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Tag: beijing

Living With a Chinese Roommate

Living With a Chinese Roommate

As we approach our three month mark of living in Beijing, there are many things I’m grateful for that TBC has provided to make the experience of studying in another country comfortable.

What I’m most thankful for is the opportunity to live with a Chinese roommate, a student chosen by TBC to be our support and guide throughout our semester here. My roommate, April, has been and is the greatest help I have in China and is an amazing friend who supports me in every aspect of my life here. From telling me I’m going to do great before a test and hearing me talk endlessly about my worries, to showing me where the best restaurants and salons are.

By giving us the opportunity to live with a Chinese student attending Universtiy of International Business and Economics, we are more immersed in the culture and have an easier time adapting to living in another country. Due to the age connection, the Chinese roommates are able to understand us better and guide us through college life in Beijing. And they didn’t just take care of us by taking us to dinner and supermarkets the first week of classes either. They are still supporting us every day in the smallest things like helping us figure out how to other take-out food and bigger things like taking us to visit different neighborhoods, like the Lama Temple, around Beijing.

 

I know my study abroad experience wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t live with April. Additionally, TBC has done a great job of pairing us up with roommates that have similar habits as us, giving us very comfortable and friendly living situations. One of my favorite parts of the day is before going to bed, when April and I both turn off the lights at the same time and take out our Kindles to read, putting them down later at the same time.

 

 

My adventure in China: Flying in Zhangjiajie

My adventure in China: Flying in Zhangjiajie

 

 

I have to give thanks to my parents and my uncles for making me love nature and be an adventurer at heart. And I also have to give thanks to my friends Kate and Reed for organizing the trip to the best park I’ve visited in a long time.

The Monday of the Chinese national holiday, the Autumn Festival, we embarked on a twenty-four-hour train to the Hunan province, on the south of China. Fortunately,  we bought the train tickets with enough time to get beds during the ride and we were able to sleep for most of it until we arrived at Zhangjiajie, the city in Hunan where we stayed. Have already taken four overnight trains during our excursion along the Silk Road, we consider ourselves train experts. And we were very well prepared, with ramen, peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches and a lot of movies, among them Avatar, shot in the park we were going to visit.

After the train trip, we made it to the hostel craving to eat real food and take a shower. The hostel was we stayed was full of international students and close to a lot of local restaurants and bars. We dined like kings. Our friend Lenny, born and raised in the Hunan province, showed us the best traditional food of the area. That night, we also explored the city and bought traditional Chinese mooncakes.

The next day we visited Tianzi mountain, a popular attraction in the Wunlingyuan park. Without noticing and with a lot of strength, we climbed the mountain, our legs begging us to rest and the fog surrounding us. It took us around two hours, but getting to the top of the mountain was worth it. It felt like we were in a movie; the fog embracing us and not letting us see beyond our arms, but we loved the feeling of having made it and touching the highest rocks in the park. My friends almost cried with happiness while eating McDonald’s at the top of the mountain, but I was shocked seeing how far junk food has gotten, to the top of a mountain of one of the most beautiful parks in the world! We didn’t have the energy to walk down the mountain, so we got on a cable car and flew between the mountains, expecting to see the creatures from Avatar fly alongside us. Although I’m terrified of hights, I was able to survive the ride on the cable car. And it was so worth it.

Our hostel was in a city about an hour away from the park, so we took a bus back, where we all fell asleep. When we got back to the city of Zhangjiajie, where we were staying, we discovered a small restaurant next to our hostel and we ate there every single day, enjoying the best fried rice we’ve ever had.

The next day we walked in nature some more, but this time downhill. We took another cable car to the top of a different mountain and saw more fog, beautiful mountains and took a lot of pictures. We walked up a very high peak (I was very scared), we screamed to hear the echo rumble and did more exercise that we had done in weeks. And telling each other stories we hadn’t heard already we started walking downhill, this time our knees suffering. The way down was hard but rewarded by another delicious dinner and a night exploring the nightlife of the city.

Time flew by. And by the third day, I thought we had seen everything. We rode the fastest glass elevator in the world all the way to the top of yet another different mountain. It was a little disappointing because we couldn’t see much due to the amount of people in the elevator. But when we reached the top we had the best view of the whole three days and amazing noodles and roasted walnuts made by locals. We met another group of American students, one of us jumped in a lake after losing a bet, we saw rivers, and monkeys in their natural habitat, we had honey on a stick when we reached the valley of the mountain and we made memories that will be with us forever.

