Friday, July 18, 2014

Weekend Adventures and Other Fun Shenanigans

I am terribly sorry for taking so long to update you all on my adventures. Between class, homework, exploring Beijing and still trying to find time to sleep, updating regularly has been proving difficult. But, to make up for my lack of updates, today I am giving a "masterpost" (as it is often called in Internet Land) of these past couple weeks and the amazing adventures I’ve been having. So, without further ado....

FRIDAY JUNE 27th - A Stroll Through The City
    If I remember correctly, this day was the first day in several that the sky was blue and the air was clear, so my friends and I decided to take advantage of this rare occurrence and head out into the city. With our student survival guide in one and hand a bottle of water in the other we began our exploration. Our first destination was Beijing's national library. It is a short walk or one subway stop away from our school so we figured it'd be a neat local attraction to visit. 
   Some interesting facts about the National Library of China. Apparently, this is the library to go to. It is the biggest in all of Asia and one of the largest in the world. So being the self-professed book lover that I am, I felt it my duty to see what this literary monument had to offer.
   The result? Well, I didn't read much, mainly because none of us wanted to go through the trouble of acquiring a library card (which you needed to actually read any books) but it was indeed HUGE and apparently home of some of the most comfortable chairs in the world. When you first walked into the building you were met by a huge wall of glass windows that looked into this large room of books and tables with many people studying, reading, and sleeping. Directly to your right is an escalator taking you up to the next floor, a short ride on this quickly revealed the expanse of this place.

The pit of books
    As you can see in the picture above, they weren't joking when they said this was one of the largest libraries. But, if you don't think this is impressive let me tell you, this is only one part of the library. There were other rooms and hallways that we didn't explore as well as a whole other building.
   So, seeing this ginormous library and all the people working at tables I thought of my library at JMU and how which ever floor you are studying on hints towards the urgency and amount of your work load. With this library, I imagine you must be pretty bogged down with work if you choose to sit in the center of this pit.

   While exploring the second floor we stumbled upon a whole hall of chairs, all filled with people sleeping in them. The must have been some of the comfiest chairs in the world because nobody looked like they were getting up any time soon.

The front of one of the library's buildings

    So after we had see our fill of the huge hall of books and comfy chairs, we made our way down the road to the Bamboo Park, or Zi Zhu Yuan Gong Yuan. This park is a beautiful refuge from the hustle and bustle of the city. With it's cluster of bamboo patches, stone walk ways, arched bridges, and lakes covered in lily-pads it was really nice to just causally stroll through the area.


    We spent most of the day just walking around, talking, and admiring the beautiful landscape. It was also a lot of fun to see other local Beijingers going about their daily life. In China, and especially cities like Beijing, parks are an important part of the culture. Though many are marketed as tourist attractions, it seems to me that their primary purpose is as a way to escape the roar of the city and relax. It seems especially important to older people and their daily lives. We walked by so many groups of older men and women doing taiqi and dance routines and playing all sorts of card and board games. 

A view of the river with the city scape behind.

Random little disney world, smack in the center of Beijing.
Not quite like the original though.

       This park is one of my favorites that I have been to so far. The Temple of Heaven park was gorgeous but I loved this one because it was so peaceful and not very crowded even though it was Friday and the weather was beautiful.

They even had a little fishing area for locals.
       We strolled the day away until we were all tired and our feet were sore. But despite the aches and pains we opted to walk back to campus as opposed to taking the subway. Along the way we stopped at some sort of noodle fast food restaurant that Max was familiar with, they had several of them in California and he said it was very good. 
       The restaurant was crowded and full of people so while Max and Eric waited in line I saved a table for us. When it was my turn to get in line and order I had prepared exactly what I was going to say to order my food, I have master the art of pointing at menus and using exaggerated hand gestures. However, the lady at the cash register went of book and suddenly I had no idea what she was asking or what I was supposed to say. She wasn't exactly a patient sort of person, plus it didn't help that a line was quickly piling up behind me. Thankfully, a kind stranger come up next to me and told me what she was trying to ask so I was able to return to use the correct hand gesture to indicate what I wanted. 
      After dinner, and a nice rest in the air conditioning, we headed back to campus to prepare for the next day, when we would be climbing the Great Wall of China.

