Tag Archives: Beijing

Tempus Fugit

Life is like a roller-coaster; the following is a peak-and-trough analysis of the past two weeks. My least favorite moment in Shanghai came when I said goodbye to some good friends I had made throughout the last two months. I am relocating to a second internship in Beijing. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, and sure enough, the next high would present itself with the long awaited arrival of my hén hǎo de péngyou, Terry. When I met Terry in Calculus class, I never would have expected that three years later I would be waiting for him at the airport in his native country.

 

my-bestfriend-terry

My best friend Terry.

 

In my previous posts, I talked about the meaning of food and how excited I was to try authentic Chinese cuisine. I did not fully comprehend how dangerous it would be to order my own meals. Most of the time it was hit or miss but more often than not I would regret it later when nature called. Eventually, I learned my lesson and started cooking my own meals, always alternating between McDonald’s and KFC for lunch, much to Terry’s dismay. Over a span of four days, Terry restored my faith in Chinese food as I tasted Shanghai with virgin lips.

Finally, it was time for us to leave for Chongqing where we would meet Terry’s family. Terry’s father and mother were very welcoming and showed incredible hospitality. They arranged superb accommodations and placed reservations at the finest restaurants in Chongqing. China’s economy has seen tremendous growth over the last few decades and as a self-made business man, Terry’s father offered me practical life advice. He asked me to call him shūshu (uncle) and showed me a glimpse of the luxurious life of the Chinese elite.

 

chongqing-hotpot

Chongqing hotpot.

 

We toured the city, enjoyed bubble tea drinks at an exotic zoo-themed café and went to the most famous hot pot restaurant in the city. Chongqing is near Sichuan and boasts the spiciest food in the country. Naturally, they thought I couldn’t keep up. Dish after dish came and I proved I had a stomach of steel. At the culmination of the meal, Shūshu’s friend, who is the president of a university, presented a nice gift that featured original postage stamps from all over China.

Later we went to a famous night club and watched a performance from the number one DJ in China. This was one of the most memorable nights of my life. Chinese people are not known for being liberal dancers and I saw this an opportunity to share my culture. I jumped on the empty stage when the DJ started playing hip-hop music and soon I was lost in my own world. I opened my eyes only to be blinded by the spotlight. As I looked across the sea of people, I realized they were all frozen; a thousand eyes fixated on the Egyptian-American dancing wildly before them. At first, I was intimidated, but then I encouraged the spectators to come on stage and dance with me. One by one they came until the stage was filled with Chinese people dancing around Terry and myself.

The next morning, I felt excruciating pain as my stomach fought the side effects of the hot pot. I mustered up the last of my strength to attend the home cooked meal that Shūshu had prepared. Although I could not eat much, the food looked and smelled delicious. Afterward, we enjoyed a scenic view from his company office overlooking the famous Yangtze River. The following morning, they arranged a “goodbye” dinner with an assortment of Shūshu’s acquaintances. I did not know it at the time but I was sitting next to one of the most powerful men in China. We laughed and shared stories using Terry as a translator to overcome the language barrier. At the end of the meal, they poured their drinks into their baijiu wells, which is the highest honor you can give someone.

I was sad to leave but at the same time, I was ecstatic to see my sister, Mel. I arrived in Beijing on my birthday and had dinner with Mel. Afterward, we met Val, my Russian friend, for a night on the town and celebrated my birthday in style. We made many new friends. My new co-workers here in Beijing are very kind and have gone to great lengths to welcome me to their city. I am excited to experience the rich history that Beijing has to offer. From the Great Wall to the Forbidden City, and the terracotta warriors in Xian—I want to see it all. With just under twenty days left in China, I cannot wait for the new adventures that await!

 

reunion-with-my-sister

Reunion with my sister.

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Khalid’s First Impressions of China

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Culture Shock in Forward and Reverse

Upon arrival in Beijing, I was terrified to cross the street. Mopeds, taxis, three-wheeled vehicles, cars and buses all vied jealously and chaotically for a place in the flow of traffic, and there seemed absolutely no rhyme or reason to the process. I did not want to lose my life in a traffic accident on the first few days in China, so I made sure to stick close to a local, moving when he moved, and stopping when she stopped. Each street-crossing was exhilarating. Everything was new, foreign, and picture-worthy, from the ubiquitous red-lanterns hanging outside buildings to the colorful reds, blues and greens of temples.

