humidity in China combine to create a pretty deadly combination. It was hotter in China than almost any place I've been to in the United States. Very dehydrated from the flight and van ride to our dorm, I was faced with my first problem in China, finding safe, bottled drinking water.

Dr. Luo said we were going to walk to a convenience store on campus to buy any necessities. The walk in retrospect was not very long, but if you would have asked me how long the walk was at the time, you would have thought I was on the verge of death. I bought the biggest bottle of water they had and having just converted my money to RMB, all I had were larger bills.

I don't think the Chinese employees like giving out a lot of change, because after everyone in the group bought a water at the store and used large bills, she looked very unpleasant because we were making her life so difficult. When we got back to our dorms, I was too ready for bed.

As I fell onto my bed, it was similar to falling on a slab of concrete, it wasn't what you would call a tempur-pedic mattress. I wasn't even upset when I laid on my bed that was as hard as a rock because of my complete exhaustion. My first impression of Beijing? Not exactly love at first sight. Little did I know in the following days that I would be having the time of my life.

The Independence Duck

Peking Duck After being in Beijing for a couple of days, I was starting to get to get a feel for what China was all about. I was learning a lot in my classes and meeting people from all over the world. Classes where fun, but challenging. It was unlike almost anything I've experienced before because the class was taught all in Chinese. Because it was the 4th of July, Dr. Luo decided it would be nice if all of us went to dinner together.

We have a set number of cultural meals that we must attend, included in the tuition. He decided the best place to go for the day would be the "Peking Duck" restaurant. Because it was Independence day and we were going to eat duck, we concluded that this meal would be deemed the "Independence Duck". It was a very famous around Beijing; so famous that on our way out of the restaurant, there looked to be about a two-hour wait for a table. We arrive at the table and are promptly handed a menu of every offered in the restaurant.

Dr. Luo ordered everything in Chinese so I wasn't sure of everything we were going to be eating, all I knew is that it was going to be a lot. Everything was served one at a time, and they placed it on a revolving turntable. When I wasn't battling everyone at my table to turn the platter to get what I wanted to eat, I was enjoying the meal that is apparently very common to the people of China.

All in all, we were served duck brain, feet, liver, and the duck meat itself. I think if I had to pick my favorite, it would be the brain. It was tender and juicy and when paired with the sauce they gave us, it tasted like something that I wouldn't mind eating everyday while I'm over here. Also all my list of favorites was the duck meat. It tasted like a Thanksgiving turkey that would just melt in your mouth.

Everything was going great for the dinner until I had to use the restroom. The sign on the entrance stated that it was a co-gender room. After the entrance was two-door openings with the same color curtains on both sides and no signs stating which was male and which was female. Now I 'm faced with a dilemma, just pick one and risk the embarrassment of choosing incorrectly or asking someone which is which? Well, I decided to just guess and hope for the best.

As I entered the left room, I saw three women washing their hands in the sink. Before I could even apologize to them, I was being reprimanded by the three ladies. I couldn't quite understand what they were saying. I just assumed they were some not-so-kind words judging by the volume and demeanor of their voices. I exited the room embarrassed and continued to the men's room.

When I returned to the table, I shared my experience with everyone and they all seemed very amused, at my expense. The dinner was very enjoyable and the atmosphere was very warming. Aside from the fact that I made myself look like a fool, the night at the Peking Duck was a success.

Learning the Way of the Wudang

Adding to the list of firsts for me, this morning was our first Tai Chi lesson. Tai Chi is a type of martial art that is said to free the mind, body, and spirit. Our teacher or "Shifu" seemed to be a very nice guy. He spoke about the history and background of Tai Chi.

At least this is my best guess, he spoke in all Chinese. There are 5 different versions of Tai Chi; we learned the Wu style. We had our class early in the morning before class. Throughout the lesson I was thinking that this was something I could definitely do every morning. We started by learning the basic fundamental moves that are were to be used in sequential order. It was very peaceful and relaxing, even though I was messing up quite a bit.

My posture must have been pretty off because the teacher swiftly repositioned my body so that it was correct in the middle of the lesson. After learning the basic moves, our teacher explained how the moves we just learned were used in self defense. He had one of the students simulate attacking him. His counter moves were quick and looked that they would hurt a good amount if used in a real life situation.

We have twelve lessons all together to learn the art. I really enjoyed the first lesson and we actually discussed trying to start a class back at Bloomsburg to teach the other students what we learned.

Permitted in the Forbidden City

Tiananmen Square For the weekends, Dr. Luo planned to take trips to various areas of China to increase our awareness of the history of the country. This weekend we took a trip to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. We started at Tiananmen Square. There were statues, monuments, and pictures of the past Chinese leaders such as Mao Zedong.

It was very crowded by tourists and residents alike. We continued onto the Forbidden City. We were surrounded by unique buildings that were built around the year 1400. One of the reasons I like China so much is because of its rich history. We saw some very cool structures like the emperor's throne and the pedestal where the men with power would speak to everyone.

Thankfully our tour guide held up a flag that said "Peking University" throughout the duration of our trip so no one got lost. The guide also explained the dates and significance of everything the city. I had read about the forbidden city in the past, but it had a much larger impact being able to see everything first hand.

Making Friends from All Areas of the World

As we were thinking about what to do on a friday night in China, one of our group members suggested we check out the bars. We all agreed that this sounded like a pretty good idea. We took the Beijing subway to check out different areas of Beijing.

The crazy thing is that you can ride the Beijing subway to anywhere in Beijing for only 2 yuan, which is about 30 cents. We walked through a block of all different kinds of bars. Every one we passed there was someone standing outside trying to force you into their bar. They would do anything and everything to get in your way and get your attention. One of the guys was actually stopping traffic just to tell the drivers about the deals at his bar.

After we sat down, we bargained with the waiter to get the drinks for cheaper by threatening to leave. The beer in China is actually very good. Tsingtao is the probably the most popular in all of China, but Yanjing is the most popular in Beijing. They also have a beer called Tiger that is also rather famous. I have no complaints with any of the three.

As we were at the bar, we met people from Chile, France, Singapore, Spain, and from all over China. It was very interesting, because it allowed me to speak English, Spanish, and Chinese all in one night. The man from Chile were very good at table football (foosball). We played a couple games and thankfully he was on my team, so we at least got to win a couple times. The bar we went to was very American, that's probably why we liked it so much. They had happy hour deals that would make anyone happy.

Also, when we were there it was a Spanish girl's birthday so we got to sing feliz cumpleanos to her. The food was also very American, it was the first time I could actually eat something with my hands. Pizza, burgers, and fries were some of the things on the menu. For the people who didn't enjoy the authentic Chinese food here it was a godsend. They had something that many restaurants didn't have, actual toilets. Many places just had a hole in the ground, but this place didn't which was a big plus for me. Overall, it was a very enjoyable night and I met a lot of culturally diverse people.

    — Brian Toth, business management major