John in Beijing

John, a junior accounting major at the Cox School, is spending Summer 2009 in Beijing with SMU-in-China, studying third-year CHIN 3311/3312. He is most excited about exploring all of the cultural highlights the city has to offer and is ready to immerse himself in Chinese culture.

Old meets new in Beijing


Vocabulary of the day: piao liang, or beautiful.

This past weekend, our adventures have taken us to some of Beijing’s most beautiful landmarks.

Bright and early on Saturday, we visited the Ethnic Minority Park. Dedicated as a visual replica of the many ethnic minorities in China, and steps away from the Olympics District, this park serves to provide tourists and locals alike a look into the culture of China beyond Beijing and the cityscape.

Once inside, we saw “villages” showcasing over 50 different tribes, from the Han to the Tibetans. The park was like a trip through the rural countryside of China. Many of the structures are modeled after each minority’s traditions.

One particular photo that I took captures the perfect fusion of a transitioning nation. With Beijing’s Pangu Plaza Seven Star Hotel in the background and the park’s traditional temple, this image is the perfect example of what is occurring throughout Beijing: a city attempting to strike a balance between modernizing and preserving its heritage.

NCPA%20Picture%201.JPG Saturday evening, we planned a night of activities to explore city life. First stop was dinner at Grandma’s Kitchen, a Western home-style restaurant that serves chicken fried steak and meat loaf. It was such a guilty pleasure to be able to have some hearty American food. This diner is mostly frequented by expats like us looking for some comfort food in Beijing.

After dinner, we decided to catch a symphony orchestra at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA). The building itself was stunning. Situated squarely in the Tiananmen area, the dome-shaped structure is an architectural marvel. Water surrounds the glass and steel dome, and as you walk down inside through the main atrium, you can see the water flowing above because the ceiling is constructed of glass.

The symphony orchestra we attended performed some of the great George Gershwin works: An American in Paris, Piano Concerto in F Major, and Porgy and Bess. It was definitely interesting to hear a Western work through an Eastern symphony orchestra. Luckily, one of our fellow SMU students, Jimmy, is a music major and was able to enlighten us with some of his thoughts.

NCPA%20Picture%202.JPG Tiananmen%20Picture%201.JPG After the performance, we decided to take an evening stroll through the Tiananmen area. The NCPA looked amazing at night, with its light reflecting from the water surrounding it. Strolling along, we continued on to the entrance of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Even at night, the life of the city is still vibrant: tourists snapping unforgettable photos, street vendors selling everything from umbrellas to key chains, and the bustling traffic that fills the streets with light and energy.

On the schedule for next week: Beijing Zoo, Pearl Market, and Temple of Heaven. Stay tuned!

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Two weeks in China

SMU%20Group%20Picture.JPG Wow. Two weeks in, and I am absolutely thrilled to be here. In just two weeks, I have already experienced much of Beijing’s culture. First off, let’s talk classes here in China.

Every day, we have class from 9 a.m. to noon, going over one lesson per day. For comparison’s sake, we usually review one lesson a week at SMU! Thus, the workload is reasonably heavier. (In photo left: SMU students in Beijing.)

Since I am in the third-year advanced-level course, most of the concentration is on character recognition and essay composition. Dictation quizzes every day get pretty intense, but the payoff comes when we go out and I can actually recognize street signs and business names.

Conversing with taxi drivers is also pretty interesting. Most of the drivers have a really strong Beijing accent, where the words’ endings are slurred. Nevertheless, somehow we always arrive at the intended destination. So much is lost in translation, but that’s the beauty of living in a different country. You live to learn every day!

Acrobats and opera

Chinese%20Opera%201.JPG Moving on to adventures, every Wednesday evening, we have a cultural experience arranged for us. The first Wednesday here, we watched a Chinese acrobatic show. Similar to what you expect at a Las Vegas show, the Chinese acrobats performed acts through body contortions and various objects: A group of female acrobats performing synchronized bicycle routines. Male acrobats jumping through hula hoops. An umbrella sequence. The entire show was mind-boggling. The amount of training that goes in such a performance must be intense.

