The Other Side of the World
3 weeks sightseeing and studying in Beijing, China as part of a PSU/PKU Cancer Biology class
China is very different from the U.S. I've traveled before- 3 weeks in Australia several years ago. But in Australia they speak English, and eat if not the same at least similar food. In Beijing the language is different, the culture is different, and our group sticks out like a sore thumb in the crowds on the subway. But my time here learning about those differences both from talking with my new friends from Peking University and exploring the city and all its sights has been truly enlightening. Being in China it actually feels like you are on the other side of the world.
The first day of class we were split into groups for our culminating presentation- 6-7 Chinese students and 2 Penn Staters per group. My group bonding immediately. The PKU students took us to lunch that first day, and then on a tour of the University, which is actually a popular tourist spot in China. We saw why- the architecture is gorgeous, and the water tower and lake (yes there is a lake in the middle of campus- ironically named "The Lake with No Name") are post-card worthy. Then we got to feed the campus cats. I'm not kidding. Our group discussions during class have ranged from epigenetics (which is what our project is actually on) to life in PKU v. PSU to sports to musical instruments to Chinese tea culture- they even put together a power point for us to explain all the different kinds of tea once they discovered our interest. This part of the trip has been truly extraordinary in that we have truly been able to see China from the eyes of her own, and not only that, but from students just like us. That's something not every tourist gets to do.
The side trips, the touristy stuff, has been just as neat. The Great Wall is incredible and Dr. Lai was clever enough to take us to the not-as-popular site so we could enjoy it without a mob of people. The Summer Palace and Forbidden City are equally as impressive- every building is painted with countless small pictures, patterns, decorations- its hard to comprehend how much time must have gone into just one small gazebo let alone an entire palace or city. The pandas at the zoo are adorable, both the Giant and Red varieties. The night market complete with scorpions and snakes and seahorses and starfish on sticks is a must-do, although I warn you know that both there and at the Silk Market you will be completely over-stimulated by smells and sounds and people and the ever-present vendors trying to sell you their goods. Bargaining is not as easy as it sounds, but practice definitely improves skills quickly.
This trip was absolutely worth it. My advice- take advantage of this opportunity. Do everything you can while you're here. Bring a guide book with a map of the subway. And having someone along who can speak Chinese is a definite plus.