Year 2: Semester 1 Week 12

Hey all,

I'm back from a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend spent in Beijing, and I have a lot to share with you!

Arriving in Beijing by high-speed train
Beijing is an interesting city, geographically larger than Shanghai and a bit less modern, but more historic and official in terms of government sites, since it's the capital city. The layout of the shops and buildings, the design of the subway system, and other features of the city were pretty comparable to Shanghai though, which made it easier to navigate.

Upon arrival, the most immediate difference was that Beijing is further north than Shanghai, and therefore much colder. Shanghai weather has been around 50-60 F or about 10-15 C, but Beijing was roughly closer to 30-40 F or 0-5 C, so I pretty much felt like I had been transported from autumn to winter in the course of a few hours! A lot of people there wore these kind of fur hats that fold up on top, and I had never seen these hats before except on Russian soldiers in movies, so I thought it was kind of cool:

Another difference is that the Beijing dialect of Mandarin sounds different from Shanghai dialect/accent in some ways. I learned in my Chinese class about the character 儿, which sounds like "er", and how people in Beijing like to attach it to the end of words, so the language has a lot more hard "r" sounds in it. For example, Shanghai people say 哪里 or "na li" for the word "where", but Beijing people say 哪儿 or "na'er" instead, a sound which to my Shanghai ear is like a pirate saying "narrrrrr", haha.

As is the case with most of the touristy places in China I've been to, there were far more Chinese tourists than international tourists. I guess it's the same as the U.S., where it's a big enough country that people from one part of the country take vacations to another park of the country pretty often. At the Great Wall, though, there were people from absolutely everywhere.

Anyway, here are some highlights of the trip:

The Palace Museum/ Forbidden City:
The Forbidden City is an enormous palace complex where several dynasties of Chinese imperial rulers lived and governed their empire. Now, it has been converted into a museum with over 1.8 million artifacts, mostly inherited from the Qing dynasty court. While the palace complex itself was detailed and impressive, it was even more interesting to walk through it and examine Chinese calligraphy, paintings, ceramics, jewelry, and sculpture from all throughout Chinese history.

It's a palace in every sense of the word, a huge walled fortress surrounded by a moat with hundreds of different "halls" for various purposes.

View of the palace complex from the hilltop park across the road, to give an idea of the scale



 This hall was one of the more interesting ones. It was a museum full of intricate clocks and watches, from enormous water clocks to small mechanical ones with hundred of moving parts.

Another hall was full of painted vases:

Sculptures and Buddhist artwork were next:

Gold and jewelry belonging to the royal court:

I spent about 3 hours in this place and didn't come close to seeing everything, even though I was moving pretty quickly, which shows just how much there was to see. The photos here are just a tiny sample of the variety. 

The Great Wall- Mutianyu
Of course, I couldn't visit China without visiting the Great Wall itself. My friends and I chose to visit the Mutianyu section, which is a less crowded/touristy section of the wall, and I'm so glad we chose it. The wall is truly incredible in its length and construction, and the panoramic mountain views from its watchtowers can't properly be captured in photos.

First, we took a ski lift up to the wall, which runs along the ridge of the mountain.

Once we were on the wall, we spent a while hiking up and down the stone steps.

My travel friends. I also spent some time with two of my roommates who were also
in Beijing, but they went to the Wall on a different day

One amazing thing about the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is that it has a giant slide down. Yes, a slide, with plastic sleds. For those who have been to Utah and done the Alpine Slides in Park City, it's pretty much the same thing except longer and steeper, with random Chinese warning signs along it. So much fun.

Note: I wasn't gutsy (stupid?) enough to have my phone out while sliding down a mountain on a plastic sled, so the following photos were taken by a friend:

Temple of Heaven
This park and religious complex is where Chinese kings worshiped and performed rituals for good harvests.

Summer Palace
Another palace area built into the side of a mountain. The views from the top were pretty incredible, and we followed the mountain down to the side of a lake, then walked across a bridge to a little island and looked back at how far we had walked.

Jingshan Park
A beautiful park with views of the Palace Museum and the city.

Chinese ribbon dancers

Eating Peking Duck

Beijing is famous for its roasted Peking duck, so we couldn't leave Beijing without trying it! My friends and I went to a famous restaurant and ordered an entire roasted duck to share. I've had duck before, but this was a new level of delicious. Duck meat is oily, dense, and flavorful, and they provide these thin "pancakes" and a sweet sauce to eat with the duck meat.

A chef trims the roasted duck before serving it
The first night, I also tried a duck meat wrap with vegetables from a street food place.
At a street food place, 2 ducks roasting in an oven
Dashilan Shopping Street
This street was full of delicious snack shops and historic buildings.

Here are some additions to my "interesting English of China" collection.
This Obama-Mao "ObamMao" tshirt
I don't know why, but bathrooms always have the funniest signs:

Anyway, for this trip, we didn't have any native Chinese speakers in our travel group, so I had to use my Chinese a lot to communicate. It was good practice, for sure. While I still have a lot of trouble understanding and being understood, I feel so proud of the little moments when I notice improvement. It was nice to reflect on how much I've learned since coming here, and to contrast finding my way around Beijing with how much I struggled when I first came to Shanghai. For example, it sounds silly now, but when I first moved to Shanghai, I didn't take the subway for almost a week after I arrived because I couldn't figure out why my subway card wasn't working, and none of the customer service people really spoke English. Even though the subway system has maps and stops labeled in English, I was so nervous about getting lost and not being able to find my way back. The people from NYU New York will probably laugh at this, but I had never really been in a city as big as Shanghai, and the combination of being in such an enormous city and the language/cultural barriers made me feel swallowed whole. Now, on my first day in Beijing, though, I just went to the counter, bought a subway card with my simple Chinese vocab and hand gesturing, followed the signs, and it was a world of difference because I knew what to expect. I could just go into a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant and order food and recognize some of the dishes, etc. I'm starting to ramble, but I guess my point is that exploring Beijing was a really useful benchmark for how much I've learned, and a confidence booster that I've at least learned enough to navigate a completely unfamiliar Chinese city with some level of success. (Still got lost a lot though, haha- I have the world's worst sense of direction).

A related side note: I have no idea how people managed to travel before smartphones, because I use mine for everything from maps/directions, to translation, to ordering Didi (Chinese version of Uber), to paying for small purchases (mobile payment is nice, not having to deal with cash). Thankful that I live at the time that I live in, where this kind of helpful technology exists. And, as always, I'm thankful that I get to live the life I live and see so much of the world.

Anyway, thanks for reading and hope you have a wonderful week.

Hugs from Shanghai,


<< Previous Post