SATURDAY JUNE 28th - The Great Wall - Take 2
     The Great Wall of China! As those of you who have been following my blog know, this was my second time going to the great wall, but I promise you it was an entirely different experience from what I had before.
     At the way too early hour of 8 o'clock myself, my roommate, and all the other CET Students stepped out into the already burning heat of the day and onto a bus. The ride from campus to the wall took roughly 2 hours, most of which I slept through on account of it being so early and all. Once we arrived at the bottom of the road that would take us to the wall I quickly realized it was the exact same placed I'd been before. The portion of the wall I have now visited twice is called Mutianyu and is one of the largest and most well preserved portion of the wall. 

My roommate 舒放 (shu fang)
and my friend Mario as we wait
to begin walking towards the wall.
A map of our section of the wall
    After several of us purchased lunches and water at a nearby Subway (yes, theres a Subway restaurant even at the base of the Great Wall) we were told when and were to meet and set loose on the Great Wall. It was then that I understood, we were actually climbing up to the Wall. We didn't have the luxury, like I had previously, of taking a cable car up, instead we climbed up stair case after stair case after stair case to get to the wall. So now I can actually say I climbed the Great Wall.

stairs upon stairs upon stairs

Our first sighting of the wall!

So close, the wall is so close
        Within a couple yards of the wall, and at the top of the mountain we decided it was lunch time. For me lunch consisted of a loaf of bread and dried cranberries. Not exactly five-star cuisine but it was fine at the time. Plus, the sweltering heat (it was upwards towards 90 degrees) and the climb had taken my appetite for anything but water. Then, once we'd munched our fill. It was time to clamber over the last stretch before we were actually on the wall.

Victory! We made it!
舒放,Kiera, and Eric

Where in the world is my JACard?
Showing my JMU Pride

CET was here!
     Tired, sweaty, dirty, and filled with accomplishment we meandered our way down and away from the wall, got on the bus, and made the 2 hour journey back to the school, officially all of us a Hero of China!

FRIDAY, JULY 4TH - 798 Art Gallery District
    After surviving another week of classes and our 3rd test, we went off into the city to explore one of the more unique portions of the city. It is a district in beijing that once was a bunch of factories built by East Germans. Today it house one of the leading concentration of contemporary art galleries. It's this really cool area. It's like an eclectic, factory, neighborhood, where you have no idea what you're going to see when you turn the corner but you do know it will be something cool. And the art wasn't restricted to certain buildings and corners. It was everywhere, hanging from the street, lining the sidewalk, carved into the walls, and sitting on a table. The whole are was chock full of statements, and thoughts, and ideas made visible. No, I'm not going to say I liked or even understood all the art that I saw there (and I only saw a fraction of the whole district) but I did appreciate it. Especially in a country that is so controlling about the right of expression, seeing a whole district dedicated to turning thoughts and feelings into things you could see and touch I thought was truly amazing.
   In terms of the pictures I took, I'm not big on photographing exhibits (for me taking pictures kind of depletes the meaning of being about to actually go and see it in real life), whether they be museum or art or what not so I don't have many pictures here. But what I'm putting up is, I think, an interesting sample of what 798 had to offer even outside of the exhibits.

This is from the first exhibit we saw.
It's a horse completely made out of

A typical street lined with graffiti murals
An interesting mural depicting Chinese and German relations
These graffiti suit men where everywhere. They gave me
the sense of always being watched and controlled.

Interesting combination. On one side you have a child
crying behind bars, on the next you have Captain America.

It's a

An outside view of some of the exhibits. Here you can
definitely see how it may have looked when it was still
an operating factory.
Then...there's a plane wing, just chillin'

I'm just gonna leave this here for you guys

This translates to, not interesting.
My friends and I took it as the Chinese version of
"Nothing to see here" which is, of course, ironic as it was in
an art gallery filled to the brim with things to see.

