Friday, June 7, 2013
Our last day in China has arrived. It’s hard to believe two weeks went by so quickly. Instead of having classes scheduled this morning, we mostly had free time to complete our packing. Breakfast was at the usual time in the cafeteria at 7:30am, after which we said farewell to Emily who had to leave BSU at 8am to catch an earlier flight back home. We then had the opportunity to observe the women’s rhythmic gymnastics team practice, who are training for a national competition. I find the flexibility of these athletes amazing, and marvel that they can kick their legs past their head and sit comfortably in a hyperabducted split position. I was also impressed with the overall balance and coordination such a sport entails, because in addition to executing impressive full body movements, they also have equipment to manipulate at the same time, whether it is a ribbon, baton, or ball.
With our remaining free time at BSU, some students went off campus to make some last-minute purchases, while others stopped at the campus market for some snacks for the plane ride. Our last lunch at BSU was a bittersweet one. Although many of us are happy to return to the comforts of home, especially certain American foods and softer beds, we have all thoroughly enjoyed our stay in China and have learned more than we could have expected in such a short time. Sadly, only nine of us are returning to the US, as Hongwei (Papa Guan) is staying in China for a bit longer to spend time with family and friends. Speaking of friends, we’ve made lifelong friendships on this trip, despite the language and cultural differences. Hopefully, WeChat will work at home so we can stay in touch with our friends in China, but if not, there’s always email.
Our bus ride to the Beijing airport went smoothly. Surprisingly, there was not much traffic around noon today, an unusual occurrence around Beijing, so we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to check in and go through customs. Speaking of security, the airport checkpoints were different than what I have encountered for other international travel. After checking our bags, we went through a security checkpoint that was fairly similar to those in the US, minus the shoe removal. I ended up setting off the metal detector for whatever reason (perhaps my watch or the metal plate in my foot), so I got the pat down. But, per usual, the security officers wanted a closer look in my backpack, and it turns out that my bag of electronic cables was the potentially suspicious culprit. But Nick was lucky (perhaps unlucky) enough to get the full treatment from security, who emptied all his bags and questioned him about the contents. The most different part of security was the addition of a checkpoint between the boarding gate and the plane, after our boarding passes had been scanned. At this checkpoint there were two rows of security officials standing at tables. Each passenger had to show their boarding pass and ID as well as take out their liquids again and have their bags searched. The problem with this was that we still could not have liquids more than the one-quart ziploc bag with containers of no more than 3 oz. This meant no water in water bottles, which was a shock to me. I had filled my water bottle in the airport with the expectation that I could take it on the plane full in order to stay hydrated for the 12+ hour flight. Unfortunately, I had to dump all my water before going through this last checkpoint, which meant I did not have any water for the plane. So, as soon as I got settled in my seat, I went to ask a flight attendant for some water, who happily filled my water bottle.
While Nick was sleeping in first/business class in a lie-flat bed, the rest of us spent our time near the back of the plane in coach. We passed the time either sleeping, watching movies or TV shows, listening to music, or reading. The food was Chinese style, but nothing in comparison to the authentic Chinese food we had been eating regularly on the trip. Interestingly during the flight, many Chinese people, at least near my seat, did not regularly sit in their seats, but either congregated in the back to chat or walked the aisles.
Upon arrival in Newark, we followed the crowd to collect our checked bags and go through customs. Here we said goodbye to Sam and Ariel, who lived nearby and were being picked up by their parents at the Newark airport. Then the rest of us got back in line for another security checkpoint in order to enter the domestic terminals for our flights back to Ithaca (or Maine, in Emma’s case). After eating Chinese food for two weeks, we were excited to have some American food again, including burgers, fries, and desserts. Unfortunately, now that we were back in the USA, there’s no more bargaining, so we were required to pay the inflated airport prices for food and other items. Additionally, we no longer had to wonder if the toilets in the bathroom would be “squatty potties,” as they were all full size sit-down toilets complete with toilet paper that could be flushed without getting clogged. Before boarding the plane for Ithaca, we caught a moment for a quick video chat with Hongwei back in China, where it was already Tuesday morning.
When the remaining five from our group (Sarah, Amanda, Christy, Coty, and Nick) landed in Ithaca, we were greeted by friends and family who welcomed us home from our long trip. For me, it was a relief to be in a small airport without many people around and only one baggage claim as compared to the crowds we experienced many places in China. After collecting our bags, we took our last group picture before parting ways. Walking out the doors from the Ithaca airport, the air was crisp and cool, and the sky was clear with bright stars in the sky. Our 36-hour Monday was almost done, and our China trip had come to a close. We have had experiences and made memories that will last a lifetime, and met people who we will never forget.
zàijiàn zhōngguó (Goodbye China)!
