Beijing Academy in the Students' Words
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Today was another eventful day at Middlebury Monterey Language Academy. My day began with an early morning breakfast of you tiao and milk tea. Afterwards, was morning assembly and class began promptly at 9:00. This morning we compared cultures and customs in both western and eastern countries as well as the vocabulary surrounding the lesson such as: “social customs” and “taboo.” For lunch, we met up with students from a local high school and ate our meal in a restaurant located on the first floor of our dorm rooms. We were each assigned a “zhongwen pengyou” or, Chinese friend, the previous Friday. After our meal, we went back to our respective classrooms with our zhongwen pengyou and played a game of language jeopardy. This game required us to speak in Chinese, and the Chinese high school students to speak in English in order to get our point across. Sadly our team lost the game, but to put us all in better spirits, we got to learn a popular Chinese song. Then after a lot of selfie taking, we bid farewell to our newfound friends. All in all I believe getting to know local students our age was a great way to improve colloquial language skills while enjoying ourselves at the same time. After an hour of study hall, each class was given several hours to get dinner. I ended up going to a surprisingly good Japanese restaurant with some friends. Dinner each day varies greatly. For example, just yesterday we learned how to order and eat hotpot. After dinner, there was another hour of study hall and time to prepare our presentations for the assembly held every Monday evening. The presentations were extremely enjoyable and were anything from fun skits about bargaining, to speeches about favorite restaurants, to a song and dance party that everyone was invited to. Normally these presentations reflect what we did in the previous week. Overall, today was one filled with fun, learning, excitement, relaxation, and sometimes exhaustion. However, in the end I believe my Chinese language skills are improving greatly through the cultural experiences provided in Beijing.
Today I have to write another blog. A lot has happened since the first one. I believe it was only a few days in, today we have only about two weeks left. Time seems to be going by very quickly.
Since the first blog I wrote we have gone on many excursions, and we have one every day. Often we take the subway, which I honestly really enjoy. It’s so much cleaner and better looking than New York’s. So far I haven’t seen the trademarked black gum stains, wrappers, and cans all over the ground and tracks that you might expect in the U.S. It’s a nice change. The subway cars also aren’t like ugly tin cans; they’re sleeker and not as noisy.
Yesterday we went to the Pearl Market and I wish you could barter like that in the U.S. There’s something immensely satisfying about how low you can make the price and no matter how indignant they get they still really want your cash and call you back. The starting price can be 480 yuan, but you can still walk away only losing 30. It’s really great. This bargaining thing and the pay what you see, no need for tipping or calculating tax, is very convenient.
I had no idea what to expect when I travelled to China for the first time. As an American, I had this single story, this single view of what China would be like. Living in The United States, when you hear “China” you think of the economy and the influence it has on the rest of the world, cheap goods made in bulk, and billions of people. Throughout my two weeks here, it has been amazing to widen the narrow view I had of such a large and influential country in the world. I have gotten to experience the China in a way that is not covered by the news and the media. Every day we see new places and we get to explore and discover everything that makes Beijing so special. Every morning I eat rice, buns, or shutiao from a bakery which is completely different from what I experience at home. Every weekend when we visit famous historical sites around the city, I am reminded how foreign this place is to me. Here I am a total outsider which is made even more obvious because I don’t look anything like the people here in China. It is so evident when mothers push their children towards me and ask if they can get a picture with me. It always shocks me because I never think of myself as being so unique and so different from everybody else that the difference would warrant a photograph. However, I always happily to oblige and am glad I had the chance to make someone else happy. I also have felt like an outsider and foreigner whenever my friends and I have conversations with the locals. I will ask someone a question or try to start a conversation in Chinese and as a response someone will always look at my Chinese American friend because they assume they can carry out the conversation with her instead so they don’t have to speak with a non-native Chinese speaker. As she is also not a native speaker, we both have to speak our broken Chinese together to get our questions asked. It has been so eye-opening being here and witnessing the city for myself, and I can’t wait for my next two weeks to experience more of the Beijing city, food, and culture.
Aima’s (Emma McMahan’s) Blog
This weekend was super fun. I was happy for the weekend to come because the weekdays had class. Class is tiring at times, so a couple days without class is relaxing for us. On Saturday we went to the Temple of Heaven for a few hours. I walked around with my friends Miriam, Alison, and Katie. The Temple of Heaven had many old, traditional buildings and a great view of the city. Even though there was apparent pollution covering the view of the city, it was like a pretty picture, but the scenery is so loud. Next, we went to the Pearl Market. It had many stores inside. Also, I got used to bargaining with the shopkeepers; low prices are always good! I bought gifts for my friends and family at the market. My bargaining skills need work though. I had an enjoyable time at the market. Today, we journeyed to an art district in Beijing. The art was strange, but also snazzy at the same time. It is fascinating to see how people can express themselves through a work of art. Not all the art was aesthetically created, but all of it seemed to have a meaning. My friend Miriam and I strolled around the parkway and went into random shops because we had so much time on our hands. We had 5 hours to roam the art district. Today was very hot though and the sun was a killer, but we managed to survive! Drinking water is the key. I hope to experience more exciting trips in the next couple weeks in China!