Another memory that is going to last us a lifetime is the one of the ride back to Beijing on a train that lasted almost thirty hours. We didn’t have beds this time, and I slept around two hours, with my head on a small table where three of my friends were also laying their heads. Being the way I am, I finished two books; and being the way we are, we watched three to four movies. And we ate more Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches. It was a very long ride. We spent the last four hours with people really close to us standing in the aisles. It was definitely an interesting experience. But it wasn’t horrible because we were a good group of people; we all got along very well and were organized well. I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people to travel with.

I know this wasn’t my last trip outside of Beijing, but it will certainly be one of the best. And the most beautiful.

Beginnings in Beijing

Beginnings in Beijing

I’ve been in China for almost a month. And I’ve never been happier. I keep saying it to everyone I know, but I cannot help it. I feel like I’m flying, moving through my days with an aura of joy surrounding me, leading me into another hour of exploring the beauty this country has.

When I first arrived in Beijing, on August 13th, I expected to feel uncomfortable, out of place, shocked by the difference between the Chinese culture and the Western cultures I’ve grown up in. Instead, I felt curiosity, admiration, joy and welcomed into a community that in less than a month has become my home. I’ll admit I felt a little lost walking around the University of International Business and Economics, but I didn’t mind. Because I got to see a small lake in the middle of campus, cute hole-in-the-wall restaurants, little shops next to tea stands, and people walking around like myself, unafraid of not being in the right place.

I had about a week to explore UIBE and its surroundings, getting lost more times, visiting the Olympic Park and Tiananmen Square, eating more dumplings and noodles than I thought I was capable of, and struggling to find milk for my morning cereal, deciding to settle for delicious milk tea instead.

After a wonderful week in Beijing, visiting nearby bars and parks, we started our adventure on the Silk Road. Never in my life have I felt as fulfilled as on that adventure along the whole country of China, which took me to busy markets in the cities, small restaurants in the South of China, a stargazing night in the desert, a camel ride to watch the sunset, beautiful mosques and temples, and to learn about different cultures within one of the most interesting countries in the world. I spent two weeks sleeping in 14-hour trains, after having brushed my teeth with bottled water just to be safe; living out of the same four t-shirts and pair of pants; eating so many different dishes I couldn’t name them all; writing about my long days, all full of color and joy; and getting to know the people I will be spending more than three months with.

Now, back in Beijing, all that I lived and saw on the Silk Road feels like a dream, like it happened to someone else. I’m looking at the pictures and my throat is closing because I am so lucky that I had the chance to travel so much and that I still have endless sunrises and sunsets left in Beijing.

Before the Adventure Starts

Before the Adventure Starts

As I prepare to go abroad to Beijing next semester, I feel a wide array of emotions: excitement, hope, happiness, gratitude, and nervousness. I made the choice to study in The Beijing Center my first semester studying at Loyola University Chicago. The departure day looked very far away that first semester, and now it is two months away. There was a chance, due to my financial situation, studying two majors, or getting cold feet sometimes, that I wouldn’t study in China. So, now it seems a little unbelievable that I have my plane ticket and my classes already scheduled.

It has been a long journey until this summer, the summer before one of the best experiences I know I will have in my young adult life. This last semester as a sophomore has especially been a long one, in which I learned I was granted the opportunity to study at Loyola’s center in Beijing and given all the information about my semester abroad. At first, it overwhelmed me and honestly, scared me a little bit at the same time that it excited me. I learned about expensive plane tickets, visa applications, light suitcases, intensive Mandarin classes, transportation in Beijing, food in Beijing, and on-campus life.

I had to take a moment and breathe deeply to realize all I needed was to take it step by step and know that it will all be worth it. All the stress of traveling to another country will pay off because I am going to be exposed to a completely different culture that I am fascinated with. I have always loved Chinese traditions and literature. My hair stands on an end when I think about reading Li Bao’s poems in the Summer Palace. My mouth waters when I think about all the different dishes I have the chance to taste around Beijing and any other Chinese city or town I visit. My mind flies when I think about all the small weekend excursions around Beijing and the long weekend trips to Chinese cities.