Tuesday, June 4, 2013
If I could use two words to describe today, they would be: exhausting and empowering. We began our adventurous day with the Great Wall. After an hour bus ride, where we learned that the Great Wall in its entirety is 5,500 miles long and is known as the longest cemetery known to man as a result of at least one million men dying while building the wall, we hiked up the harder side of the wall. We are such pros, that the easy side was just too amateur for us. Anyway, it took us about an hour and a half to go up and down. While en route, we took many photos, took a few breaks, but continued to climb with great pride in the fact that we are actually on the Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World; this experience definitely made us men. We climbed up “as swift as a coursing river”, and I felt so empowered by this whole experience. Additionally, the whole time we were climbing, we were so humbled, and had so much respect for the people who constructed the wall over the three dynasties. I felt so connected to not only all people on the wall, who all had the same goal: to climb up and down without running out of too much air, but also to the Chinese culture, history, and country.
After our first great adventure under way, and after officially seeing Beijing, we ate at a touristy restaurant that provides service for foreign tourist. Not only was this restaurant different from most of the other places we have eaten at this trip as far as traditional vs. American Chinese food goes, but it also happened to be a store full of handmade goods including porcelain vases and other products, paper cutting, and paintings. This certainly was an experience for us, as we were pretty much segregated from the Chinese natives. I did not know how to feel about this too much, as I myself am technically a Chinese native, but then again it is kind of nice that they have restaurants that have the capability to cater to their tourists’ needs. Although the food was not the greatest we have eaten, it was refreshing, and it refueled us for our next adventure of the day.
Our final stop, but not activity, for the day was what I was waiting for the entire trip, mostly because it was where the 2008 Beijing Olympic games took place: the Birds Nest and Water Cube. At the Birds Nest, thanks to Professor Hongwei Guan’s guanxi (or connections), we not only saved $23 per head, but we also got the privilege to get the ultimate VIP tour. Not only did we get to see all the VIP rooms of the Birds nest, but also we got to drive under the Birds nest on the way in. During our tour we saw the field from the seats where all the presidents sat, the (already mentioned) VIP rooms, a floor that acts as a mini museum of the Beijing Opening and Closing ceremonies, and their new observatory that overlooks the Olympic Park. We were all truly in aw and full of excitement on our tour of the Birds nest. For me, it seems quite fitting that we ended our visit to China at the site where the closing ceremonies of the 2008 Olympic games took place, and I felt so empowered by and connected to the athletes and the games.
After the Birds Nest we visited Water Cube. However, because there was an international, world tournament for Women’s Water Polo, the water cube was closed to the public. But you probably guessed it, because of Hongwei’s amazing connections, we were able to take a quick self-lead tour and watch a few minutes of the tournament for free. The Water cube was spectacular overall from the new water park to the hall of fame from the Beijing and London Olympics. Although it was a short, quick visit to the Olympic park, it was worth it, as we got one last opportunity to feel like celebrities before we left China.
Even though all of us were exhausted after climbing the Great Wall and touring the Olympic park, after dinner we played volleyball against some of the Chinese students here at Beijing Sport University. After several, spikes, digs, and lots of communication, the outcome was pretty even. This was such fun game for all of us, and it gave us the chance to connect with more Chinese students. I feel as though this game empowered us further to become, as Hongwei would say, “global citizens”, and it gave us a fun memory to keep in our minds as we fly back to the States tomorrow.
Overall, I would call today very successful, and although we are all wiped out by the activity today, I feel that we can truly say we have experienced all the high points of Beijing. Even though this trip is coming to an end, I feel so fortunate that I got this amazing opportunity in my life, and today was truly the icing on the cake.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
June 1, 2013
I could say that this day started like any other day, if a typical day starts with a serenade from a tour guide and “Frogger” style traffic patterns. We headed to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, and both can be summed up in one word: HELP! This is one instance where the pre-school “hold onto the rope at all times” method would have helped us maneuver the walkways. This was the first instance in Beijing that we felt the population of 20 million.
Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City are rich with history and it is amazing to stand where so many have stood before us. Emperors, presidents, and millions of tourists have walked the same path, and historically famous events took place exactly where we stood. One famous myth of the Forbidden City is that it contains 9,999 rooms and it would take over 27 years to sleep a night in each room. There are actually just under 9,000 rooms, but walking over the original marble while fighting through fierce crowds to catch a glimpse of the Emperor’s throne it felt like the buildings could have housed over a million rooms.
