Hi guys! I am excited to be putting together a mini series on my weekend in Xi’an! In the meantime I wanted to share with you all some pictures from my recent trip to Beihai Park…I hope you enjoy and keep an eye out for my coming posts on my experience in Xi’an!
Hi all – sorry it’s been a while! Undergoing some internet access issues abroad, but that’s all part of the experience right?
I want to share with you all part of my experience at the Lama Temple in Beijing, or Yong He Gong. Sadly there were not actually lamas there…but the experience of walking through the temple leaves me with a feeling I will never forget.
My initial impression of the Lama Temple was its vast beauty – the architecture, the way the bright saturated colors pop, the intricate details – it was almost a sensory overload, yet uniquely beautiful. Throughout the air you can see waves of smoke, and the strong scent of incense envelops you. I decided to burn incense and take a moment for prayer and reflection.
A little background on the temple was that it was built during the Qing Dynasty in 1694 as a palace, but later became a lamasery for Tibetan monks after emperors started living in Beijing’s arguably most famous historic spot, the Forbidden City.
Each building hosts rooms celebrating various Buddha where visitors can pray. Entering the largest building, I was shocked at the sight of this Great Buddha. Standing tall at about 85 feet, this beautiful, glowing golden Buddha was absolutely breathtaking…
Walking through the temple, I felt an almost indescribable wave of peacefulness and tranquility wash over me. I have never felt anything quite like it in my life, this feeling of being content and more in touch with myself.
As the season quickly begins to change to winter, I am looking forward to hopefully going back to the Lama Temple to see it in winter time. I feel that this temple is so special, it would require multiple visits to even begin to brush the surface of its history as a Beijing landmark of Chinese culture, as well as Buddhism in China.
Here are the 7 foods that have surprised me most so far:
I took this picture during my first trip to Pizzahut in China. Pizzahut is really popular in China, along with KFC. The menu was surprising to me – almost completely different from the American menu, and specializing in black crust pizza that I have never seen back in the States. Needless to say, the pizza was delicious, and the matcha green tea cheesecake was to die for!
This picture is from my local supermarket down the street. I had to double take when I saw this gigantic cucumber(?) – my friend and fellow Crusader, Jason, is in the background for a size comparison. I have never seen one this size!
Another food item I was surprised to find here in Beijing? Fantastic Mexican food! If you know me, you know I LOVE anything with avocado, but especially guacamole. This guac at Taco Bar has been my favorite so far, and surprisingly authentic tasting. After chips and guac, my friends and I love to grab tacos here on a night out and treat ourselves.
My absolute favorite snack: Lay’s Wasabi flavored potato chips. Incredible! China’s potato chip selection is completely different from the US – it can often be impossible to find favorites from home like sour cream and onion, sea salt and vinegar, or BBQ. More common flavors here include cucumber, Italian red meat, tomato, etc. However, while you can sometimes find American Classic, my new favorite is Wasabi, which has the perfect amount of spice and mouthwatering flavor. Will definitely be sneaking a bag home with me!
This is a picture of the mooncake I ate in celebration of the Mid Autumn festival in October. I love the designs on top of the mooncake, and I especially love the story behind why we eat mooncakes (check out https://vimeo.com/236684413 to learn more, it’s a great story!) Nowadays you can get mooncakes with almost any flavor, from red bean or green tea, to chocolate or ice cream. It was really exciting being able to try a mooncake for the first time and participate in this Chinese cultural festival!
Still mustering up the courage to try one of these Chinese beef floss pastries. The outside seems to be covered in something with a texture that looks like fur…update to come!
This particular green tea matcha ice cream comes from a traditional neighborhood in Beijing called HouHai. If you like green tea, you will love the strong, almost bittersweet flavor of this ice cream. It was the perfect way to end the day after walking through the busy streets of the hutong and enjoying the sunset on the lake.
Here is a look at 7 of my favorite meals in Beijing so far:
Chinese hotpot! Simply one of the best ways to bond with new friends in China, which you can see in this pic from my first week in Beijing. Collectively, the table orders a variety of uncooked meats, vegetables, mushrooms, potatoes, dumplings, etc and cooks them in a large pot at the center of the table. The experience makes for great conversation and gives the opportunity to sample lots of different delicious foods. After cooking my meats, I love to dip them in the brown colored sauce (seen in the white bowl) which has a peanut butter-like flavor. So delicious!
My favorite breakfast food (honestly, anytime food) – Baozi! At almost any convenience store you can easily find baozi, which are these delicious white buns filled with meat or vegetables. I typically like to order mine with Zhu Rou, or Da Rou, which are various ways of preparing pork. Eating a nice warm and moist baozi can be a great (and cheap) way to start your day or have a snack. I will 100% have to import these to the US when I return home.
