Winter in Beijing: Holidays, Haircuts, & Hospitals

So the last few months have had their ups and downs, as to be expected at this point in my study abroad experience. Most notably, I’ve been trying to get out and explore more of the city, had my first haircut and hospital experience of the year, have been to some professional development events, and received a visit from my friend Hannah. Sort of on a more daily basis, I’ve also been eating some really yummy foods, hanging out with my classmates more, going to KTV, celebrating friends’ birthdays, exploring the wintery lights at Sanlitun & Wudaokou, and wrapping up the first semester of classes. My ‘Macroeconomic Theory’ professor brought us cookies on the last day of class, and we even had a really fun night after the final exam for our ‘Chinese Politics and Public Policy’ class where our professor went out with the whole class to a nearby bar. That’s definitely a memory I will never forget, and I’m thankful to have had such cool professors this semester who have really engaged with us as students.

Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas have already passed, and as I knew from experience it would be, they were both pretty unfestive and sad. Nevertheless, they were celebrated, Beijing style! For Thanksgiving, I went with some American friends and some international friends to a Thanksgiving dinner at a nearby cafe. The food was actually pretty good, including turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, bread, wine, and 3 kinds of pie. We also ended up just sitting around the table after we ate talking about random things for a few hours. Pretty accurate of how we usually celebrate at home.

Christmas was a little more sad. Christmas Eve, I went with Hannah to Solana Lifestyle Park in Chaoyang for dinner at La Pizza. I forgot how much I really love the food there, and the “laoban” was even so kind and gave us free espresso, tiramisu, and amaro after our meal. All the lights and big Christmas trees at Solana also really gave off a festive mood. Christmas Day happened to fall on a Monday, and being in China, we still had to go to school. Not going to lie, I may have cried in the cafeteria alone during my free period. Pretty sad. But things picked up later in the day. My Chinese class had a small Christmas party and gift exchange, with lots of food, chatting, and Christmas songs. After class, Hannah & I made gluhwein and ate Christmas cookies, I shopped for presents for my friends, and we joined them for dinner & KTV later that night.

Haircuts & Hospitals

As far as life goes in general, I finally decided I would be brave and get my haircut here in China. I had some bad experiences with horrible haircuts before, so I was worried, but I ended up using Dianping (China version of Yelp) as well as recommendations from friends to find a cute & cheap salon.

I knew it would happen eventually, but I ended up going to the hospital for the first time since coming to China in June at the turn of the month. Turns out, I had a 39C fever, so I was prescribed antibiotics via IV. 3.5 hours one day & 5 hours the next, plus another few days of oral antibiotics. The hospital was exactly as I remembered. Still “fast-food” in organization, pretty public in how the doctors treat the patients, and a little scary and out-dated in general. But as I also remembered, it was pretty effective, making it worth the trip. And I at least felt pretty used to the whole hospital scene, so I wasn’t completely lost going on my own. All in all, being sick just sucks, and being sick abroad is even worse.

Being a Professional

Recently, I’ve also had some opportunities to explore different avenues of professional and academic interest. First, I went on a PKU organized visit to the World Health Organization in Beijing, where we learned not only just about the WHO’s priorities in China, but also about how an international organization functions.

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Afternoon Session

Next, I attended an international conference on infrastructure investment that my Macroeconomic Theory professor invited our class to, hosted at the National School of Development’s Center for New Structural Economics. I thought the conference was really interesting; there were a ton of keynote speeches and presentations by World Bank and Asian Development Bank senior economists, as well as academics from top universities in China, Japan, and Korea, among others. I am really thankful to my professor for inviting us, and thought it was a great opportunity to learn about a topic I’m so interested in, that I would not have had back at home.

Lastly, I attended a lecture with some classmates by former Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei. He talked a lot about the problems facing our world today that affect global governance, and it was interesting to hear the perspective of a top Chinese diplomat. We also had the opportunity to ask him questions on issues ranging from the South China Sea, One Belt One Road, and China’s foreign policy goals more broadly. He mostly echoed the official government positions on the issues, but it was still interesting to hear how he argued his points, and I think its always valuable to listen to different opinions.

Around Beijing

Recently, I’ve visited two of my favorite places in Beijing: the Yonghe Lama Temple and the 798 Art District.

I really love the Lama Temple due to its architecture and atmosphere, with smoky incense and monks strolling around, and this time visiting, I actually learned more about it and noticed some new things. It was built during the Qing Dynasty, and as such, many of the signs are in 4 different languages: Mandarin, Mongolian, Manchurian, & Tibetan. I thought that was really interesting, having recently visited Inner Mongolia, and reading about some of China’s ethnic minority policies in class. After visiting the temple, I walked around & looked in some of the shops nearby that sell all kinds of “Tibetan” crafts and souvenirs. I also visited the nearby Confucius Temple & Imperial College, which is where the officials would study and the emperor would worship Confucius. After, I got a coffee in the adorable Yonghe Cafe & later got hotpot in Beixinqiao / Dongzhimen.

I’ve actually been to 798 twice recently, with different friends, but it’s awesome every time. The first time, we went to the Zhu Bingren museum, which really impressed me due to the detailed bronze sculptures. I also learned he was inspired by a fire that took place at Tianning Pagoda in Changzhou, where I lived before. We also went to a few photography exhibits, and the Center for Contemporary Art. The 2nd time, we went to a really amazing exhibit at Hyundai Motorstudio on social mobility and urbanization, which was really thought-provoking, modern, and cool. Then we just wandered around little artisan shops, and looked in a cool record store. There were also lots of street food guys, so of course we ate some “tanghulu”. We also stopped for some amazing matcha tea at the cutest cafe. Anyway, I really enjoy spending time at 798. The cafes there are always so cute and yummy, the art is really interesting, and the atmosphere is so chill.

Additionally, since my friend Hannah was visiting China for the first time, we went to the Great Wall. This time, we went to the Water Great Wall north in Beijing’s Huairou District, and it was way cooler than I even expected. Since its now freezing, the lake there was frozen, giving the scenery a really wintery feeling. The Wall itself was amazing, as usual, and it was really fun to explore a new section that’s so different from the others I’d been to. We also stumbled upon a barren chestnut forrest, and the workers there let us pet their horses/mules. So random but kind of funny. We also had a coffee in the little town there, and the coffee shop ended up just being a family’s living room. So we sat by their fire, drinking our coffees, as the parents sat at the kitchen table, and the little boy played with his toys nearby. Also random but fun. China is just kind of like that sometimes.

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