In the hour long bus ride from our school in Beijing’s Chaoyang district to the Juyongguan (居庸关) Section of the Great Wall, I couldn’t help but wonder what seeing the famous landmark would be like in real life. One of the greatest man-made wonders of the world, the Great Wall in my mind had become this greatintimidating thing, a concrete representation of finally being here in China. I was both excited and nervous; excited to finally climb the wall, but nervous that it wouldn’t live up to my exaggerated expectations. As the bus made its way into the mountains my anticipation grew.
Finally we pulled up to our stop and I got my first glimpse of the Great Wall. The sheer size of it was impressive, coupled with the knowledge that it stretches far beyond what my eyes could see at any one moment. After taking copious group photos and selfies at the base of the wall we began to climb. One of the first things I noticed was how steep the section we were climbing was. Some of the steps were as high as my knee. It wasn’t long until we were all short of breath.
Thankfully due to the slight chill and gray sky there were very few other people on the wall as we marched on. Races were run, snacks were eaten, and even more pictures were taken. All in all, by the time we had packed up back in the bus I was fully satisfied with my first trip to the Great Wall. I can’t wait to explore it more and possibly try to climb an unrestored section at some future date.
In the past few weeks since my arrival, I've adjusted well to life at Beijing No. 80 High School! I'll write later detailing my daily schedule in their International School, but here I'd like to describe the school's setting and campus.
BJ80 is located in Chaoyang District in a relatively quiet part of town. Beijing itself is quite spread out, and with the amount of green space on campus it was a relatively easy transition from living in the suburbs of southwest Michigan to living in one of the biggest cities of the world.
The school has an entirely self-contained campus that is walled off from the rest of the city. It has three main gates through which we can exit the school and explore the town on our few free hours in the afternoon or the weekends.
The campus consists of a system of buildings connected by wide walkways, crossing green yards that provide lots of area to roam. There are both girl and boy dormitories, classroom buildings, a dining hall, gymnasium with pool, auditorium, athletic fields as well as many other features of a large well-equipped high school.
Our first Saturday in Beijing was warm with the most brilliant bright blue skies. Our NSLI-Y group headed to the famous Tiananmen Square ( 天安门广场 ) and toured the National Museum of China. The first thing I noticed upon entering the square was the sheer size of the square itself. It certainly wasn't hard to believe that it is one of the largest public squares in the world! The second thing I noticed was the number of people flooding the square. We had to be on constant alert to make sure our group was sticking together. This was also the first time that I got asked to take photos with Chinese tourists, but it certainly hasn't been the last!
The National Museum of China
After taking a second to look around and snap a few photos we headed to the National Museum of China. The museum had a wide range of exhibits mostly centering around Chinese history and art. I had two personal favorite exhibits. The first was a collection of many diplomatic gifts given to China from other counties. This included the porcelain swan statues that President Nixon personally picked out to give to Chairman Mao Zedong on his monumental trip to China. My second favorite exhibit was On Sharks and Humanity sponsored by the group WildAid. It featured a number of pieces by Chinese artists all promoting shark conservation, and in particular banning the sale of shark fin soup. You can see more about the exhibit here.
Art at National Museum
Once we finished up at the National Museum we headed to a nearby touristy street to do a little window-shopping and pick up some lunch.
Seeing Tiananmen Square with my own eyes after so many times in only photos and videos struck home to me that I'm really in Beijing. I can't wait to explore more Beijing landmarks in the future!
One of my greatest passions is creating art. For the past 9 months, I had the pleasure to learn about Chinese Gongbi (工笔) painting from a talented professional artist that I met through our local Confucius Institute back home in Michigan.
The process of Gongbi painting consists of first outlining delicate designs in black Chinese ink on specially prepared rice paper which is then mounted on a wooden board. After this, multiple washes of colored pigment and more ink are applied to bring the painting to life. Like the art of Gongbi painting, learning Mandarin requires a lot of time spent patiently building up layers upon layers of knowledge and lots of attention to detail before you get a beautiful end result.
I'm very excited to be both learning Mandarin in language immersion classes and continuing my Gongbi painting in a Chinese art & culture class at Beijing No. 80 High School.
Gongbi Painting Design Book
My painting of one of teacher's designs
Gongbi painting supplies
Original design, 17" x 21", work-in-progress
Abigail is currently spending a year abroad in Beijing, China with the NSLI-Y program. She is excited to share her experiences with family, friends, and others on this blog.