Not only will I be living in China’s capital for four months, but I will be traveling the Silk Road for two weeks before the academic term starts. The thought of visiting different villages and landscapes in China is slowly turning the nervousness in my gut into happiness. I am extremely grateful that The Beijing Center allows me to have such an adventure guiding us through one of the vastest and beautiful countries in the world. On my birthday, August 25th, I will be somewhere along the Silk Road, learning about a small town tradition or taking a walk through a unique Chinese natural park.

Then, as I celebrate my two decades, I will be starting another chapter: my first chapter as a completely independent woman. My semester abroad will be the first time that I will be in a different country from my parents. I am both excited and nervous, since I know what it is like to move to a completely new environment but I have never done it alone. As any other millennial young adult, I am passionate, driven and desiring to be independent. But now that the moment of truth is approaching, it’s more challenging than it looks. Fortunately, I will be in an environment where I will meet people that are also learning how to be self-reliant, and have plenty of resources to help me adapt to living in China and be independent. I know this experience will benefit me academically, professionally and, especially, personally.

Is it Even Possible to “Settle In” In a Place Like China?

Is it Even Possible to “Settle In” In a Place Like China?

If you could go ANYWHERE in the world for five months, where would you go? For good or bad, I never asked myself this question. Instead, I simply let my surroundings decide for me. Confused? Yeah, me too.

I moved to Chicago a little over two years ago when I enrolled in Loyola University Chicago. Since the first time I set foot on Loyola’s campus, I fell in love with everything around me. Fast forward to one month ago, and I felt a very different feeling as I set foot on Loyola’s partner campus–The Beijing Center (TBC) locate at the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE)–here in China. I wish I could say that I came to China because I love Chinese culture so I wanted to experience it firsthand or that I am intrigued by the recent economic boom in China and I want to learn more about its successes but, in actuality, I knew little to nothing about China before my arrival. In all honestly, my home institution–Loyola University Chicago–played a huge role in encouraging me to explore the once isolated country of China.

On August 8th, 2016, I landed in Beijing with a 50lb backpack digging into my shoulders and a huge suitcase in hand. I waited for two hours in line to go through customs and then had my luggage screened not once, not twice, but THREE times before I was allowed to exit the airport. As I walked outside, a young Chinese man was holding a sign that read, “TBC.” I couldn’t help but smile. Finally, I stopped holding my breath. Someone was here to guide me!!

As we sat in traffic on our way to campus, my eyes stayed glued to the window. I was amazed by the new world in which I had just landed. My mind was racing a million miles a minute. What does that street sign mean? What kind of food is that?! Why are so many people squatting? Is traffic usually this bad? What is the taxi driver saying to the Chinese man who came to pick me up? Am I going to have to pay for this taxi? Oh shoot…does he take credit card?!

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The Chinese man kindly paid for the taxi as we were dropped off in front of UIBE. The Chinese man helped me with my luggage and escorted me to my dorm. Seeing that it was 6:35am, I was one of the first students to arrive. Instead of collapsing on my bed like I would have liked to have done, I immediately began to unpack. I couldn’t believe it. I was finally here.

Today, September 22nd, I sit on my bed as I write this blog post. I look around my room and see the lamp I bought from IKEA, the dishes I dirtied from cooking breakfast this morning, and the books I checked-out from the library scattered across my desk. My planner lay next to me and glance at it, seeing the events I plan to attend over the next few days. If you can be “settled in” in a place like China, I would say I’m almost there. I do not fee

l do not feel familiar and I do not feel comfortable but I definitely feel growth and that is why–even if I didn’t know it before I came–I am here!

If you are dying to see pictures from my adventures here in China, follow me on Instagram!
Personal Account: littlered_10
Travel Account: contagiouswanderlust

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Summertime at the Summer Palace

Summertime at the Summer Palace

Miami. Chicago. Beijing. I am definitely a girl that enjoys the city life. The hustle and bustle always motivates me to get out and join the pleasantly pushy people party, as I now like to call it. Whenever I am feeling down in a city it is nice to be able to look around and realize how much is going on. It makes it easier to not sulk and worry about the small things. My love for cities will always be strong, but a calming break every once in a while has its advantages. I enjoy jet skiing in Miami, barbecuing on the beach of Lake Michigan, and now relaxing on dragon-shaped boats at the Summer Palace.

Secluded and Serene, the Summer Palace is the ideal escape from the ever so active and populated Beijing. It truly amazes me how it sort of hides in plain sight. It is a little piece of paradise in the middle of the chaos. For lack of a better term, I will admit I was feeling a little “body of water” sick and this haven was definitely what the doctor ordered.

