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.

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 

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 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!


Quick Update and Beihai Park

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!

[SPOILER ALERT] The Lama Temple doesn’t have lamas…

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.

My First Trip to 798 Art District!

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.


I just wanted coffee and then this happened…

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!



I am not a morning person but I woke up at 6:45 am for this…

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.