Long time no talk! Sorry for being gone so long everyone, a lot of things ended up happening! I had my first final, started a new intensive class, had to get ready and go on vacation, came back and got thrown right back into class and just now had a final for that class! It’s definitely a lot to handle all at once. I’m about to tell you guys a LOT of things, so I hope you’re ready for a long update and a sad lack of pictures (sorry!).
So, let’s start with my final for my first class. I chose to take Conversational Chinese—which we take for what I believe is three weeks. This class was just me and my friend Maja, so surprise surprise—we had a lot of conversations. In Chinese. Our class also let out earlier than anyone else’s, so that was pretty radical. Our final was basically us talking to our teacher for ten minutes about some questions we pre-prepared for. So, that class wasn’t bad. It was a bit sudden and every day we did one to two lessons, in an hour, but it didn’t feel too bad to me. It helps that, for me, speaking in Chinese is easiest. So, if speaking in Chinese makes you uncomfortable, I’d probably recommend business Chinese (though you do have to do ‘spelling tests’ every day in Business).
Once this class was over, we were reunited with our classmate, Cait!! Hooray! So now we just finished our 301 class (this is also called ‘Chinese 5th semester’) in three weeks. We are all very very tired. Even now, we already have a paper due on Monday and then we start 302 (6th semester) and do that class in three weeks. The amount of work that you get to do is mind-boggling!
A little bit more about the layout of class (which will be boring): every day we have a listening and writing test (five vocab words, pinyin, English, and the Chinese character, as well as a sentence we have to write down), and we cover two lessons every week. In all, that’s around 80 to 100 Chinese characters every week, and then you have a test every Friday as well. With a lot of new information that you might not be used to discussing. The leap you take from second year Chinese to third year is huge. And being in China while doing it? Surprisingly helpful. You spend a lot of time speaking Chinese inside and outside of class. For example, we go out to eat and order in Chinese and go to the subway station, and have to do things in Chinese, we talk to our tutors and speak Chinese. It just keeps going.
Now that I’ve discussed my class life, what am I doing outside of class? I’m sure you’re all dying to know! My mom even sent me a Wechat message to tell me to update this! I went to Beijing on one weekend! We went on an extremely hot day and saw Tiananmen square and the silk market. Tiananmen square was kinda eerie, when you’re an American and know what ‘really happened’ there. It was very very beautiful though, you’re surrounded by so much ancient history. I can’t say I feel like I stepped back in time—there is too many people and still WiFi available—but I did feel like I was walking in a museum that spanned a really long distance. Speaking of people and wifi, that’s what it’s like in a lot of places! I travel a lot with my family home in the states, and some of the places we have gone have made me feel like I’m in another time or place. Which is weird, because America isn’t that old. Yet here, in China, where I’m surrounded by thousands of years of history, it feels more like the modern time has invaded. So many people want to visit, that their history is surrounded by crowds and glass and ropes to keep you from passing. It almost feels faked.
Regardless, Beijing was a lot of fun! I didn’t get anything at the silk market but plan on returning to get my sister a present! I already have presents for the rest of my immediate family, so that’s pretty good. I still need one for one of my best friends, but y’know the rest will come. I still have three more weeks. Which simultaneously feels so short and so long.
Once we got back to Beijing, I dedicated myself to classes again, and didn’t really do a lot. However, we did go to karaoke. Again. To celebrate one of our classmate’s birthdays. Again. A lot of people on this program have summer birthdays which is kinda radical! How cool would it be to spend your birthday in China? (extremely).
Once it hit the fifth week, though, a lot of our friends went back home. They were only here for the beginning half of the program. They are all safely home in the states and I miss them all! However, we did get to go on vacation once they left, so that was where the excitement began.
I travelled with my classmate, and we’d decided to do a five day vacation in two places. We went to Hangzhou—which is the hometown of my art teacher back in Wisconsin—and we went to Shanghai. I already was pretty sure I’d prefer Hangzhou, and I was very correct. Not that Shanghai isn’t fun, but I am more of a not-crowded-subways kinda gal.
In Hangzhou, we went and saw what’s called ‘West Lake’ and we walked around most of it. Surprisingly. We kinda just went there without direction. We ended up walking around 10 km of the lake and then went and climbed up a Pagoda. It was really really beautiful. One of the challenges, however, is people were filming me and my friend as we are both white, and I have blonde hair, which tends to get me pictures wherever I go, which I’ve discussed in a previous update.