Today was quite a fun day as we traveled to the 798 art district. I began the day by waking up at 7:30, but the assembly was moved to 9:00am so I had a lot of free time in between. After eating breakfast we went on the bus and it was around a twenty minute bus ride. Once we arrived the first thing I saw was a strange statue of a man and a bull. As the day moved on I began to enjoy it more and more. The first thing that my friends and I did was go into these overpriced little shops. There were crazy outfits there and some oddly sexual souvenirs that you could buy but it was a lot of fun. Most of the things there were overpriced or fakes of the actual thing. The most fun about the trip in my opinion were the great photos that could be taken, and there were certain areas that you could climb onto the cargo boxes and just hang out there. After walking around for two hours, drenched in sweat because of our cotton shirts we decided to go to a café. It was nice because the food was European and there was Wi-Fi so I could finally set up a VPN. If you are going to China you must download betternet on the appstore so you can connect and send pictures. The lunch was great and we spent around two hours in there mainly because there was air conditioning. We were at the five hour mark and we all went back on the buses to go back to CNU. After taking a shower, my friends and I went to a little local noodle shop were you pick all the ingredients and they cook it for you, very cool. After dinner we also went out to the soccer field where a couple of friends and I played soccer with some local people. It was a lot of fun, especially since there is a ton of free time on the weekends to do whatever you want. Lastly, I got to use my phone and Skype my parents. It wasn’t so fun because my mom tried to speak Chinese with me and I would take any chance to speak English when the language pledge is turned off so it was hard to communicate. Overall it was a great day and it was fun to look at a bunch of Museums and go off and about with friends.
Today we had class from nine o’clock to twelve o’clock with a few breaks in between. After class we had lunch with our Chinese friends. My friend whose Chinese name was Yang but told me I could call him Kobe, was the only guy at the table. However, despite that, we still had fun and he still made sure that I was having fun as well. After we finished eating we stayed at the table for a few minutes and some of the other kids pulled out their homework and showed us what their average everyday homework looked like. It was excited to see that some of the stuff they were doing, I have also done at school. It made the fact that even though we live halfway across the world from each other, we aren’t that different. After we finished eating and everything in the restaurant, we all went to our respective classrooms, mine being 2A ban. Once we all got settled in, we first played a name game where we were supposed to state our names, English and Chinese, and say one interesting fact about ourselves. However, the tricky part is that after you state you name you are supposed to list the names of everyone before you. So once we realized that our memories weren’t that good, we changed the directions to just remembering everyone’s English name. After that we played jeopardy but of course, there was nothing easy about it. The Chinese students had to speak in English whereas everyone with English as a first language had to speak Chinese. Despite this, my team, The Men in Black, won like 8,800 to 6,000. It was so much fun and even with the language barrier, we all became closer. While we were playing the game we were able to have side conversations with our pengyous and figure out their likes and dislikes. Kobe and I both really enjoy sports, especially basketball. I am from Memphis and it was really exciting to hear that Kobe had heard of the Memphis Grizzlies and knew some of the players! It was small things like this that made the day so much fun! It was sad to say goodbye.
I have really enjoyed my last few days in Beijing. Although the adjustment to Beijing’s atmosphere may have been difficult at times, I now am thoroughly enjoying the new experiences this program has offered me. Over the past weekend, we went to the Temple of Heaven. It was incredibly hot, but that didn’t hinder its beauty and it turned out to be incredibly fun to explore the grounds with my new friends. After our excursion to the Temple of Heaven, we went to the Pearl Market. At the Pearl Market we utilized the skills we learned in class this week, specifically the art of bargaining. It was a very rewarding experience lowering the price of a pair of sunglasses I wanted to buy from 350 RMB to 200. I never thought that I had the skills to converse with a local, let alone bargain a price. On Sunday we traveled to the 798 art district which I found to be a particularly interesting spot. I had a blast wandering the streets, peeking into a multitude of different galleries along the way. Furthermore, the architecture and design aspect of this district was different from anywhere else I have seen in Beijing, so I enjoyed expanding my horizons further through this excursion. Today we had our last meeting with our fellow Chinese high school friends. It has been an amazing experience bonding over our commonalities and differences in our meeting times, I feel like having a “Chinese friend” so to speak, truly gave me an authentic experience and an outlet to practice my Chinese in a constructive and supportive environment. Although Beijing may have taken a few days to adjust to, I have gained a newfound appreciation for the city and look forward to making the most of the last two weeks I have been here!