Once I was inside the grounds of the Summer Palace, I immediately thought to myself that the Qing emperors really knew how to enjoy themselves. The place gives off the feeling of actually overflowing with palaces, pavilions, temples, and beautiful landscapes. These gorgeously constructed attributes are perfectly placed around a peaceful lake. Exploring the buildings can be challenging at first, due to the uneven steps and rocks, but it definitely made me feel more adventurous. And of course it made the boat ride on the lake an even bigger reward. The ride across the lake allowed for some really great photos.

I could definitely not complete this post without acknowledging one of the impressive parts of my experience, encountering and admiring a certain group of Chinese women…the heel-wearers. Climbing up and down the steep stairs presented itself as a challenge to me in my Toms. I kept thinking to myself, “Why didn’t you just wear your sneakers? Come on Allison.” But then those once obvious thoughts became a little less obvious and more confused when I started noticing the sheer number of Chinese women in heels exploring the uneven palace. I lost count. There were the occasional ones who were dressed up for some sort of modeling shoot, but that was the minority. Chinese women really do commit to the idea that pain is gain in fashion. Props to them!

Two down, Two to go!

Two down, Two to go!

你好! I have officially been living and studying in Beijing for two weeks and have two more weeks to go! I have to admit that I can’t believe it’s already the third week, it really has flown by. I have looked forward to going to China for as long as I can remember and thanks to China Encounter it was made a reality. These weeks have been filled with fun and fascinating trips to popular tourist spots, restaurants, and “real Beijing” locations.

My goal before coming to China was to really dive into Beijing. This is my first time travelling abroad and I really wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. Whenever I am out and about in Beijing, I always think to myself “People, Places, and Food!”. Yes, this thought may be broad, but whenever I get a little overwhelmed and a feeling of culture shock comes upon me, I remind myself that I want to learn, see, taste, and really enjoy everything relating to the Chinese culture. So far I believe I have succeeded! Although I wish I could spend all day discussing everything, I know that would make for a not so enthralling blog so I have decided to make a few entries with some of my favorite highlights. I will start off with one of my favorite food experiences.

Food checklist: Peking Duck and Hot pot. In preparing for my arrival in Beijing I made a very small food checklist. Of course I knew I would try many different meals that I haven’t heard of, but Peking duck and hotpot were a must do, well actually a must eat. As of now I can check one item off the list: Hot pot! I will admit, I did have high expectations for hot pot, but this experience completely blew me away. Last week, a group of us headed to a hot pot restaurant a few blocks away from campus led by some UIBE Chinese students. I was excited but did not realize what would come next. The host greeted us at the door and took us up the elevator and into the restaurant. There was a room next to the restaurant, where guests were welcome to partake in FREE MANICURES! The service was top notch. We were even given aprons to wear and ziplock baggies to protect our phones.Two boiling pots of broth were placed in front of the twelve of us, and then we dug in. The assortment of food included: shrimp, beef, lamp, potatoes, noodles, tofu, and a few more items that were very tasty, although I am still not sure what they were. I definitely let my adventurous side take over. We all gathered around the pots cooking our food while being entertained by masked dancers and noodles throwers. This was definitely an experience I will never forget.

