While much of China remains a mystery, daily life at Beijing No. 80 High School has become routine after almost two months time here. Each weekday morning I’m up by 6:30 am, often to the dorm mom’s cries of “Qǐ lai le, 起来了!" (Get up!) First thing I peek out my window to see how thick the haze is which often obscures my view of distant buildings. After tugging on my school uniform of comfortable polo, track pants and a hoodie, I decide either to run to the cafeteria to grab breakfast, or eat from my stash in our floor’s refrigerator.
Air Quality Index via Dorm Window View
Almost all of my classes are in the international school building situated a short pleasant walk across campus. Students come from all over the world to learn Mandarin there. I’ve met students from Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Russia, Germany, Uzbekistan, and more. My intermediate language class has a dedicated classroom on the second floor. Unlike American high schools, the teachers switch from class to class while students stay in their own classroom. This means that we have the responsibility to both decorate and clean the classroom ourselves.
Decorating our Classroom
Finished Bulletin Board
The language classes are conducted entirely in Chinese and each teacher has their own unique teaching style. The class schedule is different each day of the week but consists of mainly different language learning classes such as reading, writing, intensive reading, speaking, and listening. We also get an elective or two everyday, some of our own choosing, and PE, a chance to move a bit and be outside. My personal favorite elective is Chinese painting class for two hours on Tuesday.
Painted a Class Poster
Track & Field Day
We get an hour and a half break for lunch at noon, but then it’s back to class until 4 or 5 PM depending on the day. Once the school day is finally over we may either eat in the cafeteria and head back to the dorm to get a head start on studying, or get a signed pass from the dorm mom to go off campus for two hours. Not all students get to leave campus, and this privilege was extended to the NSLI-Y American students at the request of our resident director. However considering we have to be back at the dorms by 7 pm sharp to begin private study time I rarely find it worthwhile to go out during the week unless I need to shop at the local grocery store.
Field Day Procession
Private study time starts with the dorm mom ushering us to our dorm rooms well after the Chinese students already left for scheduled study time in their classrooms. While I’m still not a fan of being isolated in a quiet room for two and a half hours, as the workload has gotten heavier I’ve found that the time passes quickly. My roommate and the other students in the Chinese school get back at 9:30 pm, and we then have time to hang out or hastily do more homework depending on the day’s workload. At around 10:10 pm the dorm mom begins shooing people back to their own rooms under the impression that we might go to sleep then.
Pomegranate, Favorite Study Snack
Unfortunately the workload for my intermediate language class is very heavy, with anywhere between 30 and 150 characters a night to memorize. I am often still studying when the lights shut off around 11:20 pm. If I still have homework I can go to the bathroom to use the dim light in there. Frankly the misery of having to study there is more than enough motivation to get my homework done on time. Finally it’s time to go to sleep, to wake the next morning fresh and ready to learn more Chinese!
Yesterday was another blue-sky Saturday where our NSLI-Y group went to see a major historical site in Beijing together. This time our destination was the beautiful Temple of Heaven (Tian tan, 天 坛)! I hadn’t looked up any info or photos of the temple beforehand, so I went in with completely fresh eyes. The buildings of the temple were surrounded by a large park of evergreens and other trees that had yet to turn their fall color. I was surprised at the sheer number of foreign visitors and locals present, clearly all drawn by the beauty and history of the temple and its gardens.
Imperial Hall of Heaven and gate
Once inside the walls encircling the main temple area, I got my very first view of the colorful towering Hall of Prayer for a Good Harvest and was struck by how absolutely stunning it was in the brilliant sunshine. After a quick group photo we were allowed to disperse and explore the area at our leisure. While walking around the base of the temple I saw no less that 7 wedding photo-shoots, featuring both white dresses and the more traditional red Chinese ones. I’m not surprised that they wanted to take wedding photos at such a lovely location.
The temple was built during the Ming Dynasty (completed in 1420 AD) by the same emperor to build the Forbidden City and is the most famous of imperial temples. UNESCO listed it as a World Heritage Site in 1998. While not allowed to enter the temple itself I snapped a quick photo of the interior where you can see one of the altars.