Last Wednesday, we attended a traditional Chinese opera at a theater (in photo, right). The painted faces, Chinese-style music, and plotlines all contribute to a vivid look into the cultural history of China. There was drama, tragedy, love, suspense, and comedy, all components of a wonderful story in any language.

Your Chinese word for the day

So I decided to include some Chinese vocabulary into my blog, so the word for this blog is chuan tong, meaning tradition. And on Saturdays, we embark on cultural excursions to the many Beijing destinations and landmarks that highlight this country’s traditions.

Summer%20Palace%202.JPG Last Saturday, we woke up early to begin the trek to the Summer Palace (Yi He Yuan; in photo, left). To be honest, words simply cannot begin to describe its beauty. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the entire area is a testament to the landscaping ingenuity of the Chinese.

A tremendous palace sits facing the large Kunming Lake filled with blooming lotus flowers. Miles and miles of landscaping surround the water, the palace, and the many temples inside. Walking through the outdoor Long Corridor that encompasses the palace, I could grasp a feeling of what it was like to live during the dynastic periods of China.

Summer%20Palace%203.JPG Once inside, we also trekked up to one of the ancient temples, the Temple of Buddhist Virtue. Built on top of a rocky hill facing the lake, the temple offered views of the grand palace in its entirety. Inside, a grand Buddhist statue sits squarely in
the center of the room. Coupled with the mountainous air, the temple offered a sense of serenity away from the rest of the palace, and definitely away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

After spending four hours at the Summer Palace, we had to depart with about half of the palace still unexplored, which goes to show the grandiose scope of this place. All in all, another memorable cultural experience.

Next weekend, we will embark on a trip to the Ethnic Minority Park, a visual replica near the Olympic stadiums that showcases the many regional cultures and tribal groups from different parts of China.

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Greetings from China

Temperature check

After a long, 18-hour flight from Dallas to Los Angeles to Tokyo, I have finally arrived in the wonderful city of Beijing!

But before I step foot into the city, let me tell you about my experience with the China government’s handling of the current H1N1 virus pandemic:

Upon landing into Beijing Capital Airport, we were stuck on the plane for approximately an hour as airport crewmembers walked around the plane checking each passenger’s temperature. The sight was like something out of a movie!

Luckily, I did not exhibit a fever, but a young girl several rows in front of me apparently had a slightly high body temperature. That was when the paranoia struck. Officials immediately had us put on facemasks, and the entire family of the young girl was escorted out of the plane.

Afterward, we were asked to fill out a form disclosing the recent cities we have visited in the last seven days. Talk about taking extra precaution with this current pandemic!

Living accommodations

After spending two hours at the airport, I finally arrived at the dormitories, known as the Li Yun Apartotel, part of the International Exchange Service Center at Beijing Normal University, our host university. What a great relief and surprise it was to hear that we each have our own separate rooms!

In all, there are 13 students from SMU partaking in this program, along with several students from Rice University and Furman University. We all are staying on the ninth floor, overlooking the city and campus. The rooms are pretty decent: a full-sized bed, desk, closet space, mini fridge, television and our own bathrooms! The first night here, I slept a good 12 hours!

First taste of culture in Beijing

First night on the town, and we visited the well-known area called Hou Hai, a 10-minute taxi drive from campus. Surrounding a large lake, the overall place reminded me of The Shops at Legacy in Plano, Texas, only 10 times larger. There is a huge center area where natives danced along with tourists to the sound of traditional music, and various people played “hacky sack.”

It was definitely filled with culture, vibrancy and a feel of good times. Filled with bars, restaurants, and gift shops, it was a great welcome into the culture of the city. There was even a Starbucks there, a quaint reminder of the globalization of Beijing. It’s evident the city modernized itself for last year’s Olympics.

After visiting the restaurants and local pubs, we headed home with a sense of satisfaction. knowing we visited another great area of town. Will definitely come again in the next two months. Until next time!

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