Life in China (A Series of Mini Posts)

I have come to the humbling realization that despite speaking Chinese at home with my parents for the past 20 years, I still have the language skills of a Chinese 3rd grader. Apparently, there’s more to speaking a language than asking mom what’s for dinner everyday. 

If math were like the Chinese language, we would use a different symbol to represent every number instead of putting digits together to create larger numbers. There would also be 60,000ish numbers but we would only use about 2000 in normal everyday equations. People will often forget how to write certain numbers. They will ask the nearest mathematician who will chuckle with embarassment and shrug because they also don’t know. 

The term “APEC blue” was coined to describe the clear blue skies that appear when the Chinese government shuts down all the factories surrounding Beijing and bans half of the cars on the road to ensure good air quality for important national/international events like the APEC summit, olympics, military parade, etc… Anyway, I think that’s my new favorite color.

Chinese cafeteria ladies are terrifying. Don’t ever waste more than 5 seconds of their time when ordering food. 

My roommate keeps coming home drunk at 3 in the morning, ordering Mcdonalds (they deliver here!), and then promptly passing out after calling them. Which means that I’m left to deal with the angry delivery guy showing up at our dorm at 3:30 wondering why the crap she didn’t answer her phone. This has happened at least 3 times in the last 2 weeks. Every time I have very patiently woken her up so that she could get her food and pay for it. Next time I swear I’m just going to eat it. 

Today was a rare sunny, blue skied, pollution free day. I even saw a cloud! It was so beautiful that I cried a little. 

My program organized a “language partner activity” today where we were paired up with a Chinese student and spent an hour speaking English and an hour speaking Chinese. I’m pretty sure the whole thing was an elaborate ploy by the teachers to set us all up on blind dates.

I’m starting to miss little things about living in the United States. Like salad, and Netflix, and tap water that won’t kill you. Also breathing. You know, just the small stuff. 

Seriously though, like who even came up with this writing system? Also, Chinese dictionaries are ridiculous. In the time it takes me to look up one word, I could walk down to the coffee shop, make a new friend, have them do my homework for me, and still have time to order dessert. (That, my friends, is called opportunity cost.) Thank goodness for smart phones.

An Introduction of Sorts

Hi, my name is Anna Sun (yes, like the song), I’m a third year computer science major, and I will be studying abroad at the China Studies Institute in Beijing this fall. I guess the one thing you should know about me is that I have a great appreciation for the small things in life (Literally, I’m obsessed with tiny houses, Mini Coopers, puppies, and other miniature things). I also love discovering the differences in the tiny minutia of everyday life in other countries. So if you’re curious to know the wonders of Chinese online shopping, how bargaining works, and do the Chinese really eat …(fill in the blank)!? (The answer is probably yes, by the way), then you’ve come to the right place!

My decision to study abroad in China wasn’t the most conventional. As a first generation Chinese American, I was born in China, my entire family is from China, I’ve visited China multiple times and I speak fluent Mandarin. For me, studying abroad in China is less about experiencing a new culture or learning a new language and more about connecting with my heritage. There was also another very important reason. At first I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to study abroad at all but after learning that DU had a partner program with the China Studies Institute in Beijing, realized that I absolutely had to go there. I was completely set on going to this specific program because it would be my one chance to study at Beijing University, a school that is spoken of with reverence and awe by my family and revered by Chinese people everywhere. To students in China, Beijing University is the ultimate goal. Being able to attend to the top university in a country of over a billion people is something that most students can only dream about, and here it was being to offered to me with a little checkbox.

I have a feeling that this will be one of the best decisions in my life. There is still so much to experience and learn from the oldest continuous civilization on Earth. Also, having grown up in the United States for the vast majority of my life, China can still be strange and foreign to me; I’m still shocked by the squatty potties, the nonexistent traffic laws, the children peeing in the street with their crotchless pants, and the little old ladies violently fighting over the last eggplant at the market. I’m excited to get this adventure started.

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Food!

