1/31/17: The National Museum

Today, I finally made myself stop lounging around (although that is my natural state of being during breaks) and took the subway to Tiananmen Square with plans to visit the National Museum of China. Unfortunately, so did hundreds (maybe more?) of Chinese tourists, which meant that I had to wait in line for about an hour to get in. Fortunately, in this line I met two French girls who had been studying in Shanghai and who were seeing the country a bit before they returned home.

It was fun to speak French with them, although particularly in the beginning I kept accidentally saying small words (but, so, yes) in Chinese, which was more amusing than anything. Also near us in the line was a small girl who was a bit more forward about being inquisitive than most Chinese people on the bus or the subway (although I do get stares sometimes), and she asked us where we were from and if we were exchange students and how old we were. It was very cute. As I was leaving I also got a question, also from a young girl, who wanted to know where I was from. This has been a pretty new experience for me, getting stared at, having random people ask to take a picture with me, and having people ask where I’m from. When I was in Europe, I pretty much fit in, and I’d only get the questions after people heard my American accent (and even then, it was usually ‘which state are you from’, because Americans have a pretty distinctive accent). It’s not necessarily a bad thing, although sometimes when it’s 7:00 am on the bus I don’t particularly want people staring at me. I think in the next few months I might get tired of it, but little kids asking me questions is much less uncomfortable than a random man staring at me as I’m just going to school.

The museum itself was wonderful. The building alone is beautiful, a great work of architecture, and, though I didn’t get to see all of it, I loved walking around and looking at the exhibits. There was one with pieces from the Louvre, which was funny when I was walking around with two French girls, and one on calligraphy, which I had to go through rather quickly because the museum was closing. That was alright though, because it didn’t have any English translations, and my Chinese isn’t quite good enough to read museum signs. I saw pretty much all of the Ancient China section though, and I loved seeing the styles of pottery and lacquer evolve through time.

Another interesting part of the museum was the section about modern history, discussing the revolution and how China became a communist state. It reminded me a lot about discussion around American history, as a lot of it focused on only the good things that the state has done, and the support it got from its people. Coming from America to China, I’ve heard a lot of bad things about this period in Chinese history, mostly focusing on the faults of communism and the faults of various Chinese leaders. I’m not really surprised at the difference in narratives, and I guess I’m not as surprised as I thought about the similarities in tone between the two countries discussing their own history. It’s mostly just interesting to think about.

One thing I’m very proud of today was navigating the subway. I almost no problems, and the one that I did have was hardly a problem at all – I started going the wrong way on the loop to get back to the station with the line I needed to take. I would have gotten there eventually, with just a little time lost, but I still decided to get off and take the train going in the opposite direction, so I lost maybe 10 minutes for that mistake. But that was the first time I started going the wrong way, and it wasn’t that big of a deal. For the rest of the time I was perfectly comfortable with the knowledge of where I was going to get on and where I needed to go. Overall it was a successful trip, and I’m looking forward to my outing tomorrow!

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An ancient grave, I forget the exact time period but it was very very early in the Ancient China section, with seashell drawings of a tiger and a dragon – I think that’s really clever, and a really fascinating way to commemorate the dead. 

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A pottery sculpture of musicians performing while seated on a camel. I loved the energy and life in this figure, as well as the detail and the colors. Truly an amazing work of art.

1/28/17: Spring Festival

Only two weeks into the term and I’m already on break! I guess the program tries to line their term up with American semesters so our summer break won’t be too short, but it makes for an interesting term. The second week went much better than the first, after not doing anything on Sunday (well, journaling and homework, but nothing high energy). I got over my jetlag completely, which unfortunately means getting up at 6 each day is much harder, but staying awake in the afternoon is easier. Class is also a lot easier, I can remember words for more than half an hour and I feel like I’m struggling a lot less. Last week I had been considering dropping down a level because of how hard it was to keep up, but I noticed that everyone was struggling a little, so I stayed. This week has proved that I made the right decision. I discovered Pleco’s flashcard function (Pleco, the best Chinese dictionary app you could ask for), and that has made studying much easier. My grammar is a little rusty since it’s been 6 or 7 months since my last Chinese class, but my writing has improved a lot since I started doing homework, so I’m picking it back up quickly.

Today is the Spring Festival, famous in the West as Chinese New Year. This means shops are closed and everyone has traveled back home to be with their parents, meaning Beijing is almost empty. When my teacher first described it that way, I was skeptical – coming from a town whose only high school has 300 kids to a city with millions of people, I fail to see how such a populated place could ever be described as empty. But going to school yesterday morning, only 2 or 3 other people got on the bus with me, and the normal flood of people from the subway station was down to a trickle of 5 or 10. Traffic jams, the norm in the city, are practically nonexistent, and nobody is out on the streets. It’s a bizarre experience.