Beijingers are generally known to eat a lot of noodles with their food, which I absolutely love! These soupy noodles have a fantastic combination of greens with a spicy, peppery sauce. I could be happy eating these noodles for days.
Because Beijing food delivery closes so early (usually before midnight), and because of the Chinese inclination toward family style eating, it is not surprising that my friends and I have already explored McDonalds in China, which is open late and where you can conveniently order your own food. This is the Chinese Big Mac, which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much the same as the Big Macs we are used to in the States (although I’m convinced the special sauce has been tweaked slightly). It is not uncommon for fast food restaurants to alter their recipes and meals to cater to the Chinese consumer, but this is one distinctly American treat I can count on to be the same as back home.
This is a bowl of spicy noodles in broth offered at the dining hall across the street from my dorm. On a cold day, I love ordering these noodles that make me feel nice and warm. For a great price, these noodles taste great and will leave you feeling full.
While you can purchase egg waffle ice cream in the States, my first time having this Asian-style treat was here in Beijing in an traditional style neighborhood called Nan Luo Gu Xiang. This particular vanilla ice cream was topped with mango and an Oreo and was absolutely delicious. 10/10 would recommend!
One of my favorite parts about studying with CET is that every Friday after class, our professors take the class out for lunch to a different restaurant each week. This picture is from our class lunch at a restaurant that specializes in Sichuan style food, which is a style of Chinese food that is known to be very spicy. This was my absolute favorite class lunch because the food was incredible – from spicy tofu to salty green beans to sweet glazed pork, every dish was mouth wateringly good.
Coming next – 7 of the most intriguing foods I’ve seen in China!
This past week I was lucky enough to get a couple much needed days off in celebration of China’s National Day, which is an annual public holiday marking the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Because almost everyone is off from school and work, this mini vacation was not a good time to travel or visit some of Beijing’s most famous sites; instead, my friends and I decided to check out a slightly more secluded part of Beijing called 798 Art District. Before going, I was super excited about this opportunity because I am currently conducting a research project on contemporary/young adult art in China and its impact on Chinese culture. It was so awesome to be able to see some contemporary Chinese art in person!
Stepping into the art district felt like being in a different world. Most of the galleries seemed to be in abandoned industrial buildings and factories, but all of them seemed to have their own wonderland like twist, for example the giant panda statues and bright pink walls, or the Simpsons and Paul Frank characters outside of one shop.
One of my favorite pieces was a large outdoor mural with really intricate details of buildings and daily life, as well as a changing line of perspective. It looked like a bird’s eye view of a futuristic city. I am really looking forward to going back to 798 Art District very soon and continuing to explore – with so many twists and turns, I feel like I have barely cracked the surface of all it has to offer.
If you know me, you know I cannot start my day without a piping hot cup of coffee.
In a country known for its amazing tea selection, finding a decently priced cup of coffee in Beijing is not an easy task.
My friends and I started on our way to find the perfect coffee shop to study at for our upcoming test; we were headed to a local place one of our roommates had recommended. About 45 minutes of walking later, we still had not found the coffee shop we had set out for. We were tempted to head back to campus, but decided to take the opportunity to continue checking out the area of 五棵松. The area seemed relatively empty, with expansive parking lots and a couple fast food chains (KFC is HUGE here). However, in search of the nearest train station, just slightly below street level we found a hidden area brimming with life.
As we entered it felt like we were suddenly entering an entirely different world from where we came from. Our senses were completely overwhelmed from the live musicians on every corner, the video games being broadcasted on a huge electric screen high above us, the shiny and inviting luxury stores at every turn and the bars and restaurants that sent aromas of delicious noodles and pastries wafting through the air. We were surrounded by dancing neon lights, bold contemporary art statues, and even a giant slide to move from one level of the development to the next.
While I was immediately struck by the modern, and even, to an extent, Western feel of this new wonderland, there were elements that felt, to me, so distinctly and traditionally Chinese – whether it be the locals singing karaoke and dancing on the sidewalk, the delicious smell of hot pot, or the market full of Chinese goods, with everything from jade to tea leaves.
I am even writing to you now from my new favorite coffee shop, Holly’s Coffee, which I came across in this mysterious new world. I could not resist going back because I could not get this place out of my mind. Despite all the beauty and history to be seen in some of Beijing’s most historical and well known sites, I could not help but feel that this new place gave me a vibe that distinctly represented the Beijing of the past and the future.
Today in class I learned a Chinese idiom “古今并存”, which means to exist as old and new simultaneously. This idiom undeniably applies to Beijing, and even more so to this wonderful new location I found. Part of the beauty of Beijing, and why it is so attractive to me, is its constant evolution toward what is new, but also its adaption and celebration of what is old. It creates a truly original place that evokes a feeling I cannot liken to anything I have ever felt before. I love this new feeling of being in Beijing!