Now I cross the street with ease, not even thinking twice about it. I hardly even look twice when I see the donkey pulling a cart of walnuts amidst the metropolitan traffic. The street-vendors, lion statues, sharply-dressed security guards standing in their glass boxes, and even the fried-duck heads piled up in a cart for sale hardly cause me to bat an eye. I feel at home here, or at least accustomed to daily life in Beijing.

I think that culture shock inevitably occurs when thrown into a completely new situation, especially when one does not speak the local language. However, there are varying degrees of shock depending on the country, the nature of the program, and the individual. Studying abroad in Beijing allows one to choose to what extent he or she wants to be immersed in the culture. Because it is a huge metropolitan city and the capital of China, there are plenty of areas, bars, and restaurants to go to that feel more American or “Western”. I have tried to stay away from those places as much as possible, and to instead seek out the more typical Beijing. Although I am taking nearly three hours of Chinese class four days a week, in addition to time spent with my Chinese tutor, my program is still predominantly based in speaking English. I think that this was a good way to first experience China, but has definitely created a cushion for the level of cultural shock I have had to face. If living with a host family or taking courses all in Mandarin, the shock would have been far greater.

Nonetheless, I’ve definitely had my fair share of the phases of cultural shock, purely due to the inevitable fact of living in a foreign country. Being away from family and friends has been challenging, especially when facing personal challenges that call for someone you are close with to talk to. The most acute shock I have felt, shared by many of my colleagues, is tied to food. I find it amusing that for someone with little relative interest in food, it could become such a central part of my homesickness. Never before have I realized how much bread, cheese, tacos, and a good juicy burger and fries mean to me. Comfort food is definitely real. But everyone finds ways to cope, whether it be indulging in that overpriced burger at a western-style joint, or buying produce at the local market to make a yummy batch of guacamole with your friends.

What I worry about is reverse culture shock. Now that I am finally starting to feel at home here, what will it be like to go back? Parting from all of the great people I’ve met here will be sad. Seeing family and friends again will be great, but it will be so hard to encapsulate and communicate what life here in China was like, and all of the incredible experiences that I’ve had.

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Return to the Rural

The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.

–          G.K. Chesterton

 

Now that I have been back in New Hampshire for a little more than three weeks, I feel like I can finally write about my experience of readjusting to the United States. I have heard of reverse culture shock and the effects it has on people who return to their country after a long absence. I find it interesting, though, that I do not feel any major reverse culture shock. You would think that a place as foreign as China would make culture shock and reverse culture shock worse than, say, if one went to England. However, at least in my case, I have slipped in and out of China quite smoothly.

This is not to say that I do not notice differences between China and the US, or sometimes miss China or feel happy about something in the US. I often chat with Chinese students and others at my college about life in Beijing, the places I traveled, and when people ask me to tell them all the best parts about my trip I cannot help but remember fondly those experiences. I would not say I have had any major heartache, though, because I have this strong feeling in my heart that I will definitely return. And this feeling has made me content, as well as allowing me to focus on my current studies back here in America.

If I were to say the thing I miss the most about China, I would tell you that there are many things I miss: affordable travel, the delicious food, the language and classes, the people – I miss them all. I am also happy to be back in the States because now I can always find American foods, like good hamburgers and ice cream (yes, all unhealthy, I know!), and it is always comfortable to use your native tongue. I also enjoy how I am now studying multiple subjects, because in China I studied only Chinese. It feels nice to get a break from intensive language study, and the language study served as a quality break from all these other subjects.

I think the oddest thing now that I am back at my small liberal arts college in rural New Hampshire is just how different life is. Not only is the culture in America a mountain across the valley from Chinese, but living in Beijing, one of the largest cities in the world, and then returning to live in a town with less than 5,000 residents has been a drastic change. In Beijing, I would bike every morning along with countless other itinerants – whether they were driving cars, riding bikes, or taking a taxi or public bus – to Tsinghua University. On my way, I would stop at a food peddler and buy a chicken and egg fried sandwich and stop at a street side vendor who sold milk tea. In the small town of New London, I live off campus and make breakfast every morning, then catch a ride to campus. There are no bikers, there is snow everywhere, and you only see some cars on the road. The way of life is so different that I am actually surprised I have not had more difficultly readjusting than I have.

