Some of you were wondering about a post we had last week about the start of a trip abroad. Ailene works at Jimmy Beans Wool and is studying abroad in China for a semester. She is blogging about her experience each week and wanted to share it. We hope you all enjoy reading about her adventures abroad and feel free to post about your travel experiences.
So far, it definitely has not hit me that I am in China. The first four days in Beijing, I felt like I was in a never-ending version of Los Angeles’ or San Francisco’s Chinatown. In Beijing, we were just being tourists. At our host school, we definitely won’t be told where to go and where to meet. I think it will hit me then when we get to Chengdu, and I will basically be on my own. Our days were pretty much been action packed when we got to the capital. For our first 3 days in China, we just did the tourist thing, which was pretty cool. Here are some pictures for you.
Inside the Forbidden City
Tianamen Square and Mao's face
Me! Conquering the Great Wall!
Tianamen Square and Mao's face
Me! Conquering the Great Wall!
While being here in the capital was pretty cool, I felt a little bit let down the first few days. There were just so many people, I felt like I couldn't get the full effect of the fact that I am walking the same walkways as officials and royals of ancient China. I couldn't really get the full magnitude of the fact that I just climbed a portion of the Great Wall, which spans thousands of miles and generations. But in a country of one billion people, it was difficult to get the China that I wanted to see. I wanted to the opportunity to maybe get a little bit lost and just find some cool things on my own, take my time – that would be the type of China I would want to explore.
My favorite day in Beijing had to be the last day on Saturday. I got to have the Beijing experience I was looking for and am really glad that I left happy. I went to the National Museum of China in Tiananmen Square and that was pretty neat. You can’t really beat museums. Even if you are separated by glass, you are in front of a vital piece of history which is in some way shaped the world into what it is now. You can’t argue with logic like that. While those “No touching” signs are awfully tempting to disobey, looking is plenty. I, for one, actually really like tour guides. I feel as if I learn much, much more with tour guides. Otherwise I am just looking at stuff. And as cool as that stuff may be, or really boring in some cases, I feel that knowing about its purpose or value makes seeing all those artifacts and paintings so much more interesting.
Before entering the museum you had to go through about 3 levels of security. They rightfully wanted to make sure that no harm would come to the artifacts held there. It was the first time I’ve ever been scanned for explosives and patted down though. That detection team meant business. Being a foreigner, you don’t really know, and you walk into those situations not knowing how it is going to turn out. You don’t know the language so if something happens you are kind of SOL if something happens. But I’m okay! I guess I passed through with flying colors! (I did get tagged at the airport though since I didn’t take coins of out my backpack when going through security. I had my program director with me, so that definitely helped. It all evens out.) I should have taken a picture of the guards and the museum workers that were all over the place, because it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Dozens or museum curators, workers, and security at any one time. They were there to do a job and do it right. Next time. =D
When we were walking through the museum, a moment sticks in my mind. A friend I was with brought up the fact that she wanted to see propaganda posters from the Revolution, but I immediately knew that we will probably never find anything like that in a State museum. But after thinking about it for a couple of seconds, you realize that what we see as valuable and worthwhile to document history, others do not. The methodology is different. In China specifically, you won’t find anything overtly incriminating against the State and that propaganda has the potential to be exactly that. The historian in me (history major) cries for the loss of historical evidence displayed for the public. But understanding China you know it is what it is. Usually that is a really awful answer to life but too often you find it to be true.
Me, next to a model of a boat used in the imperial fleet during one of those many dynasties that I can't remember.
There were quite a few amazing paintings of Mao Zedong, the Long March, and the Revolution. That was quite impressive. Taken with a grain of salt, of course those paintings would be amazing. They show the rise of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), and its struggle to overcome some astronomical obstacles. There are a lot of things that Americans actually find very off-putting about China and its government, but its modern history is far too extraordinary to discount. I am a little bit of a cynic and quite suspect (know) that those moments of history have been glorified for the benefit of the People (and the government) but awed I am. Another one of my classmates compared the paintings we saw to those of the American Revolution, like Washington crossing the Delaware. No pictures though, sorry! They said no pictures, so I didn’t take any pictures. =) It really didn’t stop anybody else though. I guess I am a stickler that way. Picture taking. That’s one thing the curators didn’t stop anybody from doing in certain exhibits that prohibited picture taking.
After that we grabbed some lunch and split up as a group. A couple of us went to Beihai Park, a site just northeast of the Forbidden City. We decided to walk there from our hotel and that was a little bit of a walk, but we actually got to see the China that I have wanted to see since we had arrived. You would walk through alleyways and see the old China but could walk over a street and see a thoroughly modern street. It was all about the locals, and that was what I wanted to see. It was pretty neat. Beihai Park. AMAZING.
This was the park where the locals went. Originally a part of the Forbidden, this was also a part of the Emperor’s playground. It’s not a part of the walled Forbidden City because they decided to build a street right beyond the Northern Gate. The street actually gives a little bit of a barrier from the tourists so you got people in the park who were just there to enjoy there day…mostly. There were some tourists but definitely not a lot. Here are just a few of the things we found in the park.
After leaving the park, we decided to walk back instead of taking a taxi. LOST. We got so lost. But it was completely worthwhile. Not a moment was wasted. We saw quite a bit of Beijing on that walk as well. We definitely had to ask for directions a couple of times. Let me tell you. Hotels. Those will save you when you are asking for directions, especially in a foreign country. At least one person will speak a bit of English, and that is all you need.
If there was one thing that I was completely blown away by, it was a bookstore that we ran across when we were walking on the main road back to our hotel. It was by far the BIGGEST bookstore I have ever been to. It was 4 stories high and getting down the aisles was hard enough because they were so narrow, but there were so many PEOPLE. I have never seen so many people in a bookstore, let alone at 8 o’ clock at night. I couldn’t even imagine how crowded it would be during the daytime. It was pretty humbling. You saw hundreds of people walking into museums and bookstores here in China, but you will never truly get that in America, where a game system is practically mandatory and smart phones keep you “connected” for every second of the day. This was a nice change.