As for the celebrations, the sound of fireworks started Thursday night. Even small fireworks sound loud because they echo off the buildings, and there was a short while after they started that I thought I was hearing shotguns. Then I realized how American that reaction is. Friday, instead of a test, all the students (immersion and non-immersion) got together to learn a little about the holiday, learn some calligraphy, and answer riddles for prizes. I particularly liked the calligraphy, and I’m going to start going to calligraphy class once school is back in session. I also answered 3 riddles, and used the prizes to decorate my room a little. Friday afternoon, I finally unpacked fully (which means I put the shoes left in my suitcase into my closet, and put my suitcase under my bed), and cleaned off my desk. That night the fireworks were everywhere, really loud and from all directions. (Even as I’m writing this, more are going off, although not quite as many). They kept up until late, although I was so tired I managed to sleep even with the explosions.

Early this morning I got up and went with my host parents to the Wofu temple, where there’s an immense statue of a reclining Buddha. The temple is at the back of the botanical gardens, so, even though it was dark when we got there, the walk was beautiful. It got lighter by the time we reached the temple, but I wish there had been a little more light, as there were no lights in each building, but it was still really cool. The first building had four ferocious looking (if somewhat obscure in the gloom) guardian spirits, the second had the fat, laughing Buddha who will be the next Buddha. The third had three large statues, whose personages my host dad was unsure of (although the internet tells me they’re the three previous Buddhas), and the last had the reclining Buddha. At each of the buildings with a Buddha, there was a brazier in front and two candlelit lanterns on either side. Each person would light 3, sometimes more, sticks of incense, bow or pray in front of the brazier, and then put the incense in. Then they could go into the building and pray in front of the statues before exiting at the back. Facing the exit in the middle two buildings there was another statue, although who they were I’m not sure. At the second building (the first with the Buddha), my host dad said that you don’t pray unless you intend to come back next year, but at the last two he gave me incense so I could also light it, bow, and put it in the brazier. He didn’t pray at all, but my host mom did, including putting a prayer on a ribbon and tying it to a large rack filled with prayers near the last building. Apparently this is the only time of year that they go to the temple, and the reason they go so early is to avoid the crowds. Seeing the streams of people coming in, I’m glad we did go early, as the line would have been too long later. This was also a slightly less popular temple than one closer to the center of Beijing, and I was probably the only Westerner there.

After that they brought me back to the apartment, which I was a little upset about. The Spring Festival is a holiday about family, but they were leaving me out as they went to go visit theirs. My rational mind says that it’s probably for the best – I wouldn’t have known anyone, and my Chinese still isn’t good enough to be able to hold a conversation with fast-speaking natives, so it probably was better for me to go back and sleep (which is what I did). Still, it’s hard not to feel left out. Instead I went to YuanMingYuan, the old Summer Palace, which supposedly has celebrations and shows for the Spring Festival, but I couldn’t find any. The park was pretty, despite the fact that everything is dead during winter (apart from the junipers and pines), and I got to see some black swans, but none of the festivities I was looking for. My host parents were back when I got home, which also eases the feeling of abandonment – I had been expecting them to be gone all day. So in the end I did get to eat jiaozi, the traditional food of the Spring Festival, and food is one of the most important things. My teachers also gave us electronic red envelopes, which Chinese adults use to give  money to young people (I’m probably too old to get them from other people, but I guess we count as children to our teachers). All in all it was a pretty fine day.

During the break I hope to go out and see more of Beijing, even if traveling across the country (the ideal) is too expensive. This blog might get more frequent updates if I do – I hope this will be a busy week!

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Some of my calligraphy from yesterday – the character fu means good luck, and is usually pasted on doors or windows, sometimes upside down, because the pronunciation for ‘luck has arrived’ and ‘luck is upside down’ is the same.whatsapp-image-2017-01-26-at-9-46-09-pm

The three riddles I solved – are there any readers who want to take a guess at the answers? Leave a comment and I’ll tell you whether they’re right or not!

1/22/15: Week 1/Forbidden City

It has been a long, tiring week, but a good one. I have class at 8:30 every morning, and homework every night, but the jetlag so far has meant that waking up early hasn’t been too painful. It’s worse trying to stay awake after I get home to finish my homework. At least the bus ride to and from BeiDa isn’t too long – 20 minutes plus another 10 or 15 to walk to and from the bus stop. The bus is also not usually that crowded at the times that I take it, although if I miss the 7:40 bus and have to take the 8:00, it’s much more crowded. I’m lucky I don’t often have to sit through rush our, which adds another 10 or 15 minutes to my ride. The buses also come quite frequently, although I have had to wait a while once or twice. The best thing about them is how cheap they are, usually 1 kuai a ride at the short distance I travel. And compared to the subway, which is always packed (and not always underground), the bus ride is quite pleasant.

