The Truth about Pollution in Beijing

In my experience over the past five months, the pollution in Beijing has not been anywhere near as severe as I had thought it would be.  From what I have learned, a decade ago the pollution in Beijing was much more serious because a lot of factories operated on the outskirts of Beijing.  However, around the time of the 2008 Olympics, in order to create a much more attractive Beijing and reduce the pollution, many factories were mandated to move further outside the city to other areas of China.  In the time following, the pollution (within Beijing) has lessened significantly, however I still see about 30-40% of people wearing masks on any given day.  On days where the pollution is more serious, it is common to see about 80% of people wearing masks (while ironically I’ll still see people smoking cigarettes even in the midst of it all).

The buildings in the background should be crystal clear…instead you can see the haziness of the pollution on a mild day

Days here can range from really no pollution at all and a perfectly blue sky to finding it hard to breathe while walking under a dismal grey sky.  I purchased a reusable mask because there have been days when my normal walk to class in the morning didn’t feel right.  When the pollution is at its most serious, it gives me cold like symptoms of stuffy nose and sore throat.  I love checking the air quality index (AQI) on my iPhone weather app every day; it’s a great way to know how serious the pollution may or may not be without having to go outside.  0 – 150 range I feel is normal, anything from 150 – 200 I will consider wearing a mask depending on how I feel, 200+ I am wearing a mask for sure.

I love this mask over disposable ones because I can wash it after 10-15 hours of wear and continue to use

The pollution is actually most easily seen as soon as the sun goes down.  Just look under a streetlight and you will see some sort of hazy fogginess hovering under the light.  On one day when the pollution was over 300 (which is considered hazardous to health), I was walking to the subway at night.  It was the eeriest night I’ve experienced in Beijing; the pollution felt like an eerie fog cast over the street.  When I reached the subway station it seemed that the pollution had actually seeped into the subway underground.  It was totally bizarre, and I’ve never experienced anything like it since.

Overall though, I feel that the pollution is not nearly like what I thought it would be, and I’m not too concerned about its effects on my health.  I am very much curious to see if there is any difference as we transition into spring and more plants start to bloom.

Zhongguo Jams 1

I’m dropping the links below for the clean and explicit version of arguably the most popular Chinese rap song in Beijing right now…this song is played e v e r y w h e r e!

Before coming to Beijing I was really curious about the Chinese rap and hip hop scene, then quickly discovered Made In China by Higher Brothers.  Definitely worth a listen if you’re a rap/hip hop fan!

Made in China (Explicit)

Made in China (Clean)

What Studying in Beijing Is Really Like

One week from today my class time studying in Beijing will officially be done!  It’s a pretty bittersweet feeling.  While Janterm (my winter program I am currently studying under with CET) has been exhausting, and I am excited to see what’s next in store, I am also sad to leave Beijing!  To be completely cliché, Beijing has really become home to me over the last five months.  I feel completely comfortable navigating around the city and I’ve become more or less accustomed to the Beijing lifestyle (still working on drinking more hot water tho).  With that being said, I thought I’d share with you guys what studying abroad in Beijing with CET is really like on a day to day basis, apart from all the fantastic adventures:

I wake up at 7am Monday – Friday, get ready for class, and walk about 10 minutes to my academic building.  I use my phone to buy a cup of coffee for 10 RMB (about $1.50) and prepare for my classes.

I have morning class from 8:25am (do NOT be late) to 11:30am with about 10-20 minutes of rest in between.  Every morning starts with a 小考, which is a quiz on the vocabulary you should have memorized the night before.

What our classroom white board looks like every morning, covered in grammar structures and vocab

After 11:30 I usually have about an hour and a half off for lunch, which is a great time to go to the cafeteria, buy some baozis, or get an early start on some homework due the next day.

The afternoons vary from day to day.  Twice a week I have 副课 which is a supplementary afternoon class in which we usually watch a Chinese movie and discuss related themes.  Once a week we have a practicum class in the afternoon during which the whole class takes a trip somewhere in Beijing (park, museum, etc) related to what we are learning that week.  Usually in practicum class we are tasked to interview several Beijing locals and later create a PowerPoint presentation on our findings.  Practically every day of the working week I have both 一对一and一对二, which are one on one with a professor or two students with one professor.  It’s a great time to get really personalized attention and ask any questions about something you didn’t quite understand.

Conducting a group interview in a local park

Generally speaking, I am not done for the day until around 3:00pm, although it varies depending on what afternoon classes I have.  Usually I immediately start homework and studying for the next day after I am done with class, and the best place to do this is at a local bubble tea shop.  On top of daily assignments, preparing for the next day, and staying on top of long term assignments, I am typically not done until it is time for bed.