      When our exploration of 798 came to a close my friends, Eric and Max, and I ventured off to another part of China to meet with Eric's roommate. One of the many things that makes CET such a strong language immersion course is that part of the program is being assigned a Chinese roommate who is there for you to practice talking with and give you tips about how to improve, 24/7. However, up till that point, Eric's roommate had been MIA. He had a lot of things to take care of since he was graduating from university and wasn't able to move into the dorm till several weeks after the program started. The day before he moved in he decided to take us out to dinner with some of his friends.
     We went to another portion of the city that had a surprising number of westerners, I think it is because there are a lot of universities and schools in that area, and experienced our first Chinese rush hour. The picture below shows what the subway looks like during rush hour in Beijing.

Ladies and Gentleman, the legendary Beijing Rush Hour

   After, making our way through the waves of people, meeting up with Eric's roommate Ethan, and by some miracle finding a Taxi we made our way to the restaurant. It was a family style sort of place with lots of students and people around our age. There we met several of Eric's classmates and had a really nice dinner. We were there for a solid couple of hours just talking and laughing. Ethan order loads of food (roast duck and dumplings included of course) and made sure we always had at least some beer in our glasses. Ethan's friend April told us about her plans to study in America this coming semester and we talked about the differences between America and China. All in all, it was really great meeting some other Chinese students and getting to know more about what it's like to grow up in China and live in Beijing.

    We left the restaurant around 10 and, with Ethan and his friend's assistance, got a taxi to take us back to the subway. Now up till that point we had had no trouble what so ever when it came to using the subway. Beijing's subway is fairly user friendly and even has a lot of english so non-chinese speakers can easily figure out where to go. The only catch, is that it closes at 11pm, which we had forgotten. And while trying to get back to the school from the restaurant we ending up going the wrong direction twice. The first time was the station we had met Ethan at. I, with my terrible sense of direction, trusted Eric and Max that we were going the right way. However, thanks to a small subway map lent to me by my roommate, I realized we were going the complete opposite direction we needed to. So we got off and walked around the station to get on the opposite side. This seemed like no big deal until we got off at the transfer and saw dozens of locals sprinting through the station to the trains. It was there that I remember one of the teachers at CET saying how the last trains leave at 11pm, and it was 10:45pm. We joined the sprinting masses, quickly finding the line we needed and dashing through the station. Downstairs and around a corner, our train was there and we dashed on with only seconds to spare before the doors closed. But just as the train was leaving the station we realized that we, once again, had got on the wrong side. We got off at the next station, fingers crossed that another train was coming. Thankfully, with 5 minutes to spare, we made the last train of the night and got back to our dorm with a fun story to tell.

SATURDAY JULY 5th - Another Park
    Saturday we opted for something a little more low key, so we decided to explore Beihai Park. This is a park in Beijing that is more famous than the Bamboo park we had gone to the week before. To prove that, it was much more crowded and you had to pay to get in. The park it's self was beautiful and interesting with a sort of pagoda in the middle as well as a buddhist temple. But, in all honesty I prefer the Bamboo park to Beihai.

The very pretty lake at the center of the park

It's the forbidden city

Prayer cards from the Buddhist temple

The apparently famous 9 dragon wall that we just
stumbled upon while trying to find the exit

SUNDAY - JULY 6th - Hot Pot Shenanigans
     That Sunday one of our teachers took my classmates and me to get a tradition chinese dish called Hot Pot. Now, I have had hot pot before and loved it so I was certainly very excited, but my classmates weren't entirely sure about the whole concept so my teacher wanted to show them how amazing it can be. I like to say Hot Pot is a little like fondue, except replace the cheese/chocolate with boiling water or oil or some sort of spiced water. All you do is decide what you would want to eat, stick it in the water for the appropriate amount of time and eat it. 
    We went to a popular mall a couple subway stops away from our school, and while waiting for our seats got a chance to wander around some shops. Overall, it was a very fun and tasty break from the mountains of homework I had been wading through earlier that day. 

Aren't we adorable

Well that's all for now. Keep an eye out for my post about our midterm trip to An'Yang and prepare yourself for loads of pictures.

Until then be safe, be happy, and remember

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