Another awkward situation is that in Hangzhou, their accent is very different from the Northern accent of Tianjin. In Tianjin, there is a lot of ‘ar’ sounds in their speech, but in Hangzhou, words that have the ‘sh’ sound become more of a ‘suh’ sound. This is especially complicated for numbers. For example, we got something that was fourteen dollars (shi-si) but in Hangzhou, they called it ‘si-si’ which sounds a lot like ‘fourty-four’. We got a lot of change back.
The best thing about Hangzhou, however, was the fruit. I ate so much fruit. Every single day. It was literally amazing. I could get what would be probably twenty dollars of fruit in America—probably even more considering it was fruits we don’t get in the states—for about five dollars. So, I was thriving on the food there. Well, the fruit at least. One of the problems I encounter a lot is that I’m vegetarian but my travel-buddy is not. I do know others on the trip who are vegetarian. In fact, there’s one vegan and two full-time vegetarians and two people that prefer not to eat meat. So, that’s a lot to me. My travel-buddy, however, was a full-time carnivore, so finding restaurants was strenuous. It’s easy to find restaurants that serve meat in China, but not so easy to find ones with good vegetarian options. We were both pretty relieved to get back to the food in Tianjin, where we knew what was what.
Anyway, day two of Hangzhou, we walked up a huge hill and climbed a mountain basically to see an old Confucian school. I bought a little red tag to write my name and my wish for the future on it. We actually have literally no idea what it’s name is, but it was a really cool place to go. We came across it on accident. We also may or may not have been completely lost. Which happened a lot on this vacation. Surprise! To those of you who know me: you had better not be surprised that even with google maps and baidu maps (baidu: Chinese google) we still got lost. Because you know me.
So, that was most of our trip in Hangzhou. We spent Thursday, Friday, and then Saturday morning in Shanghai. Shanghai’s hostel that we stayed in was a lot nicer when it came to something very important to my travel-buddy Teddy: WiFi. I have never seen anyone look so thrilled for connection to the internet. Except for maybe myself when I get connection when I’m lost. That is a very thrilling feeling.
The time in Shanghai was spent with a shocking amount of time getting lost. You’d think they’d have more signs in a city with so many people. On one day, we took more steps than the people climbing a mountain! (They hit around 30,000 while we hit 40,000) just getting lost! This was part of why I didn’t like it as much. Another thing was…getting around was shockingly hard. The things you wanted to see were not accessible by subway, and taxis avoid Teddy and I like the plague because we don’t look Asian. However! This can be a fun city if you figure out where to look first!
We walked down to see ‘yu yuan’ which is a famous garden in Shanghai. It was crowded and not as fun as the garden we saw in Hangzhou, but it was still beautiful. Again, that feeling of everything being kinda fake history was back again. Even though I could see everything and recognize how old it was, it felt like…it wasn’t really there or all that old. Like someone made it and put some dust on it. Super weird feeling. We also made a stop at a place with a shocking LACK of foreigners! It’s called ‘The City God Temple’. It has a bunch of ancient Chinese gods, and people still come and bring offerings. It was crowded and you couldn’t walk around easily, but it was amazing. Chinese people are well known for not being religious, yet a lot of them came here and took what they did very seriously. It was a bit mind-boggling for me.
After that, we went out and got ice cream from the coolest man in the world. Have you ever seen those videos online where they pretend to give you the ice cream but then they don’t really give you the ice cream? It’s kinda hard to explain, but try to look it up, because that’s what we did. The ice cream’s flavor was also really strange. It was kinda marshmallow-y in texture but vanilla flavoured. Honestly an amazing snack.
This same day we decided: hey let’s find the bund. And also this shop Teddy heard about. Finding the Bund was pretty easy and, for me, pretty insignificant? All the cool stuff seems to be across the river, but we didn’t really want to go there, though it is a pretty picture to take. Not as cool in my opinion, as the other things we’d seen. Then, we decided to go on a walk and find something Teddy and I have been looking for: shops with nerd stuff. Did we find them? No. Not at all. Despite wandering for hours and even checking threads on Reddit for new information, we could not find what we were looking for. So, that turned out to be kinda a bust.
Anyway, the day after this, we got on our gaotie (highspeed train) to return to Tianjin. It was a long ride, but we happened to run into two of the teachers from Tianjin at the station, and, out of the hundreds of people we could have sat with, we sat directly diagonal from them. It was kinda hilarious and also super weird.
Since then, all of us have been back and absolutely plunged into work as we near the end of our trip. Hopefully I’ll get another update up again soon! Sorry for being gone so long everyone!