Class is somewhat difficult. We move at what feels like a breakneck pace, with a new section every day (around 30 new words) from Monday to Wednesday, review on Thursday, and a test or activity on Friday. I think next week we have a language activity instead of a test, but we’ll see. My greatest difficulty is remembering how to read characters, as I seem to take a while to absorb everything. It feels a little demoralizing at times, because I’ll learn a word in comprehensive class (well, I’ll try to learn it the night before, but sometimes it will take a little longer to process), and then forget it an hour later in drill class, where I’ll learn it again, only to struggle with it the next day in my one on one class. But my homework and quiz grades have been fine, and I’m hoping I did alright on my test, so I know I can do this.

For lunch we order food, which is faster than going out to get it – particularly with my tendency to get lost on campus. I feel like going out is cheaper, because I tend to just get a couple baozi which cost 2.5 kuai each, whereas ordering food is 20-30 kuai, but I realized that the difference is spending less than $1 on food versus spending $3 or $4, so I relaxed a little. Right now only one place is open, because of the approaching Spring Festival, and its food isn’t the best I’ve eaten, but it’s still pretty good. Eating on campus is really cheap. My host parents have been feeding me quite a lot too, which they’re not obligated to do, and I feel a little guilty if they feel like they should. Today I want to talk to them about it. I like eating with them, because it gives me a break from homework to talk to them, but I know I’m supposed to fend for myself.

Yesterday was the first of CSI’s biweekly excursions, to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. The weather was freezing and extremely windy, which meant that it was absolutely beautiful. I didn’t read many of the signs, because I didn’t want to get separated from the group, but it was amazing to walk around and think about what it would have been like to live there. At the end we climbed up a huge hill in a park just north of the Forbidden City and looked down on its entirety, which made me realize just how little of it we actually saw walking through. At this vantage point was a Buddhist temple, where people bowed and prayed. He looked serenely over the Forbidden City and Beijing around it, watching everything that happened.

I think my favorite part of the Forbidden City was the garden. It was relatively bare because of the winter, but it was still beautiful, with pathways lined by bushes and trees, little buildings where the emperor could sit and do what emperors do in their gardens, and it had some of the biggest and oldest juniper trees I’ve ever seen. I’d love to be there in the spring when there are more flowers, but there will also be more tourists, so I’m not sure if I’ll go back. I wonder what it was like when it was inhabited and you could have the garden to yourself? Probably magical.

One final issue I have is getting a VPN. I should have downloaded one on my phone before I left, but I might just have to deal with not using my phone for anything more than a (wifi) connection to my parents/Jo and a camera. I might want one on my computer though, as a way to navigate the Great Firewall. We’ll see.

Now, I have homework to do. One more week until vacation – we’ll see if I can find a way to spend my time.


A selfie in front of the Hall of Clocks and Watches, where we went inside to warm up a little

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A small pavilion in the garden where someone could sit and enjoy the peace and quiet…if there weren’t crowds of tourists filing through it

1/15/17: Orientation

I’ve been in Beijing less than 48 hours, but it feels like a week. My problems began at the Reno airport, where I managed to arrive in time for my flight to be delayed for 2 hours. With only a 3 hour layover, this was a little nerve wracking. The flight itself was pleasant enough, with complimentary wine and a nice view of Portland before we landed in Seattle. I found a buddy who was also flying to China and we navigated the Seattle airport together, arriving at the gate just fine. However, I took off my ring (the butterfly one that matches Jo’s) to braid my hair, and heard an announcement that I needed to see the flight attendants for a new boarding pass, and, forgetting that I had just set my ring in my lap instead of in my bag, I stood up. I forgot about it until the plane had just taken off, and, despite the help of a flight attendant contacting the airport to see if it had been found, I’m afraid it’s gone for good. This distressed me throughout the flight, as I loved that ring, so I was very unhappy, despite the fact that the flight itself was fine and I was able to watch several movies that I’d been hoping to see.

My next mistake was not changing my money at the airport, because everyone tells you not to, meaning that I had no RMB by the time I found Amy, the woman from my program who came to pick me up. I felt rushed and pressed for time as we found the other students who had flown in at about the same time, and missed my opportunity to change my money. As soon as we found the other students we loaded up on a bus to go first to the apartments, where most of the immersion students live, and then to Shaoyuan, the on-campus dorm where most of the other students live. There Amy took me to get a taxi to take me to my host family, which, due to the number of students leaving campus for winter/spring break, took 20 minutes. My host parents don’t speak English, but they were very welcoming, and I gave them the calendar and photo book with pictures that my dad took. This prompted a thorough examination of the photos and a discussion of my hometown, which, while I enjoyed telling them about where I live and the kind of place I’m from, also turned out to be a mistake, as I didn’t get to bed until midnight. After no sleep on the plane, I needed my rest, and I was not going to get it.