Hot Pot!
Hot pot!
The Beijing Center
The Beijing Center
Donkey Sandwiches

Donkey Sandwiches

There is always that local place that you love to eat at. Back home in Cincinnati I love to go to my neighborhood Skyline Chili. In Chicago I really enjoy going to a place called Ghareeb Nawaz before or after I head into work for the day or in the harsh Chicago winter to Pho 888 a few stops down the Red Line to reminisce about Viet Nam over a bowl of steamy pho, remembering the pho restaurant I frequented everyday down Alley 18 so that by the end of my semester in Saigon, I could just say ‘the usual’.
I was looking for a nice place to eat here in Beijing, that little restaurant that would become ‘my place’. I technically can cook for myself but the public kitchens on each floor of my dorm are not the most sanitary. There was once instance when I went to fill my metal and clay thermos with hot water to make a warm green/oolong tea and when I turned the level to the spout of the hot water heater, a half dozen roaches scurried out of the grille of the machine. Besides that the kitchens are not always open, and when open are usually occupied by Thai, Indonesian, or Vietnamese exchange students. They seem to have a monopoly on the kitchens while the American, Korean, and Japanese students seem to have resigned themselves to eating out. Is this a cultural thing? Going to supermarkets around UIBE have also led me to believe trying to cook here would be more expensive than just eating out. It would also be a waste to buy all the utensils to cook and then just leave them behind at the end of the semester. Thus, I searched around for some good (and cheap) local restaurants. My adventures around campus and a few streets slinking away from the university yielded interesting results, none could compare to the glory that is… DONKEY!
My first week in Beijing was a whirlwind of Orientation. During that time, one of my good friends Tyler was just getting ready to head back to the States after spending the summer in Beijing. Tyler had also been in Beijing two semesters prior on the same program. So, for the first week before I headed out on the Silk Road excursion, Tyler helped out with some useful things, including finding some good places to eat. Of all these places, none come close to the ‘Donkey Restaurant’. The exact translation of the restaurant is something like, “Little Donkey Restaurant”. It is a cozy little hole in the wall a block from campus down a little side street.
The first time when I went with Tyler and his girlfriend I was a bit skeptical of how good donkey could be. He ordered some sandwiches and I was hesitant to bite into mine, but once I did I was hooked. The sandwich itself is made of a kind of flatbread they make in a big iron press in the back of the restaurant. It is so warm, oily, and flaky on the outside but soft and chewy on the inside. Stuffed into the flatbread are strips and chunks of donkey meat surrounded by minced green peppers. The meat is like beef, but a bit more chewy and sweet. The green peppers are juicy and mildly spicy. On the table red chili pepper paste and Chinese vinegar are available. I usually put just a dash of vinegar on the sandwich, gently slather on the red chili pepper paste with the tiny metal spoon, and then I add my own ingredient: Maggi Sauce. I carry a little bottle of Maggi sauce with me whenever I go to the donkey restaurant because it adds a little extra flavor to the already awesome sandwich. All in all a great meal, and all for just 5 RMB, which is close to 1 USD.
There are other great things to eat at the donkey place- like donkey rice, donkey jiaozi (potstickers), and donkey soup, hotpot, and fried green beans. The rice is nothing special, but the donkey jiaozi and soup are quite good. The soup is a kind of thick egg-drop soup with the shredded donkey and peppers from the sandwich thrown into the mix. It’s a great winter food- warm and spicy with lots of flavor. It always comes to the table in a large ceramic bowl accompanied with lots of smaller bowls and a large ladle, a family style soup. The jiaozi are packed tightly with tenderized donkey meat. The jiaozi from the donkey place seem to be more filly than other comparable jiaozi of pork, beef, or vegetable that I’ve eaten in other restaurants. The fried green beans are served with peppers and taste a lot like French fries. The hotpot is a whole meal in itself- a large bubbling pot of donkey chunks, tofu, mushrooms, noodles, cabbage, and peppers.
Going to get donkey has become something more than my little hangout, but has become a sort of ritual of my friends and I. At least three times a week for dinner or lunch we all decide to go to get donkey. A slang has come up “Lets go do the donk” or “let us partake of the sacred meal that is donkey” We have a little joke amongst ourselves. I’m sure you can guess what it is… Anyway, our little donkey excursions have been a bonding experience and the meals are always great. The workers in the restaurant know our faces and whenever we deviate from our usual meal they become surprised. One day we decided to try a donkey hotpot instead of sandwiches, and they were very surprised!
I never thought of donkey sandwiches as Chinese food, but I have found them to be one of my favorite dishes. I was talking with a professional photographer from Russia over a donkey sandwich one night after a photo shoot and he actually told me on his flight to China all he could do was think about eating donkey, at a different restaurant, but still- donkey. Who would have thought?
Sitting in the restaurant in the little orange tables and stools looking around at my friends, its so funny. It isn’t how I imagined China, but it’s great. I found my little place, I have good friends to share it with, and according to Chinese Medicine- donkey is a yang stimulating meat (heat producing) and so will be great for this winter. One of the Chinese students told me that there is an old saying that the finest meat in heaven is dragon, but that on earth the finest meat is donkey. I would have to agree. I’m going to miss eating donkey when I get back to the US, but for now I’m going to enjoy it while I can. Anyhow all this talk about donkey is making me hungry and it’s about lunch time, so I better call some friends so we can go eat some ass.