NicoleFood1NicoleFood2Your time abroad is THE time to have adventures, try new things, and immerse yourself in an entirely new world. Where is the best place to dip your toes in the water of a new culture? For me, it was food! Near the center of Beijing there is this lighted, stinky back alley between buildings that on any given night is packed with people. On either side there are food vendors, and there is an entire section just for souvenirs that you can bargain for. This place is called 王府井 (Wángfǔjǐng) and in Beijing, it is the place to get crazy and adventurous food! What was the craziest thing I ate while abroad aside from camel meat? Scorpions! Multiple food vendors in this alley sell either three small scorpions on a stick or one big one. After you order one (alive) they put it in a deep fryer, spice is up, and then you get to chow down! After the initial fear of even putting it in my mouth, I ate it and it was actually pretty good tasting! (好吃!) Minus the legs of course!

NicoleFood3The next thing I had to try, of course, was starfish, on a stick! My two friends and I decided to split the starfish, however the vendor never told us how to properly eat it. After taking the first bite into the hard, salty, and crunchy shell the vendor man started laughing at me! He then proceeded to let me know that you are supposed to crack open the outside shell and eat the insides…. Well at least it didn’t taste that bad! I only took two bites and then I had to pass it off to my friend, probably not something I would eat again,

What better to follow up Starfish with than Snake?  While I do not have a picture of this creature, it was a small, skinny snake with the head still attached, spiraled around a skewer. After biting into part of the body, I realized that it has almost no taste and was all crunch. Then I had the pleasure of eating the head… no so great!

I finished my adventurous night of eating with mini, tart apples covered in some type of candied coating. Delicious!NicoleFood4 After the fried ice cream, and hard candies that followed, my friends and I tested our skills at bargaining. In China, if you go to market, there are not set prices for items to purchase. The vendor gives you a price that is usually outrageously high, the buyer suggests a very low price in comparison and you bargain down to a middle ground. Bargaining in Chinese was one of the most valuable language lessons I learned, and I was able pay less! Overall it is a great culture to learn from!

– Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

The Seven Wonders of China!

As determined by student who studied Abroad in China!

1. The Great Wall of China

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The Great Wall of China was built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern boarders of China during the 7th Century BC to protect China from invading enemies. This beautiful structure is now one of the most famous tourist sites in China, and still one of the most breathtaking. After a 45 minute stair climb up the face of a mountain, my friends and I arrived at the most preserved section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu, and it was breathtaking!

Once on the Wall, you get to explore the watch towers, see the ancient cannons, and experience what it would have been like to be a soldier, watcher on the wall! The Wall itself curves, rises, and falls with the mountain peaks and flows of the land. Made completely of stone, this wall stretches for 5,500 total miles, ending in the sea! The Great Wall of China has been declared as one of the Seven Wonders of World, and its grand beauty earns it a spot on our list!

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2. The Summer Palace, Beijing, China

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The Summer Palace consists of sprawling hills, Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake. This Palace was created when Emperor Wanyan Liang moved the capital of the Jin Dynasty to Beijing and the lake was built to bring the sea to the emperor.

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On a Sunny day, the lake glistens and the beautiful ancient Chinese structures glow. Each building has its own unique designs that mirror the Jin Dynasty!

My friends and I are convinced that every tourist site in China is meant to give visitors a workout because the Summer Palace also involves some stair and hill climbing, however it is extremely worth it to see these manmade structures that have withstood thousands of years.

3. Mountains of Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China

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China7Located on the Li River, the town of Yangshou is surrounded by mountains, unlike any other in the world. Their unique and odd shapes create a landscape to remember. Each individual peak is its own mountain and they stick out of the ground like razor sharp teeth.

My Friends and I floated the Li River with old school wooden rafts and long bamboo sticks to guide us through the water. The fog that surrounded the mountains made it seem almost surreal and otherworldly.

4. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an, China

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The Terracotta army are sculptures which depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, to protect him in the afterlife as a form of funerary art. The 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 520 horses that have been found so far date back to the 3rd century BCE. They are really old! Only 2 out of the four pits have been unearthed and continue to be excavated, so there may be thousands more than have gone undiscovered. This site is almost unbelievable and the soldiers themselves have uncanny resemblance to real human faces. Each soldier has its own unique facial features and hair styles to represent the living soldiers that protected the emperor in life.

China95. The Bund, Shanghai, China

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The Bund is a waterfront area in central Shanghai that houses some of the most unique and beautiful buildings in the world. My friends and I took a boat tour on the river to see both sides of the bund at night and the colors are stunning! Gotta love that neon!

These building are on an island that is accessible by a tunnel that goes under the ocean or a bridge. Some of the most famous skyscrapers include ‘The Pearl.” In this picture you can see the tallest building in the world, set to be finished in Fall 2015.

The picture below is the view from the 100th floor of the Financial Tower, the current tallest building in the world, until the tower next to it is finished anyway. It is insane realize our ability to build so high!

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6. Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, Lijiang, China

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Quite literally, the clearest, bluest, and most beautiful lake I have ever seen rests at the foot of this small mountain range. Located in the Southern Province of Yunnan, the Dragon Snow Mountain is full of glacier peaks and valley grasslands.

With built in walkways and trees to hang your wishes in, this area is one you must see to believe and the lakes, pictured above and below are so clear that you can see all the way to the bottom both in crystal clear blue and a copper green, they are unlike anything else!

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7. ZhangJiaJie National Forest Park, Hunan Province, China

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Recognize these mountains? It is very likely that you do because this National Forest was the filming site for the Hallelujah Floating Mountains in the Blockbuster film, “Avatar.” These mountains are what inspired the world of Pandora for James Cameron, the Director of the movie, and they look like they came straight out of a science fiction movie.

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With mountain formations unlike any other in the world that were formed solely by water erosion over millions of years, these mountains top the list of 7 Wonders of China, as seen by a student who studied abroad there. Now go and Explore!

-Nicole Paulsen, Study Abroad Assistant

A Returnee’s Guide to Surviving Reverse Culture Shock

Being on my own for so long made me forget what it was like to be surrounded by my loved ones all the time. When I finally did come back home to my loved ones, it seemed so different. It is not because I was sad that I was home, but rather I wanted to be left alone because that was how I lived and grew as a person for the last 4 months in a country unlike the United States in almost every way. Reverse culture shock is real, and for me, it was hard to handle on my own.

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I studied abroad in Beijing, China at Peking University for four months in the Fall of 2014. It was the best and the most challenging experience of my life, but it was more than worth it in every aspect. The culture, the language, and the food were like nothing we experience here in America; its like China was a whole new world just waiting to be discovered.

After being home for 2 months now, I have found some things to help the transition back to life both in America but also here at the University of Denver.

Take Time to Reflect:

It already seems as though my time abroad was a dream, if it were not for the reminder of all the great pictures that I took. Spend some time reflecting on your own about your experience, especially considering what you learned from it. Take this time to relive the memories, go through all your pictures, and contemplate how you felt about the overall experience. This helped me better understand what differences I appreciated about China, and the specific parts of my journey that really mattered to me; maybe it will help you in even more ways!

Find Your 2 Minute Short Story:

You will be asked by almost everyone (family, friends, Facebook followers, random neighbors, old co-workers, distant relatives, even dogs if they could talk) how your time abroad was and what your favorite memories were. I had to answer this question so many times it started to just become routine. Many times, the questions were just in passing so I picked a couple cool experiences and a few difficult ones to tell people about that really summed up my trip. Finding your study abroad short story will save you time, and brain power; it allows you to tell your story on your own terms, so enjoy!

