Looking Back at Beijing
I’ve been home for a week now, and my thoughts keep coming back to the amazing three weeks I spent in Beijing. Unsurprisingly, I felt busy and tired through the whole trip, but I'm thankful now that we were given the opportunity to gain such a comprehensive view of China.
It is a very humbling experience to go somewhere where it is almost impossible to communicate. In fact, I regretted not learning any Chinese before the trip the second I sat down on the airplane to Beijing. However, with the help of Dr. Lai, the tremendously friendly PKU students, and English labels on most things, I think that I and the other Penn State students did an admirable job getting around. After starting out with some sign language and a tentative "xie xie" here and there, we quickly picked up "bingshui" and slowly progressed to confident statements of "Bu yao!" and "duo shao qian?" I was almost disappointed by how good the English of our PKU classmates is because with their help, we really didn't need to know more than 10 Chinese words to get by in Beijing.
Though I had a lot of fun on our organized trips to the Summer Palace, the Forbidden City, The Great Wall at Badaling and the Beijing Zoo, I was displeased by the ridiculous crowds and the heat (and getting hit in the head with edges of umbrellas.) I loved seeing those incredible and historic tourist hotspots, but the trips I enjoyed the most were our self-organized ones. At Bei Hai Park, we played on paddleboats and watched couples taking dancing lessons as the sun went down. At Happy Valley, we were able to ride one really good roller coaster before the park closed. I also particularly liked our multiple shopping trips to the Hong Qiao Pearl Market and the Silk Market, as well as seeing the movie Aftershock (which was so good!)
Culturally, I think I had the most difficulty adapting to the crowds and the food here. I enjoyed dumplings on campus and several of the restaurants, but I really didn't like being sandwiched in the subway and waiting in forever-long lines at all the tourist attractions. At least I've built an appreciation of the implications of the huge population here.
To come back to the point of why we came to China in the first place, I really enjoyed the class and all of our good times with the local students. Besides the teamwork that went into our final projects, we spent a lot of time with the local students outside of class. They helped us get to attractions, buy tickets, find our way through the city, and go to places we would not have been able to get to on our own. Everyone in the class was so friendly and I was very happy to exchange email addresses. I really hope that the partnership between PKU and PSU continues and that we'll get to see our Chinese friends again!