January mostly consisted of rigorous studying, as the first semester ended (and winter break began) on February 7th.
Before we could start on our month long vacation for Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), we had to finish our fourth textbook in school and take a midterm exam, which was comprised of the listening, reading, and writing sections of the HSK 4 as well as an additional oral exam. Luckily, with a lot of studying and review, I passed! I think everyone’s Chinese is coming along very well!
The first week of winter break, I traveled to Beijing with some of my friends. AFS lets us apply for independent travel after three months of being in China, so a bunch of Changzhou AFSers went to either Beijing, Hong Kong, or Chengdu.
Beijing was a lot of fun; the G train there only took around four hours, and all in all, it was an exciting adventure. We stayed at F.E.E.L. Inn International Hostel, which is located very close to the Forbidden City, Wangfujin shopping area, Tiananmen Square, and the Donghuamen Night Market. While there, we also got to meet up with some friends we made during the Yunnan trip who live around Beijing (Zacca, Tommaso, and Laura), and it was great to see them again. We visited places like Tiananmen Square, Donghuamen Night Market, Silk Street, the Forbidden City, Yonghegong Lama Temple, the Olympic Park, the 798 Art Zone, and of course, the Great Wall.
Tiananmen Square is huge, but the security there is almost overwhelming. The Donghuamen Night Market has so much tempting and strange food, from pineapple rice, to dumplings, to scorpions, to snakes, and everything in between. We bargained hard in the Silk Street shops, putting our language skills to good use, I’d say. The Forbidden City is majestic and giant, with elaborate architecture and incredible details. The Lama Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist temple, is peaceful, with monks casually strolling about and the scent of burning incense in the air. The Bird’s Nest stadium in the Olympic Park, especially when illuminated at night, is an epic sight, as are the other impressive, tall, glowing buildings surrounding it. The 798 Art Zone is so hipster, with small galleries and cool coffee shops on every corner, plus the random street art. But out of all the things we visited, the Great Wall was by far my favorite.
I wish everyone could visit the Great Wall, because it’s truly amazing and is an unforgettable experience. My friends and I decided to go to the Jinshanling section of the wall, which is the oldest and least touristy. It was a little over two hours away from the city center of Beijing, but with the help of a Lonely Planet guidebook, we figured out how to get there. The Wall itself is huge and really deserves the title “Great”.
It snakes alongtop of the mountains as far as the eye can see. The weather when we went was perfect: not too cold and no wind. And we probably only saw a total of ten other people on the Wall, so it was very peaceful and enjoyable. The Wall itself is majestic and ancient-feeling. I wish we had had more time to climb the Wall (I also understand now why people always saw they “climbed” the Wall rather than “walked” – it’s tiring with all those stairs!), but we had to hurry to catch the last bus back to Beijing, or be stuck pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Because we were running out of time, we decided to take a “shortcut” down a narrow dirt path that winded through the mountains down to the base of the Wall, but it turned out to be more of a hike / climb than a walk when the path became very steep downhill, and we found ourselves sliding down in many areas. At the end, we made it back in time, and survived our impromptu hike. So all in all, my trip to the Great Wall was quite the adventure, and a memory I’ll never forget. It was really a dream come true to see the Great Wall in person.
One downside of my Beijing trip was a money problem. I withdrew money from a Bank of China ATM, but it turns out the money the ATM gave me was all counterfeit, so I pretty much lost almost $100, since you obviously can’t use counterfeit money anywhere. I was stunned, to be honest, to receive fake money from a credible ATM. This strikes me as a big problem in China if ATMs can distribute counterfeit currency.
As a whole, I loved Beijing. It has so much history and culture, beautiful temples, palaces, and gardens, street vendors, outdoor markets, and museums, but it also has a very modern side, with the skyscrapers, enormous shopping plazas, and array of restaurants of all kinds. Perhaps being from a capital city myself, I could resonate with Beijing’s atmosphere. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to visit the capital city of one of the most important countries in the world. I’m sure I’ll be back sometime in the future.
Chinese New Year (春节 – Spring Festival, as they call it) was on February 19th this year, but I wasn’t able to celebrate it with my host family. I unfortunately had some family issues at home in the States, and AFS / NSLI-Y were kind enough to let me return to America for one week to be with my family during that time. While it was nice to go home for a bit and see my family, it was also very strange-feeling. I’ve become very accustomed to my life in China and I really love it, so it was kind of wierd leaving. Anyways, half a year down, half a year to go. I hope time doesn’t go by too fast. I’m loving every moment in China. 一天比一天丰富。But before the next school term starts, I have to finish my winter break homework!!