Looking back, I am so glad that my classmates and I did not just go straight back to campus that day, otherwise we may have never found this special place at五棵松. I think this experience really emphasizes why it is so important to be willing to explore the unfamiliar, as you never know what you will find or learn!
It’s 8:00 am and I am standing on top of the Great Wall of China.
I’m looking out over the sunlight just beginning to graze over the tops of the trees, and I’m standing strong in the face of the wind that could literally knock me over. In this moment, every difficulty I’ve faced since coming to Beijing doesn’t exist to me anymore, and I know it’s moments like these that I may never have again, and moments like these that inspired me to study abroad in the first place. I feel so incredibly grateful to be standing here and for having the opportunity to study in China.
My classmates and I got up at 6:45 to start our climb. Especially with the wind, it’s colder than you would expect for a September day, and we learned this pretty quickly as we began to hike up the steep trail that would eventually lead to the Great Wall. We are hiking an unrestored section of the Great Wall, which means two things: 1) there will be no other people there besides us and 2) it is a more difficult and dangerous trek than that of other sections of the Great Wall. When we finally reach the Great Wall, we continue to climb as the wind gets stronger and stronger, even climbing some sections of the Wall so steep that they almost feel vertical.
At the highest point, I stop and see water in the distance, and even buildings that look like specks, and I think about how people are probably just beginning to wake up down below, or how my friends on the other side of the world are probably finishing eating dinner or studying. I think about how many people helped build this wall and wonder how many people before me have walked along these stones. By now, my phone has died from the cold, and I am not able to take any more pictures to show to my friends and family back home; I try to soak everything in, from the invigorated feeling washing over me to the beautiful blue hue of the sky. It’s moments like these that I want to remember for a long time.
Now that I have settled into classes and living in Beijing, I wanted to share with you a little of what Beijing looks like from my eyes. If you would like to see more, check out my video at https://youtu.be/GB9xv5RdOB0
Looking forward to sharing more with you all in the coming weeks!
I cannot believe I am leaving for China in one week! When I was applying for approval to study abroad through Holy Cross’ Office of Study Abroad last November, my date of departure seemed so far in the distance I could hardly imagine the day I would be boarding my flight.
In April of sophomore year, after having received approval from Holy Cross, I was in close contact with the Office of Study Abroad in order to apply directly to my study abroad program of choice. I chose to study with CET Academic Programs because of its great reputation among Holy Cross students and staff. It was especially helpful that Assistant Director of the Office of Study Abroad, Angie Woodmansee, had participated in a study abroad program with CET and served as a great resource in answering any questions I had surrounding how I would spend my time in China.
After receiving acceptance into CET’s fall semester program in early May, it was time to begin taking the necessary steps to prepare for my time in China, including applying for my visa, booking my flight, and developing a packing list. CET was incredibly helpful in this regard, connecting me with resources that helped me obtain my visa almost effortlessly. Additionally, they provided suggestions on what to pack, how to get the best deal on a flight, how best to communicate with my family and friends while abroad, etc.
Another crucial aspect in my preparation process has been researching more about Beijing! Although I had the opportunity to study in Shanghai several years ago, I am no expert on Beijing, so I am trying to learn as much as I can before arriving in order to make the most of my time there. I have found it really helpful to read blogs and watch Youtube videos about others’ experiences in Beijing. Reading about historic landmarks in Beijing from guidebooks on China, I compiled a list of about 30 places I would love to visit in Beijing alone!
With one more week here in the United States, I feel in a good position to depart and am thankful for the support I have received in this preparation process. I cannot wait for what comes next!
As I prepare to depart for Beijing in two weeks, I have given a lot of thought to how I want to make the most of my time abroad and develop as an individual. I have set goals for myself including (in no particular order):
Try some new street food (maybe a scorpion?)
Achieve fluency in Mandarin
Connect with HC alums living in Beijing
Visit the Great Wall of China, the hutongs, and the Forbidden City
However, one goal I have set for myself which I am focusing most heavily on right now is to live as a traveler rather than as a tourist.
According to Merriam Webster, a tourist is “one that makes a tour for pleasure or culture”, while a traveler is “one that travels: such as one that goes on a trip or journey”. While there is nothing wrong with being a tourist and site seeing for pleasure, it is really important to me to live as a traveler because I want to live abroad experiencing my own journey, both physical and mental.
I believe that the beauty of study abroad is that I have been given this amazing opportunity to live and study in China for two semesters, and it is imperative that I take full advantage of that. I think that operating as a tourist in a foreign country can provide a disingenuous view of what that place has to offer. By living as a traveler and truly investing in immersing myself in the culture and the language of China, I will have a much better understanding of the culture and country, and I will be able to genuinely say I took advantage of everything I could in my time abroad.
Coming soon: look out for my next post on my experience preparing to depart for China!