很漂亮长城

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!

The One Where I Find the Central Perk

China never ceases to amaze me.  I found a cafe that is a replica of the Central Perk from Friends, where you can even watch Friends on loop and order beverages based on the characters.  I had the Rachel latte!

Scorpion is delicious. Change my mind.

No, really, it is delicious.  Take my word for it because I tried it last week on Christmas Eve.

One of the most difficult parts about studying abroad for the full year was making the decision to stay in China over Christmas break and be apart from my family and friends.  My take on it was that the best way to get over the homesickness was to take full advantage of a unique opportunity to make this one of the most memorable Christmas’s of all time.  The few of us still here decided to go out for our own Christmas Eve celebration in an area of Beijing called Wang Fu Jing.  At night, it was lit up with neon lights and a big Christmas tree – it almost looked like the Beijing version of Times Square.

After realizing there was a THREE HOUR wait at the only Cheesecake Factory in all of Beijing, we stumbled onto another restaurant which happened to be a blessing in disguise: Café Landmark.  Here we enjoyed Western foods like steak as well as lobster with linguine while trying to figure out how to use a fork and knife again.

Wang Fu Jing is famously known to have a side street where you can sample any kind of “crazy” food, from stinky tofu to scorpion.  We somehow got it in our heads that we needed to try scorpion…

Just moments before being cooked you can watch them wriggling on the skewers, but we still decided to go for it, and one by one we took turns biting them off the skewer.

Sure enough it tasted like the fatty part of a steak…but crunchy.  10/10 would recommend.

Hands down a Christmas Eve I will never forget.

Don’t believe I actually did it?  Click the link here to see for yourself.

Festive!

Boston lobster with linguine
At least they tried…

Biking in Beijing

One of my new favorite discoveries in Beijing is using bike share apps to get around.  Everyone here uses them; from young people to old people, everyone is riding a scooter, bicycle, or moped.  On the sidewalks you can literally see colorful bicycle after colorful bicycle, just waiting to be unlocked and ridden.  The best part is that it is one of the cheapest, easiest, and most convenient ways to get around.  My favorite app to use for riding a bicycle is OFO, but my all-time favorite is Mebike, which lets users unlock electric mopeds to cruise to their destination.

Making the Best Out of a Bad Situation

Over the course of the past semester, I completed my ICIP for Holy Cross, which is a project for study abroad students meant to help cultivate cultural immersion.  I chose to focus on contemporary art in China, and used interviews with local Beijing citizens as a means of research.  While I learned a lot about traditional Chinese art, it seemed that my interview subjects had very little knowledge of Chinese contemporary art or street art, or if it even existed at all.

Last week, I was finally able to see first-hand some contemporary Chinese art, although this opportunity came about in a rather unfortunate way…

As Beijing continues to rapidly develop, it is not uncommon to see this character spray painted over traditional houses or old buildings: 拆 chāi.  When you see 拆 spray painted on a building, you immediately know that there are plans to tear down this structure in order to build up something new.  China works fast – the demolition crew is practically around the corner.  It is a controversial yet fairly common phenomenon.

Sadly, I received news that a long standing and very much cherished branch of Tube Station, a pizza chain in China, was going to be torn down, along with the entire block.  In celebration of the years of enjoyment it brought to the community, Tube Station held a party during its last weekend, complete with free pizza and beers.  In addition, a Chinese street artist by the name of ROBBBB was given free reign of the space to create his signature aesthetic, known to encompass his view of Beijing as an ever changing city, simultaneously developing and in ruins.

I convinced a couple friends to go to the party with me.  As we walked out of the train station we could immediately tell something was off – the street felt dark and quiet in comparison to a typical Beijing street brimming with life and energy.  The entire area seemed completely abandoned, if not for the neon glow of the Golden Arches across the street.  We finally found the Tube Station branch tucked away between gated off areas of construction and entered.

The place was completely transformed – splatters of paint covered the walls, floor, and ceiling, while a light show danced to the beats pushed out by the DJ in the corner.  Already, people stood in line for pizza amidst a mountain of chairs and torn paintings clinging to the walls.  ROBBBB’s own original artwork was also there on display.  It seemed to be a great group of people present, and it was really exciting to see such a great turnout in support of the restaurant.

Overall, despite the grave circumstances, it was a really cool event that I am glad I got to be a part of.  I think Tube Station handled a bad situation in the coolest way they possibly could have, and I loved that they incorporated ROBBBB’s art and vision into this community event.  Here are some pictures from the event:

 

Xi’an Series Part 3: FOOD (a photo essay)

Juicy red dragon fruit
These baozi bought at the Muslim Quarter were spicy and practically dripping with oily goodness
These yellow pomegranates could be seen everywhere up and down the Muslim Quarter – ready to be eaten or made into juice
Dumplings in general are good – but these fried dumplings will change your life!
This lamb meat was so good it practically fell off the bone – 10/10 would recommend
This sesame filled dessert was the perfect way to end the night at the Muslim Quarter
Would you eat this?
With classmates outside the Terracotta Warrior pits – bye for now!

Xi’an Series Part 2: Site Seeing (a photo essay)

The Xi’an Bell Tower – the physical and figurative center of the city
Our first look at the Muslim Quarter, a little before 9 am
Here you can find all types of delicious snacks and signature Xi’an style dishes
Fried seafood at the Muslim Quarter
Just happy to be exploring Xi’an
Xi’an has one of the greatest Muslim populations in China – here we are exploring Xi’an’s Great Mosque
This pit of the Terracotta Warriors seemed like it stretched on forever…
A closer look at the Terracotta Warriors
Staring up at the Small Wild Goose Pagoda
Returning to the Muslim Quarter at sunset
The Drum Tower lit at night was absolutely stunning!
再见!