While it truly is exhausting, I can’t say enough about how the language pledge and sole focus on intensively studying Chinese every day has improved my language ability, especially in speaking.  Every ounce of hard work here has really paid off, and I am so happy with my decision to study here.  To any current Holy Cross sophomores who may be considering this opportunity with CET/study abroad – please find my email in the directory and feel free to reach out with any questions!  I’d love to talk more about my experience so far!

The Holy Cross banner hanging proudly in the academic building!

The Best Strawberry I EVER Tasted in the Most Unexpected Place

Last Saturday my program took a trip to a village outside of Beijing called Xinzhuang Village, which is known for its commitment to more sustainable living.  The village was about an hour drive outside of Beijing; on the way we passed by crop fields and mountains in the distance.  When we arrived at the village we had the opportunity to go to a local home where we conversed with the owner for about an hour and learned about his daily life, as well as the village’s initiatives for protecting the environment.  We learned how this village specializes in growing strawberries, which our host offered to us to taste.


This strawberry was allegedly grown without interference of genetic engineering, making it much smaller in size however incredibly sweet and juicy.  It truly blew me away.

In fact the visit overall was very surprising to me and pretty much nothing like how I thought it would be.  The streets were clean but deserted.  Overall it was much more developed than I thought it would be; I was picturing a more rural setting with grass and dirt.  In addition, while our host spoke PuTongHua, which is the standard version of Mandarin I study, his Beijing accent was so thick that he was hard to understand.  It was a very interesting day trip and definitely made me more curious about exploring parts of China outside of the big cities.


About a week ago I had the opportunity to return to the Great Wall and experience it in winter.  It was an amazing but totally different experience from when I was there in September.  This time we hiked at a section known as Jinshanling.  This area of the Wall was much more developed and easier to get to the Great Wall itself.  Unlike the part I had traveled to in September, which seemed as though it was untouched since the day it was built, this section of the Wall was highly commercialized, with restaurants and souvenirs for tourists at the base, and even some people selling t-shirts and charms on parts of the Great Wall.  This was less enjoyable to me in comparison to my previous trip; at first it really took away from feeling in touch with the history of the Great Wall and the beauty in the surrounding mountains.  Yet, it also served as a great reminder of how vast and expansive the Wall truly is…

Once I got to the top, an amazing feeling came over me as I took in a birds eye view of the mountains, now so bare but still with such great magnitude.  I was shocked that it was way less cold than I thought it would be, as there was almost no wind.  We ate lunch on the Great Wall (one girl brought ramen noodles and hot water in a thermos – what an icon), and looked out as it continued to snake down and over the adjacent mountains for what looked like forever.  I am so happy to have now been able to experience the Great Wall post-summer and in winter!

New England feel with a Chinese twist

The secret to surviving the Beijing winter (which, with the wind, is arguably colder than a winter on the Hill) is to embrace it and not become complacent.  Sooo, I decided to go ice skating!  Ice skating at Shichahai was a beautiful combination of an ~almost~ New England feel with a Chinese twist; skating on a frozen lake surrounded by ancient Chinese hutongs.  It was so much fun and brought me back to my days skating as a kid.  It was also a great opportunity to talk to some locals who were super intrigued about us being the only foreigners on the entire lake.

Ice Skating among the Hutongs 

Visiting Temple of Heaven

I had the awesome opportunity to check out Beijing’s Temple of Heaven.  During the ancient Chinese dynasties, the emperor would come to this temple standing elevated above the land in order to perform an animal sacrifice ritual which would hopefully please the heavens and bring a bountiful harvest in the coming year.

The temple was absolutely breathtaking – the architecture and every detail just ornately stunning.  I stood and observed it for a long time wondering how long it must have taken to craft.  We could just barely peek inside the dimly lit temple; it seemed to have a throne on the inside, also surrounded by ornately decorated columns and items.

It was fascinating to see how the architecture of the temple changed from dynasty to dynasty, although my favorite model is the current day version I had the chance to visit.  This temple looks so uniquely different from all the other temples in Beijing; I would definitely say it is a must see.

Traditional Chinese Painting Class

This past semester I had the opportunity to participate in a supplementary Chinese culture class on traditional Chinese painting.  We often painted very natural scenes, like flowers or fruits and vegetables, using a traditional Chinese style of water color painting.  It was both challenging and relaxing, and the professor was fantastic!