After two weeks at CNU, I’m beginning to feel very comfortable with the language pledge and Beijing as a whole. At first, it was awkward and difficult to talk to my classmates with the language pledge, but as we all get noticeably more fluent, conversation has become much more fluid and entertaining. I mean, what is life as a teenage girl without the ability to discuss which actor from the last movie night was the hottest? I’m finding myself getting closer and closer to my classmates as time goes on. It’s becoming natural to go grab dinner with anyone in the program. Because we’re all here for the same reason, you always know that you’re supported and surrounded by friends even if it’s difficult to communicate at times. I’ve found myself feeling very comfortable in my own skin here, because everyone on campus wants to study and learn, as well as help others on their own language journey. However, even if the people are enthusiastic and fun, even better is the food. Last night, my roommate and I headed out on the town around seven thirty to look for a mysterious fruit store, but we ended up distracting ourselves with some of Beijing’s best food carts. Outside our usual haunts were rows upon rows of unfamiliar skewers and crepes. My personal favorite was called “kao leng mian”, which was basically a hot dog and onions inside a crepe covered in egg and semi-suspicious sauces. Looking back, I have no idea what I ate, as the characters translate directly to “roast cold noodles”, but I’m not complaining. That was actually my second dinner after a trip to the best dumpling store in the entire world, but I regret nothing. Overall, this trip has been an avalanche of new experiences, whether they come in the form of miscommunication card game rules in Mandarin, random street foods on the way to fruits, or just closing my eyes and accepting that the smell is what it is, and that I’ll never know where it’s coming from. Honestly, I don’t have to know, and I’d rather not. I’ll just stay here on the CNU campus with my dear friends and enjoy my second dinner while defending the artsy character as the most attractive.
I woke up today at 7:30am, then met my friend for breakfast where we got to practice our Chinese conversational skills. After breakfast, we met in the lobby with the rest of the group and hopped on the bus. Our ride to the 798 Art District was exciting and fun. Once we got to 798, we were allowed to explore by ourselves. In a group of four, my friends and I decided to wander. We found so many amazing photo opportunities and so much amazing graffiti. After we were a little bit tired, we went to a café that was filled with records, new and used. We looked through the pictures on our phones and then got up and kept exploring. We had some amazing dumplings for lunch with the 25 RMB that was given to us, and then met with the group back at the meeting point. Everyone was so exhausted that most slept on the bus ride home. After a long day I went back to my room and relaxed for about an hour and took a shower. It was a little hard though, because my sister and I have to hang our wet clothes from the washer, all over the bathroom since there is no dryer. I was also sad that some of my clothes had ripped in the washer. I then went with my friends to get some dinner, which was satisfying and very yummy. We discussed our day and shared some stories in Chinese. Overall I thought that this day was very exciting and fun.
“I don’t know what’s worse: the fact that everyday I’ve been sleeping wrong in my bed so all my muscles are sore in all the wrong places or I have to adjust my fingers to this 2003 Thinkpad to write this blog post, pronounced by the Chinese are broal-akeh.”
Michael Phelps, probably 2016
I can’t place my finger on how I feel today. I woke up five minutes before we had to be at our morning meeting, and rolled out of bed with a misshapen bun and half-lidded eyes. Without a breakfast in our stomachs, we rushed after the meeting to snag a quick breakfast at the convenience store across the street. Walking back was when I realized it was the regular degree of humidity as every other day, but just noticeably hotter and heavier. I didn’t have to wear my air filtration mask and my throat wasn’t as dry. The sound of constant traffic morphed into white noise long, long ago.
Our friends from the other local high school visited us today. We ate lunch together at the first floor, and bonded over discontent for Cpop and opinions on attractive classmates. Exchanging small gifts and WeChat codes are two key steps in establishing teenage guanxin. Long story short, think of guanxin as adding to a web of connections and resources you create. It used to be the only way anything would get done in China, but now it’s just a part of how things roll.
In class, we did a lot more grammar than usual. When I was bored, I toyed with my plant necklace or fish bracelet. Only two people could tell that my plant necklace is modeled after succulents. The windows take up nearly the entire left wall of the classroom, and I saw the skies were one of the most content shades of grey I have ever seen. The buildings outside the window are the only shades of yellow that I don’t mind looking at. When you’re walking down the steps of the foreign student dorm and look out, everything is always a pale shade of blue. Sometimes it’s hypnotizing.
For dinner I ate curry with some friends at the Japanese restaurant downstairs. The seating spaces were creative and the food was good. I couldn’t say eating Japanese food in China is strange at all, especially when compared to being at a restaurant in Art District 798 called “Lakers Pizza” that plays Spanish music over the speakers. That’s just generally off-putting. We had presentations afterwards, but nothing really stands out.
After nearly six weeks of me studying in Beijing...I think today was the day that felt distinguishably normal. It was the first day that didn’t feel special. Nothing outstanding or life changing happened: it was simply standard.Student Logs for July 6th from Beijing! Our First Few Days in Beijing Updates from Beijing Academy Students Take Look(Book) at Our Latest Beijing Photos