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
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