Interior of Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest
Exterior View of Paintwork and Carvings
Photo taking seemed to be the main activity of the day, by us and everyone around us. On our way out of the main area we got stopped by a group of Filipino tourists who wanted to take photos with us. They were very friendly and taught us a popular way to pose for photos in the Philippines.
After we left the temple we headed to the nearby Pearl Market, a place where you can buy extremely realistic counterfeit goods and stereotypical souvenir items. The majority of the customers were other foreign tourists, and the store workers were very assertive in trying to get us to look at their products. Not interested in buying anything, several classmates and I hastily made our way to the top floor, where a garden balcony provided the perfect view to get a last glimpse of the Temple of Heaven.
Vast Greenery with Temple in Distance
Finally it was time to take the subway back to my host family, but not before a quick pit stop at McDonald’s. I enjoyed eating a green tea ice cream, which while delicious is unfortunately the only flavor of ice cream McDonald’s currently has here. Lastly a classmate and I decided to try out some of the Jack O’Lantern cookies in early celebration of Halloween. While they weren’t the most delicious of cookies, they sure were cute!
Happy almost Halloween!
I had a great time touring the Temple of Heaven and urge anyone who stops by Beijing to check it out!
One of the things I was most excited to experience in China was the food. I’ve been to many Chinese restaurants while in America, but have been told time and time again by both Chinese and Americans alike that they’re anything but authentic. After dining on little BUT Chinese cooking in the past month or so, I finally feel ready to share my initial impressions.
Traditional Hotpot Meal
The very first meal that I had in China, believe it or not, was in the school cafeteria of Beijing No. 80. The two-story cafeteria has around 9 service windows on each floor. Most serve different kinds of Chinese food, but a few do offer Indian and Western cuisine. Although not fine dining, the vast majority of dishes are quite tasty and portion sizes are huge!
School Dining Hall
Food Service Windows
Local eateries are plentiful, and generally inexpensive. Within a 10-minute walk from school you can find a wide variety of restaurants. A small worn-down shop on the side of the road sells piping hot buns and a signature Beijing stuffed pancake-like dish that they make right in front of your eyes. Popular Chinese chain restaurants serve a wide variety of Chinese and Korean food. Familiar chains like McDonalds, Burger King, and Pizza Hut, all have slightly different menus than their Western counterparts. The American students are fond of a small beverage chain called Coco that sells delicious milk tea and fruity drinks for only 8-12 yuan (1.3-2 USD) each! We’ve also quickly discovered that they deliver to the school!
Local Mickey D's
During the National Golden Week holiday, I tried many traditional Chinese meals, both in restaurants and family homes. So far all of these have been served family style. Each member of the family gets a soup bowl, a small plate, cups, and chopsticks. Dishes are placed in the middle throughout the meal, often on a rotating platform. You are allowed to grab with chopsticks anything that looks appealing. However, I suggest that you go slowly. Even if you think that the table could not possibly fit more dishes, I promise you that there is more coming.
Dining Family Style
As the token foreigner I’ve been forced to try at least a bite of each dish that comes to the table, no matter how strange it seems to me. This had led to some very pleasant and unpleasant discoveries. In the space of three days I’ve eaten tree fungus, chicken feet, pig ears, pig hooves, century eggs and my personal least favorite, stinky tofu. (Yes, this is really its name.) Later I ate cooked pigeon including the brain which had a very rich taste, followed by an elegant and delicious red bean paste dessert. Fortunately I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of my meals and had a blast trying all these traditional dishes.
Chinese food is overall quite different from what I’ve eaten in the States, and is in many instances much more delicious! I can’t wait to see what fun new dishes will end up on my table in the remaining months!
I expected to see a stark contrast between China and America the second I stepped off the airplane in Beijing and read my first sign in Chinese. I also knew that there would be differences in little cultural practices evident as I walked along the street. What I didn’t know was that one of those would include tiny plants growing out of the heads of half of the people that I pass by in the street.
