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!

 

Xi’an Series Part 1: Traveling to Xi’an

When traveling in China, there are many options to fit every budget and level of comfort.  To get to Xi’an, which is south of Beijing and known for the Terracotta Warriors, we opted to take an overnight train, which would be about an 11 hour journey.

Riding on the overnight train was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and despite not being incredibly comfortable at first, I actually grew to enjoy it.  On board the train, there are rooms no bigger than a couple yards wide, each hosting 6 single beds, with three bunks stacked on top of each other on each side.  Each bed is barely big enough to sleep one person.  At the end of each train is a communal bathroom, fully furnished with a traditional “squatty potty”.

Riding the overnight train is one of the most cost effective but least comfortable ways to travel, however we made the best of this new experience.  There’s nothing like the excitement of being with close friends on the way to a new place, drinking beers, playing card games and talking for hours even after the lights go out.  Finally, exhausted, we climbed up into our narrow bunks for the night.

I lay on my back the entire night, unable to even fully sit up in bed, but the gentle rock of the train felt nice.  We arrived in Xi’an between 7 and 8 and the next morning, and it felt great to get up right away and go take on our first day in Xi’an!

Sushi on Thanksgiving ?

As my first semester in China is coming to an end, I have been reflecting on how much I have learned here, the amazing relationships I have made, how much I have learned about myself and what makes me happy; I truly am the happiest I’ve ever been living here in Beijing, challenging myself and growing every day.  It has been an experience and opportunity that I’m so happy I chose to take.  I am so thankful to have two more months in Beijing before I move to Shanghai!

Carve that turkey up!

Celebrating Thanksgiving here in Beijing was bittersweet – while I missed my mom’s amazing Thanksgiving stuffing, seeing family and friends from back home, and participating in some of our most cherished American Thanksgiving traditions, celebrating Thanksgiving in Beijing made me appreciate all of that so much more, while also making me so grateful for the amazing people I’ve met in Beijing and our memories together.

My two best friends in Beijing, Alex and Jason. Beijing wouldn’t be the same without them!

My program organized a great event in which we were all able to come together and share a Thanksgiving meal.  We had two turkeys, and some of my classmates helped prepare some fantastic traditional (and nontraditional) dishes such as stuffing, mashed potatoes…and spring rolls and sushi.  Who knew you could eat sushi on Thanksgiving??

Two seconds before our Thanksgiving feast got demolished

Overall it was really moving to see how much we have all bonded since the start of our time abroad together, and while I stay here in Beijing during the holidays, it is going to be really sad to watch some of my favorite people go back to the States…