University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Least Restful Break I’ve Ever Had

I’ve been back from our week-long break for a week now, so I’ve recovered enough to finally write about it. I think I needed a break from break more than I needed a break from school. Here are the highlights:

First, we saw the Bell and Drum Towers, which were used starting in the Ming Dynasty for time keeping, security, and educational purposes. I always love seeing stuff like this because it always reminds me just how old China actually is, and just how long China has been an established, powerful civilization.

After the towers, we meandered to the nearby Muslim Quarter. Xi’an has a large 回族 (Hui) population, which is an ethnoreligious minority of Han Chinese practitioners of Islam. As such, Xi’an has a very interesting culture, characterized by a rich blend of Chinese and Islamic culture and history.

After some delicious 肉夹馍 (widely considered the world’s oldest sandwich, as it dates back to the Zhou Dynasty, around 1000 BC), a build-your-own fresh fruit smoothie vendor, and some haggling at the markets, we proceed to the Great Mosque of Xi’an, China’s largest mosque.

Though we could not enter the main building, we really enjoyed seeing the surrounding gardens and auxiliary buildings. The grounds were beautiful, serene, and very peaceful. The mosque was more reminiscent of China’s Buddhist temples around the country, which highlighted the cultural blending of the entire quarter.

Then, as the sun was setting, we rented tandem bikes and embarked on the bike ride on the Xi’an City Wall. It was first constructed in the 14th century to define and protect the city. It is 14km around the whole square, and it was amazing. This bike ride was the best thing I have ever done in China, and that is not an exaggeration.

We finished off the amazing day with some delicious 面 (biang biang noodles). The name “biang” is one of the most complex characters in Chinese, and the noodles are as delicious as the character is complex.

We wouldn’t go to Xi’an if not to see the Terracotta Warriors, so we reserved an entire day for that. Despite many difficulties with transportation to the warriors (we managed to turn what should have been a 1-hour journey into a 4-hour escapade), we successfully made it to the site. It was breathtaking, and I still can’t quite comprehend the magnitude of what we saw. It is really difficult to conceptualize how old they are, and how much man power it took to build all the warriors by hand. The Terracotta Warriors are, in my opinion, one of history’s greatest wonders.

After a few more days in Xi’an, we took a train to Huayin, where we climbed 华山 (huashan), one of China’s most sacred mountains. It was challenging, hot, sweaty, and incredible rewarding. The views were more than worth the climb.

After the hiking trip, I hopped on a plane to South Korea, and spent the next several days touring in Seoul. I am so fortunate to have been able to go to Seoul and to have had the opportunity to see another country in Asia, because it was so incredibly different from China.

On our first day in Seoul, we took a tour of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, which was one of the most interesting things I have done this entire summer. I love visiting historical sites and relics in China — I think it is so interesting to witness where history was made and future-altering events took place. The interesting thing about this DMZ tour was that history is still in the making in that region. We weren’t seeing a past conflict that has now been turned into a museum — we were seeing an active site for political tension, and I am interested to see how this area continues to develop.

The rest of our time in Korea was spent hopping from cute cafes to little bakeries and perusing the endless street markets. During my time in Seoul, I fell in love with Korean food, learned a lot about Korean history, got to see a culture so vastly different from China’s and the United States’. I can’t wait to go back some day.

This week of tourism gave me a greater understanding of China than I had before. Seeing the Terracotta Warriors taught about Chinese history. The diversity of Xi’an’s population taught me about differences in Chinese culture, by region. Experiencing South Korea’s culture gave me a greater understanding of Chinese culture.

After such an amazing week, it was a bit of a shock to have to jump right back into studying vocab and practicing grammar patterns, but such is life. After my next final on Friday, I’ll have finished two semesters of Chinese, with just one to go for the summer…加油!