Tiny plants? Yes, tiny plants. Or to be more specific tiny plastic plant hair accessories that seem to have become the newest fad in Chinese fashion. Walking along Beijing’s streets you could see them at almost every corner. Sometimes friends, couples, and relatives can be seen wearing matching ones. While this new fad seems strange at first, I can’t help but find something charming in it.
After seeing countless “sprouts” on our trip during the National Golden Week holiday, my host family and I decided to join in on the fun, and bought some at the next vendor we found. While I only wore mine for a few hours it felt quite festive and any of the strange looks I got could be attributed to the fact that I’m a foreigner, and not that I have a plant growing out of my head!
Do you see this trend catching on in America? Or have you already seen these fashionable new accessories sprouting up in your local community?!
A month into our exchange program and we were finally to meet our host families for the first time. It was the first day of the Chinese National Golden Week vacation and I had no idea what to expect of my family when I met them. However the very last thing I expected was to be swept up in the car with 7 other family members right after I met them and taken on an exciting weeklong road trip across China’s Jiangsu province. While there were way too many exciting parts about the trip to recap in a single post, I’ve collected the highlights below! Our first destination was the grandparents’ house. The town was the exact opposite of the developed and urban Beijing. I enjoyed seeing the grandparents’ older style house, dirt floors, chickens underfoot, and a comfortable collection of furniture.
After a delicious home cooked meal the grandpa took me and the other youngsters out to his field to help him pick peanuts. I also enjoyed seeing the grandpa and many other townspeople spreading corn out on the ground with a rake, to dry, or as my host sister put it, “let the corn meet the sun.”
After visiting the grandparents we took a trip to a nearby temple. It was a beautiful place to take a walk with the family.
We next went to the Jin Shan Si (金山寺) temple of Zhenjiang. It was absolutely beautiful, but the photos can speak for that! Unfortunately it was extremely crowded, making climbing the many flights of stairs littered around the area quite dangerous.
My host family & I on a Golden Week Adventure
Next I really enjoyed the old style water town my host family took me to! We had plenty of time to wander the narrow streets and try the tasty food set out by street vendors! We even took a ride in one of the boats!
One of the last evenings on the trip we stopped by TaiHu Lake, known as one of the bigger lakes in China. We had a lovely walk along the lakeshore, and I got to see the sunset over the water.
Our last stop on the trip, and a rather unexpected and unplanned stop at that, was at the ocean side! My host sister and I put on fancy dresses for a little photo shoot on the beach.
I’m so thankful that I had this opportunity to get to know my new host family and explore China outside of Beijing in the most exciting of ways!
During the National Golden Week holiday my host family and I went on a lengthy road trip to visit their family and friends. A favorite part of staying at my host sister’s grandparents' rural home was getting acquainted with her adorable pet rabbit, Mai Xiang Yu ( 麦 香 鱼 ). Mai Xiang Yu is also the Chinese name of my host sister’s favorite sandwich at McDonald’s, the Filet-O-Fish! To be called a tasty fish is a little strange for a name of a furry rodent, but I find it endearing. The cuddly white bunny with black ears and eyebands is only four months old and now lives with my host sister's grandparents as she is too busy to care for it while keeping up with her demanding schoolwork.
My Host Sister & Her Rabbit
Not having seen Mai Xiang Yu in the month since school started, when we first arrived at her grandparents’ house, my host sister quickly ran to the rabbit cage to exclaim “He’s gotten so big, so fat!” as she petted him and scooped him up into her arms. The entire visit she couldn’t stop mulling over how big he’s gotten, at the same time providing him a constant supply of food ranging from dry corn to fresh lettuce. Her grandfather said that the rabbit would even eat meat, much to my host sister’s despair. Despite its rapid growth and strange diet, Mai Xiang Yu appears to be very happy and healthy.
Snacking on Fresh-picked Peanuts
My host sister clearly loves her pet and when it was time to leave she shared her disappointment about not being able to care for it herself. I hope that she gets many opportunities to visit Mai Xiang Yu and her grandparents, in the future! Maybe I will get to come along again too!
Mural on Garden Wall
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.