I woke up at 6:30 the next morning, and my host mom took me by bus to the CSI office. There I was able to connect to the internet and I chatted with Jo and my mom until the rest of the group arrived, and we started off our tour of BeiDa (the nickname everyone gives to Peking University, where I am studying for the term). We returned for listening and written placement exams, and then we were set free for lunch. Still needing cash, I teamed up with 3 other girls in order to first find a bank and then food. One, Heather, had been on a summer program with CSI and thus had some knowledge of campus, so we followed her. After finally finding a bank (and finding it closed), we decided to just go find food. This is when we really got lost. We walked for a long time, finally finding a place that Heather wasn’t interested in, so she left. We soon found out that this place only took student IDs as payment, and of course none of us had had time to put money on our cards, so we had to search for somewhere else. We finally found a small convenience store and bought baozi through lots of pointing, and one of the other girls spotted me for lunch as I still had no money. With only 20 minutes left of our 1 hour and 30 minute lunch break, we decided to walk and eat, and, of course, got lost again. 40 minutes later we finally made it back to the CSI office for our oral placement exams.

Luckily there was no penalty for being so late, and we weren’t even the last ones back. The exams were individual, and seemed to take a while for each student, so while we waited in the hallway we got to know each other a little. I made friends with a girl named Zoe. When everyone was done with the oral exam, we walked 40 minutes to a pizza place for dinner (New York style pizza, fries, beer and warm water). Unsure of how to get home, or even where I was, I decided to go with the group back to campus, where I could get wifi (because I still didn’t have a Chinese sim card) and hopefully figure out how to get back home. Zoe stayed with me in the Shaoyuan lobby as I texted my host mom and got more and more stressed with my inability to figure out where my apartment was, let alone how to get there (believe it or not, when Google is blocked, it’s hard to use the handy location sharing feature of WeChat, because it always wants to open Google Maps on my phone). Zoe finally flagged down her roommate, who has better Chinese than both of us and who called my host parents to come back and get me home. once home, my host parents told me that the pizza place is only 2 subway stops away from where I live, and my 40 minute walk plus over and hour of stress (and tears) could have been a 10 minute subway ride. Venting to Jo (and crying more) made me feel better emotionally, but after walking 10+ miles (according to one of the girls I got lost with at lunch), it didn’t do much for my aching feet and knees.

This morning my host parents took me to talk to the police, and then to Wudaoko (the area with the apartments and also the pizza place we’d eaten dinner at), where I would meet up with the rest of the group as our tour guides showed us the area around the apartments. A teacher loaned me 200 kuai, 100 for a bus/subway card and 100 for shopping. We ate lunch at a restaurant and had Peking duck, along with other tasty dishes, and then we returned to campus to sign the language pledge. With CSI, immersion students sign a pledge to speak only Chinese from midnight on Monday until classes end on Friday, even to each other and even at home in the apartments. On the way I discussed classical music with the student guide for our group, and was interviewed for a small web video about Chinese food (which ended up only featuring my face, and none of my input – oh well). After getting my books and signing the language pledge, I decided to go with Zoe to WuMart, an on-campus store not far from the one I’d eaten lunch at, to get a dry erase marker so I could practice writing characters without using up tons of paper. There was a woman with a cash register right in the aisle, which was really cool, and afterwards I decided to try and make it back to my apartment alone. I had a slight hitch when returning to the office (where I could then locate my bus stop), but a quick glance at the map of BeiDa put me back on course. From there, I easily found my way to the bus stop and made my way home – with minimal stress! I feel really proud of myself for this, and, as a reward, I’ve put off studying to rest and write this journal. This has been a hectic start, but hopefully things will smooth out soon.


Update: that wasn’t a dry erase marker ><

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My host mom and I in front of the CSI office

Blogging time!

Hello, everyone. I’m Mariposa, a 21 year old college student studying abroad in China. This isn’t my first time studying abroad, as I went to Belgium in high school, and one of the things I regret from that experience is that I stopped my vlog updates. This time I’m determined to keep it up, and I decided that I’d share my experiences with the world. I’m already a few journal entries in, so I’ll make a few posts right away, but after that I plan to have a new post up at least once a week, with the occasional extra post if something really big happens! I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts with the internet, and I hope that somebody will enjoy reading them.