After our dose of history and culture, we had lunch and were off to the infamous pearl market of Beijing. This was the moment we had all been waiting for. Our bargaining skills began to be sharpened back in Ithaca, and this was the moment of truth. I’d say, based on the amount of bags we walked out of the market with, our training paid off!
This was a tiring day, but China’s rich history that the Chinese are so proud of really shined through and we were able to see first hand what our history books tried to convey in high school. A good day for sure!
- Christina Larrabee
Sunday, June 2, 2013
I'm now used to waking up at 5am and seeing the sun outside my window but luckily I have almost 2 more hours to sleep. Today we were told that the acupuncture class we were suppose to have was cancelled so we had a Chinese class instead. I think a lot of us were disappointed to hear the news. However class was good and We learned more useful phrases that will help us at the pearl market tomorrow such as: Duo shaoqian? (How much?), Taiguile (too expensive), Pian yi dianar (I want a cheaper price), Wo bu Yao le (I don't want it). We continued to practice the different tones of the language and sounds that are hard to say like ü. We also learned our Chinese names. Mine is ai ma. After class some of us tried to play frisbee only to be scolded in Chinese that we shouldn't be playing with all the students walking around us. We had only hit one person on a bike so far...
We went outside the campus gate and looked around at the shops. We found many sport stores and an awesome bakery. There were hot dogs wrapped in a sweet pastry and donut-like things with an interesting tasting power inside them. Many of the desserts looked haochi (delicious). Christie and Ariel got a spur of the moment haircuts that look very nice!
We went to calligraphy class where the professor taught us how to properly hold the brush and write characters. You make the strokes from left to right and up to down. We all got a character that we practiced and then put on a long piece of paper. It said that those who read more will become wise. I had a hard time doing the calligraphy but was surprised to hear mine turned out pretty good.
After class we went to a talent show out on by kids from other places. The woman in charge of the event was a multiple time gold medalist for tae kwon do in 2 Olympics! We taught the kids how to do the Macarena! They also taught us some of their dance moves.
Everyone enjoyed a delicious feast of Peking duck and other yummy dishes with the president of BSU. Numerous toasts were given but my personal favorite was the one for lefties.
To burn off some the calories we had a party hosted by some of the BSU students. We sang many karaoke songs and belted our pipes. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I did a pretty awesome rendition of “Make a Man Out of You” from Mulan. I wouldn't be surprised if my throat hurts tomorrow. We had a lot of fun making new friends and showing off our singing skills. We're looking forward to full weekend!
Today was a fun day with class, the dinner, and the party. While giving toasts at dinner, it hit me how lucky we are to be here and doing the things we able to do. We met many new friends that I hopefully will be able to keep in touch with. Not many people get to go to China and hang with the president of the school. I'm so grateful for this experience and how being exposed to other cultures will only benefit me in the future. Just meeting someone who was in the Olympics was awesome! Getting to have the chance to do that was great.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Our morning began with our first message class at BSU. We were lead into a high tech building equipped with only the best that the university has to offer. Greeted by six new Chinese students, we began our class by learning specific techniques on how to message parts if the face, head and neck. Although it was difficult at first, we soon began to get the hang of the new methods being taught. So parents, if your ever feeling achy and in need of some TLC, you know who to ask.
After class, fully clad in our bright yellow Ithaca is gorgeous t-shirts, we made our way to the office of the Vice President of BSU to present him with a gift. It was the same gift we gave to the president of Chengdu but with the BSU logo instead. The office we walked into was breath-taking with huge black leather couches for us to sit on and walls covered with bright tapestries. It was definitely not your average office, not a place where just any visiting group gets in. Only Hongwei and his connections can make that happen.
By two, we were on our way to the Summer Palace and not even the intense heat of the day could distract us from the beautiful scenery before us. The palace is built on top of a man made mountain over looking a massive man made lake to accompany it. Although the hike through the palace was intense, the view of the lake from the top of the mountain was worth every step. Looking out into the horizon, we swore we could see all of Beijing, and for once, there was no smog in the sky to block our view. Not only was the view amazing but the architecture and paint work of the entire palace was so unbelievable it's hard to describe. It's a good thing china has a huge population because just painting the palace must have required the hands of thousands.
After two hours of spending time in a place literally fit for royalty, we were rushed to the heart of Beijing to watch a Wu Shu performance at the very same school that the famous martial arts master, Jet Lee, attended. The performance was probably the highlight of the day. Between the girl who could literally fold herself into a ball and the six pandas performing Gangnam Style, among amazing acts of martial arts and funny skits, I think it's safe to say we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
We are having some crazy times in Beijing and I can't wait to see what's next!
- Ariel Mack