Last Month in China
Since returning from Guilin my friends and I have been trying to see as much of Beijing as we can between classes and preparing for finals!
Confucian and Lama Temples
These two temples, though representing two very different philosophical ideologies that are predominant in China are situated right next to each other! When you walk through the gates of the Confucian temple you are greeted by Confucius himself. Stone white and about three feet tall; he represents the moral code that many Chinese today still lead their lives with. Confucianism emphasizes the importance of relationships and how one should act within each of those interactions. For example, a man is a son of his father, a husband to his wife and a subject to the emperor. Within all three of those relationships, the man has responsibilities to adhere to. When everyone respects the duties of his or her positions in the community, harmony is achieved. In contrast, the Lama temple is a Buddhist monastery, one of the larger ones in China outside of Tibet. Here you are not greeted by a stone figure that once emphasized filial piety and obedience, but rather there are
many Buddhas and Bodhisattvas that stand for different meanings. People buy incense and kneel before the medicine Buddha for example, praying for good health in the coming year. Others are turning the prayer wheels to send messages to the sky. The most striking part about the temple is the giant Buddha at the very end that was carved out of a single tree! You aren’t supposed to take pictures inside but I secretly snapped one!
798 Art District
One of the coolest cultural areas in Beijing is the 798 Art District. In all honesty, once you hit the area, you can hardly tell that you’re in China anymore. The brick walls are all covered in graffiti and all of the window fronts display the artwork of the natives. You can walk freely in and out of tiny galleries and handmade artwork shops. Some of them are selling their work, though prices range from a few to hundreds of thousands of yuan!
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven has giant altars where emperors and member of Chinese society would offer sacrifices to the gods. There are three gates to enter each section of the park, but
traditionally, no one walks through the middle gate because only the gods are supposed to use that one. The park has a lot of wide-open space, making it a popular spot for old women to do tai chi, old men to practice their opera and for babies to run around! My favorite parts of the actual temple itself were the painted and glossed roofs that were vibrantly blue and green, and the intricate designs of the pillars and ceilings inside them. The temple itself is situated on a hill in Beijing and when you look out from it you can see (if there isn’t a lot of smog that day) a lot of the city!
World AIDS Day
My roommate, Sophie, another friend and I participated in a “run” for AIDS in Beijing near the embassies. There were maybe a total of 50 people there, but it was the coldest day in Beijing yet. Everyone there was very excited that the three of us were there because we were among the few foreigners at the event. Because of this, they made us take pictures with almost every group that was presented on the stage! They even made us
get up and pretend to sing with the Chaoyang district choir so that they could get that on camera! (Clearly, three American girls don’t know how to sing traditional Chinese songs…) They also presented Sophie with an award for her participation, haha! Finally, after being shuffled about and standing in the cold for so long we started the race, only to find that it was literally 900 meters long. Some race. The three of us were in the front of the pack, with our backpacks still on, chasing after the two secretaries of the Zambian embassy. Sophie pulled a fast one and caught them at the end to win the extraordinarily short race. It was an odd experience but a fun one nonetheless! It was also interesting to see how China handles issues such as AIDS and promotes awareness among the community. AIDS is not very prevalent in Beijing, but in provinces such as Hunan, the chronic disease is rampant. This is because many under developed areas in China do not have the ability to screen blood properly or check their patients for AIDS. We met a man from Belgium, who is actually working for the Center for Disease Control
to assist China with its AIDS issue. He told us that although these events are small, they raise some sort of awareness where currently there is very little. We wore our red ribbons for the rest of the day and many Chinese people asked us what they meant- thus we were able to do our part, though it was small, to promote awareness of AIDS in Beijing!
At the beginning of the year, the director of student life for our program asked us if we wanted to have a Thanksgiving dinner here in China or opt out for a different activity. The Beijing Center is trying to phase out American holidays and other celebrations because our time here is supposed to be about China. The other option was to attend a Chinese cooking class, so the weekend before Thanksgiving we traveled to the hutongs and learned how to make three Cantonese dishes. A woman named Sue from Canton led the class. She had excellent English and knew a lot about Beijing and food! The first dish we made was a chicken with bell peppers, onions and carrots. The chicken was marinated in four different kinds of
soy sauce and cooked in a big wok. Our second course was river bass stuffed with ginger and dressed in oyster sauce. SO GOOD. And our side dish was Chinese broccoli with some more vegetables. It’s hard to describe how it tasted but it was much different than Beijing food. Beijingers like their food very salty and this was much more savory and light. Some other people decided to attend a Sichuan cooking class, and their food was much much much more spicy! Each province in China is distinct for its own types of dishes, clothing and culture. I was happy I could cook some food from Canton!
Though the cooking class was delicious and fun, we still wanted to have a dinner on the night of Thanksgiving. It’s almost impossible to find a turkey here, let alone find an oven big enough to cook it in, since everything here is cooked in pots and pans. Instead, some of the hotels in Beijing hold Thanksgiving buffets with almost every typical American Thanksgiving food you can think of. My friends and I gorged ourselves on all of the protein, scalloped potatoes, bread, wine and cheese (we haven’t had cheese since
the states) we could get! There was even dessert but sadly-nothing compares to Mama D’s apple pie. I can’t wait to help to prepare and eat some at home! Again, the dinner was nothing like Thanksgiving at home, but if I had to be on the opposite side of the world, in a Communist country that doesn’t give thanks with giant turkeys, I would choose to be with the friends I was with that night. We all went around and said what we were thankful for and I’ll just say it again here!- I’m thankful for the opportunity to come to China and experience its culture. I’m thankful for all of the people who helped me get here and spend the past four months challenging myself in ways I could have never imagined. I’m thankful for my family, especially my parents for supporting me in all of my decisions, and for all of my friends who I consider to also be a part of my family.
I’m also thankful for anyone who has read this blog and listened to me rant about my adventures in China! This might be my last one before returning to the land of the
free and the home of the brave, so until I see you all again, 再见!
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