My semester in Beijing has definitely changed me. I feel confident about living in cities, and I also know that I would love to return to China and continue my study of Chinese language and culture. Studying abroad was definitely a highlight – if not the highlight – of my college experience!

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Here’s to Growing Up

It would be a terrible lie if I dared say China has not changed me. It has, and what I have learned here will guide my path in the future. Not only will the knowledge of the Chinese language help me, but the general insights into a country so vital to America’s and the world’s future will be exceptionally invaluable.

Since I have arrived in China, I have learned a lot about what it means to be Chinese. Beijing has been good to me, since it is the cultural hub of China, a place that has long been the capital, and along those lines has famous buildings to accompany a profound history. By visiting the Great Wall 长城 and the Forbidden City 故宫, I get to witness the strength of imperial China and observe a culture distinct in the world’s collage. It has humbled me and expanded my knowledge beyond the typical Western history most know in the United States; I get to put into perspective modernity and the shifting dynamics of East and West interactions.

I had the opportunity to travel in China to see just how big the country is. I stayed for a weekend at an oasis in the Gobi Desert of Inner Mongolia 内蒙古, a province in China that borders Mongolia. I also took an overnight train to Xi’an and back, lending me the chance to see the world-famous Terra-Cotta Army 兵马俑. Every journey I get the chance to make only further embellishes the depth of history and culture in China. When riding a camel in the Gobi, I could not help but wonder who might have come before me in China’s 5,000 year history, or when I finally saw the Terra-Cotta Army and realized that it was 2,200 years old – that is simply unfathomable!

Additionally, I have learned what I want to do in the future, from my study abroad experience. I am from a rural town in Maine that no one knows of outside the state, a town so small I had never heard of it until I moved there, yet I have survived in one of the largest metropolises in the world, Beijing. I feel like I could live anywhere in the world after this and be happy there, too. I have also met some great people from all over the world, forging some bonds that will never die. Life, success, money – what would it matter without companionship? It is something I realize now that having companionship is an integral part to achieve a happy life.

It is indubitable that my career path post-degree will be impacted by my experience here. The Gilman Scholarship provided me with a positive mark on my résumé, which will help towards future employment in study abroad field. Additionally, if I choose to continue studying literature or philosophy, I will have to look at China’s contribution to the fields. I have already taken an interest in the philosophies of Confucius, Mencius, and Lao Tzu, and why would I end this interest?

There are still many more days here in China, but I can already confidently say that this country has bettered me, perhaps even more than I an aware. With every milestone I achieve, I am able to self reflect and I will always be grateful for this experience and how it has impacted me.

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Doing My Best in Beijing

After living and studying in China for the past three months – it is going by so fast! – I have had to deal with some ups and downs, a few odd experiences, and the typical feelings encountered by a person abroad, that of homeward desires and foreign adventures. Just like normal life, life as a transient expatriate entails ups and downs that I have had to learn to ride like a spiteful wave, and my reactions are reflected sometimes by the descriptions of culture shock. However, I have been to China before for two months, and so I have not undergone any severe culture shock like the chart accompanying this blog suggests. Nevertheless, I will go through each phase and address how I experienced or did not experience its effects.Culture Shock Graph

As with any new adventure, in the beginning of study abroad I, like everyone else, was excited to begin what at the time seemed like life afresh – or at least college life. In our orientation I got to see many of the most famous places in Beijing, namely the Forbidden City 故宫, Tiananmen Square 天安门广场, and the Great Wall 长城, and stayed in a nice hotel while all the activities were preplanned for me. I was carefree and I loved it; the purity of freedom was exhillerating. I was also lucky to get a few crystal clear days to see some sights, like the Olympic Park. Life is good when you need not do anything but relish beauty!

Of course, after about a month of living in an apartment buying my food and taking care of my life and academics again, I dropped down from this proverbial high, but I did not begin to get annoyed with parts of Chinese culture or become homesick. Instead, I got depressed because there was a period of about five days where the Beijing smog got so bad I could barely see some of the buildings outside my room’s window. I felt trapped inside my apartment and soon my will to go out and see parts of the city began to fade. It took some effort and timing to get out of this state, namely by monitoring weather and making sure on every good day each week to go and see the city. I made a point of this, and for about a month every weekend I would visit another famous part of China for the day, such as the Temple of Heaven 天坛, the Summer Palace 颐和园, or the Temple of Confucius 孔子庙. This lifted me of out the smog induced depression because it gave me something to look forward to each week.

