So we’re about halfway through the semester (which I am extremely disappointed about), and so I thought I’d take a little time and talk about a few things that I wish I’d had or done since being here. Over all, I feel like I prepared pretty well for being gone for three months, but there are a few things I wish I had. In my effort to be a pro-traveler and only bring the absolute necessities I managed to eliminate an in-between jacket for right about now when it’s 45 degrees out and raining. I have my wonderful down winter jacket, which is great in Wisconsin, but rather overkill for Beijing. A trench coat or nice fleece jacket would have been helpful instead of having to get creative with the layering. More clothing in general would be preferable; I brought a checked bag, a small overnight bag, and a backpack. Considering I am limited in where I am able to travel during the semester, and there are not huge breaks in which to do so, there was no reason to pack lightly. Girls, take all the clothing you want, you’ll just buy more anyway if you’re feeling constrained in your choices.
Specifically for getting around in China I suggest getting a Chinese bank account first thing if you can. It’s extremely easy and makes paying for things so much easier. The big app in China is WeChat, and if you have a bank account you can use WeChat to pay in most stores, order delivery, get a cab, pay your phone bill (which you will have to do), and rent bicycles. You can also use it like Paypal to pay other people, but all of this has to have a Chinese bank account linked to your WeChat account. It is entirely worth whatever hassle it is to go to the bank. Especially if you are used to biking around Madison, you’ll want the option once you’re here.
But on to more fun things! We finally visited the Great Wall last weekend for an overnight excursion. It was a night reprieve from Beijing, where the air pollution that day was in the 400’s. Beijing measures air pollution by its PM 2.5 number. This is the number of fine particulate matter in the air, which is smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Smaller matter is actually worse because it can get into the blood stream from your lungs. The pollution hasn’t been particularly horrible but it was really bad the day we left Beijing to go to the wall, hence why the pictures you see are really smoggy. The area of the wall that we went to is a less touristy part and is really nice because we saw some of the renovated areas, and areas that are more ruinous. I have been to the Great Wall three times, and I’ll never get sick of it, there is too much history to not be in awe each and every time.
This time though what made it special was that we stayed in someone’s guest house for the night right under the wall. The village was up in the mountains and so we had to disembark our bus and get into the family’s cars, which they then drove up these windy mountain roads. When we arrived it was dark out and so this was actually rather terrifying, but the next day on the way down was absolutely beautiful. The family fed us on their balcony and then we had a fire where we roasted marshmallows. That makes it seem pretty luxurious, and assuredly the people we stayed with were well off in comparison to their village, but the living arrangements were very different from what we were used to. Our bed was just a long carpeted platform, which six of us slept on. The bathroom was a sloped hole in the floor and they had one sink with running water where we could brush our teeth. The family had a three-room house with one bedroom, a kitchen, and a dining room, but despite not having a lot of extra room, they did have a pretty large flat screen TV.
In the morning we were actually able to look out over the balcony and look at the Great Wall stretching across the horizon. That day’s trip down the mountain was less frightening, although this time they actually had to watch for cars coming up the one way road, whereas last night we flew around corners. Our driver was nice enough to let us get out and take some pictures together, and on such a nice day (the wind came through and took the pollution away), we were happy to see some blue sky.
Last week my Chinese politics class went to the National Museum serves as one side of Tiananmen Square. You’ll know it from the fact that the architects called up the Louvre and asked how big it was so that they could make their museum just a little bit bigger. And so the National Museum is the biggest museum in the world. We only went through the Path to National Rejuvenation exhibit in order to look at how Chinese history is portrayed. It was extremely interesting because there is nothing on the Cultural Revolution or the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. The museum very much seems to be a mouthpiece for how the party wants to portray Chinese history. But hey I saw Deng Xiaoping’s cowboy hat, which he wore to the rodeo so I was happy!
The week after next is midterms, which are slightly different from in the states. Midterms are designated for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week and teachers have to give their tests on one of those three days. During those days you don’t have class save for the class you have a test in. That is the nice part, though I’m kind of sad because I think I will be having my grammar midterm while the election results are coming in. Some of the western restaurants are throwing watch parties which would have been fun to attend. Just yesterday a friend and I trekked over to the American Embassy to deliver our ballots and I have never felt more privileged than when we skipped a 100-person line because we hold American passports. I actually felt kind of bad, but we just didn’t know which line to stand in.
After midterms are over we are taking another excursion to Qingdao and I’ll update everyone then!