Classes officially ended for second-year Chinese on Tuesday, and finals were wrapped up by Thursday morning. That whole week was passed by spreading cliché-like sentiments around our dorm (“It feels like we just got here yesterday!” and “This has gone by so fast!”) and spending as much time with one another as possible. Nostalgia had come out in full force, as we fondly looked back on our past two-and-a-half months abroad. But we also grimly acknowledged that the 37 of us would most likely never reconvene again.
Regardless, we were grateful to finally begin what we are calling “our true summer vacations.” Our time abroad has been rather rigorous. Every weekday 14 classmates and myself, being second-year students, would have class from approximately 8:30 to 12:10. This chunk of time was divided into four periods; two 40-minute lecture classes and two 40-minute discussion classes. There were three discussions sections, each with five students and a Chinese grad student as a TA. Discussion class was run essentially the same as it is at Madison. We reviewed new grammar patterns and words and ran through examples, with everyone participating.
After class, we would head over to “便宜街” (“Cheap Street”) to buy lunch, which would be from food carts or restaurants; regardless, meals never cost more than three US dollars.
Once we had eaten, we individually met with a Chinese 辅导人(tutor) sometime in the afternoon, who is an undergrad at either Nankai University or Tianjin University. Over the weeks, the 辅导人们 have become more friends than tutors. Then, we would spend about two additional hours doing homework and studying.
After closing ceremonies on Friday, five friends and I headed to 青岛 (Qingdao) for the weekend. It was a tearful goodbye. About a dozen of our friends stayed with my roommate and I in our dorm room until we left for the train station around 3:30.
When we did leave, it was very difficult… Not only emotionally but physically! Because we were all flying out Monday from 北京, we had decided to go to 青岛 from 天津, but then leave from 青岛 to 北京 on Sunday. We would spend the night in a hotel in 北京 near the airport. However, this meant that we would bring all of our luggage with us to 青岛, which was a huge feat. Most of us had two suitcases and what would be two additional carry-ons. Luckily, two TA’s helped us lug our baggage out the 宾馆, past the building our classes were in, through the outer gate, and to the curb. They also helped us hail cabs, which took a while because upon looking at our luggage, the drivers would shake their heads and drive off.
We finally found willing drivers (although a couple people had to take a cab alone), and we all made it to the train station easily. We met up there, headed through security checkpoints, and arrived at our gate. We got in the boarding line early in order to ensure we had space to pack our suitcases onto the small luggage racks between cars.
It was a hassle, but we managed to do it, and then we relaxed on the five-hour ride to 青岛. Upon arrival, we exited the train station quickly (a smooth journey until we ran into three flights of stairs; luckily, some very nice Chinese men stopped to help us carry out suitcases up), and eventually managed to find a van and cab to take us to our hostel.
The next day, we went to the 青岛 brewery. Tsingtao Beer is pretty popular in China (Tsingtao is especially popular in 天津, where its price is oftentimes lower than that of a bottle of water), and was the first brewery in the nation. It was established by Germans, and manufacturing started in 1903. A strange phenomenon of 青岛 is that, since the 90s, 莥嗟?people have packaged beer in plastic bags, which we found kind of comical.
After the brewery, we went back to the hostel and bought lunch. We ordered two plates of spicy fries clams, which is a characteristic cuisine of 青岛 people. The clams are called “ga la,” and they were delicious. Then, we walked to the 青岛 harbor. Although the weather was crappy (it had been raining all day), there were a ton of people there, hanging out on the small beach and walking along the harbor. We saw a lot of vendors selling small, live 水母 (jellyfish), cooked starfish, and shells.
Soon, we walked back to our hostel, but we passed through an outdoor market on the way. There were many fresh fruits and vegetables, live chickens and live seafood, including clams and lobsters, dead squid, skinned whole chickens, other raw meat, and bakery items, including bread and 月饼 (moon cakes). But we passed it up and returned to the restaurant we had been at only hours before. We ordered 凉拌黄瓜 (cold-tossed cucumbers), our individual plates of “ga la,” and sweet and sour tenderloin. After, we spent the rest of the night at the hostel, watching movies and talking.
Sunday morning, we returned to the market for breakfast, then went back to the hostel to pack up everything, check out, and leave for the train station. Our train to 北京 didn’t leave until 2:25, but we arrived to the station about two hours early. Again, we got in the boarding line early, and again we managed to store all our suitcases on the train’s luggage racks.
Getting to the hotel in 北京 was an uneventful, if costly, trip, and we spent much of the night together in the same room talking. We were all on different flights, so we wouldn’t see each other at all the following day. Some of our friends that had stayed in 天津 for our last weekend were also spending the night in the same hotel, so we were able to see them again as well. However, it was a bittersweet occasion.