I have been lucky to not feel homesick so far. Of course I have missed my family and especially my girlfriend, who is difficult to contact because she is studying abroad in Paris, but I have never felt helpless or even thought about going home early or giving up Chinese. I feel that this is because I have been away from my family for two months before when I lived in Sichuan, China – if you can even call two months ‘living’ in China. But I am happy that I am completely comfortable living abroad. Not only does it benefit me now, but it also means that I am open to living abroad sometime in my future, if I so choose.Right now I am comfortable in a routine of work inspired by a saying from Confucius: “Rotten wood cannot be carved” (真是朽木不可雕也). By rotten wood I think Confucius means someone who is idle and non-diligent, someone who cannot be taught because of the way they live and study; someone who is unlearned only because they are too lazy to work for knowledge. I was inspired by this quote and have been trying hard to purge myself of my ‘rottenness’ and learn as best I can. I used something I love – philosophy – and wove it into a purpose while in China, connecting me to Beijing and Chinese culture while honoring my own interests, and now I have found my place.

I think that as long as I am purpose driven and remind myself every day why I came to Beijing in the first place – to study Chinese! – it is difficult to have homesickness, even if I miss the people I love, because by doing my very best I honor them. In the end I must not forget myself or the purpose I came here for: my friends will not, my family will not, nor will my girlfriend. If I genuinely care for them, I must honor my original purpose. And I honestly would not have it any other way.

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Breaching Bulwarks

“Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends.  You are constantly off balance.  Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.”
– Cesare Pavese

In China, I have found it fascinating to witness how I can be a foreigner, a 外国人wàiguó rén, yet still feel often enough like I have not tread so far as I actually have.  Every day, I have class where the teachers speak exclusively in Chinese, but the moment a break occurs, my cohorts and I revert to English.  I have come to feel the trap of being a foreigner, being set in one’s ways.  It is a struggle to keep myself from speaking English all the time, and I often fail.  I spend much of my time speaking with other Americans in my program for hours in English.  Call it a defense against homesickness, a flirtation with familiarity, but the blunt fact is that it is hard to make the most of this short experience as an expatriate.

Out of the people I know who study abroad, not many people go to a country as foreign as China.  Many go to Australia, Great Britain, Spain, or maybe Ireland.  Often, many of these students do not have to deal with what I have to: they can go out into the streets of Brisbane and talk to anyone they want, or go to a play or the movies in London without any language barrier.  Though I am here in Beijing to study Chinese, there is a problem with the fact that I had not studied Chinese much before coming.  Therefore, I cannot just go and make Chinese friends because the conversation would be over very soon!

Though, this is good because I am learning a lot about the language, it has made my experience far different, than if I had decided to study abroad somewhere in Europe.  It is very easy to get around and do things in Beijing, and my Chinese is good enough for most common situations that arise, but I often feel separated from the city.  I know I am an American, the Beijingers know I am, and that is something so evident here in China, whereas if I were in Europe, I would not look so foreign.  It is a struggle sometimes because the environment is so foreign, and I am so foreign from the environment.  Here in Beijing, it is tough reminding myself that I need to be studying Chinese.  I tend to withdraw into myself and the small American corners of the city, as a natural way of trying to make myself feel comfortable.  It is like I need to try tricking myself into being lost in Beijing sometimes, because only when I stop watching American shows and start listening to Chinese music, do I really take advantage of my experience here.

The brutality of travel can be mitigated and overcame, as long as I make the most of everything.  Becoming a foreign recluse, hiding from Beijing is not a way to experience the city at all.  Exploration, living with an adventurous mindset – that is where growth is sowed.  To trust strangers and live with only the bare essentials has long-term benefits, that one cannot gain from trying to remain cozy at home.  You learn the most from falling down.  Staying off-balance in a foreign land will teach me so much about who I am, who other people are, and the relationship between me and them.

My biggest hope is that my Chinese language will grow, so that I can make more use of the study abroad experience and maximize everything about spending a semester in Beijing.  I have had a great time here already – I can only imagine how great it can be if I can communicate better!  As my Chinese teacher would say, “好好学习!” (Study well!)

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