Wednesday, June 2, 2010

First impressions

From Jennifer's journal:
Night of Arrival – That may have been the longest trip of my life. After getting about 6 hours sleep throughout the preceding 48 hours, the trip from D.C. to Seattle to Vancouver to Beijing was finally over. Needless to say, after one terrifying cab ride from the airport to Peking University, I passed out.
Day One (Orientation) – Our first day was basically getting acquainted with the University and the subway system. We met Youli (our professor) and some of the history department in the morning and talked about ourselves, our interest with China and previous travel experience to this part of the world. After lunch, we were taken by Joyce Li to the subway to get familiar with travel in the city (we all had our first experience with cabs the night before – which are definitely the most entertaining way to get around but more on that later). The subway in China is very nice! Especially the line that takes you to where the 2008 Olympics were. Obviously wanting to make a good impression, this line of the subway was decorated to the nines. Joyce didn’t have a specific place she wanted to take us to, so somehow we ended up at the Silk Market. Apparently she didn’t want this to be our first impression of Beijing, which is obvious to me now, but someone in our group had lost his luggage and needed to buy some cheap clothing. There is only one word to describe the Silk Market – overwhelming. Now I’ve been to markets before where you are expected to haggle and such, but nowhere like this place. Salesgirls were grabbing us, yelling at us if we didn’t go into their shops and yelling at us when we did. Myself and the two other girls in our group spent about 15 minutes in there (making it through 5 of the levels) and then decided we’d had enough. Two of the guys didn’t even bother and went to find beers, and the one who needed shirts had one hell of a time. Apparently he got two shirts talked down from a couple hundred yuan to 50. Fun fact – if you ask in Chinese you get a better starting price to work with (“Duo shao qian?”). After this lovely experience, Joyce left us to go out and explore on our own. We ended up walking a few miles in who knows what direction before we stopped to get dinner and drinks. After that, my friend Kate and I went back to the University because we still had some reading to do for the class the next day. Overall, a fun start to our time in Beijing.
Day Two – This morning we met when Youli and talked about the book China’s New Nationalism. The focus of the discussion was China’s “century of humiliation” which has played a huge role in the development of the nationalism which emanates throughout the country today. After an amazing lunch at one of the school’s restaurants (I think there’s about a hundred of them), we went with Joyce to the Olympic Park and walked around the Bird’s Nest. You can’t possibly imagine how big this park is unless you go there…and even then they tell you its exact size in hectares, which most likely will still leave you guessing. The Bird’s Nest itself is just as awe inspiring, especially when you go inside and look up to see a tightrope walker creeping across the width of the building. We all wanted to go down on the track, but apparently you have to pass a fitness test in order to be allowed down there, and some of those tests would not have worked out well for the 3 of us in skirts. Maybe some other day… After the Bird’s Nest we walked down to Forest Park where Joyce left us to do our own thing. Three of the boys wanted to attempt to get to the top of a big hill in the middle of the park (they didn’t make it) while the rest of us went to Hou Hai, where we spent the rest of the evening. The Hou Hai area is something else. It’s an area of hutongs (alleyways of old houses) surrounding a lake which lights up like Las Vegas at night. The street around the lake is lined with shops, restaurants and bars and seems to be popular with both the Chinese and international visitors. Also, it is home to a lot of rickshaw tours, something I’m bound and determined to do before I leave here. We had dinner at an amazing restaurant that was a little hidden back among the hutongs called No Name Restaurant (the bar which shares the same name but not the same location is the oldest bar in Hou Hai) and I highly recommend it. After strolling around after dinner, we saw lightning off in the distance and decided to head back.

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