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Stay Connected with Your Friends from Abroad:

It is easy to fall out of contact with people, especially when you live in different states, and even different countries. Making the effort to chat and catch up with friends from abroad is very rewarding. Sometimes I just needed to chat with Lily because she was a part of the story about getting lost in the mountains in Southern China and finding our, or understand the hardship of being abroad as well as coming back home. They can be the greatest resource for you, as well as the best life-long friend. Getting back in touch with your friends from home and DU is equally important! Be sure to surround yourself with people who love you, care about you, and understand you

Find a New Routine to Help You readjust:

Sometimes familiar can be helpful when trying to adjust back to life at DU. Having a familiar routine that fits your desires and needs makes things seem a bit more normal. This can be going back to activities you did before you went abroad as well as joining new groups based off your experience abroad. Coming back onto campus, I continuing my work with the debate team for a sense of familiarity while also joining a sustainability group on campus to advocate for better environmental efforts on campus; I never want the city to be as polluted as Beijing was.

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Tread Water, Don’t Dive into the Deep End:

Instead of jumping in and joining a bunch of clubs, taking a full course load, and finding a job; try to ease your transition back to life in the U.S. by making a little bit easier schedule. Take three class for winter quarter, be a member of a club rather than the leader of it, or work less hours at a part time job. The transition back is not easy, so make some time for yourself and enjoy being back!

-Nicole, Study Abroad Assistant

 

Readjusting Post-Study Abroad

A few weeks ago was my birthday. Things were going wonderfully, and then I received this text from my friend:

“Happy birthday, my dearest! And to think we left Beijing one year ago today.”

I read it and was dumbstruck. I clearly remembered my birthday one year ago, when my friends and I caught a cab to the Beijing Capital International Airport. It was early, barely 6:30 am. I was ready to return to the U.S., but I also wanted more time in this historical yet modern city. Although I wasn’t flying directly home (there was a detour to Hong Kong), it was the day I left my school, program, and friends from abroad.

Only now, one year later, am I beginning to see how my study abroad affected me when I returned to the States. Initially, all I could comprehend were the immediate things—how clean Colorado’s air is, how much more natural it was to use chopsticks and how clunky silverware seemed. My first quarter back at DU was overwhelming; academics, work, and relationships were different than I expected. As weird as it may sound, I yearned to study Chinese all day and eat sumptuous Beijing cuisine. Yet I had to focus on my final year of undergrad in Denver. It was intense. Things that seemed trivial to me were actually part of a large readjustment process I didn’t realize was happening.

For example…when I initially started drinking coffee again it was like drinking an energy drink. Even coffee overwhelmed me! I mediated this by ordering a tea tumbler off Amazon so I could drink the loose-leaf tea I had brought back from China.  Coffee gets me too caffeinated; I prefer to drink it slowly with friends now.

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Also, there were many times post-China I felt silly or disjointed while speaking. I’d pause or not be able to describe something as prolifically as I wanted to—the Chinese word was more immediate to me than the English word. There were three distinct times when I forgot “student” in English. There are countless times when my tongue has been tied.

Ultimately, two things have helped me readjust post-study abroad: 1) getting a routine and 2) working on communication.

This quarter has been my most stable quarter since being back. My routine is also the most stable now since being back, and I love it. A stable routine is one of the most grounding things I have experienced post-study abroad. Also, communication may seem simple, but after returning from another culture, changes in communication styles is undoubtedly one of the most important things to pay attention to.

Not everything ends just because you and your friends are getting on different flights with different destinations, but change is inevitable. Perhaps you won’t notice the change right away. Still, I recommend focusing on communication and establishing a routine—especially if you are gone for a longer amount of time.

Michelle Yeager, Peer Advisor

I Thought I Wasn’t Prejudiced

After living and working in another country I felt I had learned about a different culture. Especially after being abroad for the entirety of my junior year, I thought I identified with certain parts of the Chinese culture. Obviously, I am not Chinese and am by no means an expert on Chinese culture. Still, I had studied the language pretty intensively, had lived with a host family, traveled on my own and consumed copious amounts of Chinese food. Only after two months of being back did I begin to realize how being exposed and immersed in Chinese culture affected me.

Apart from thinking silverware was heavy and clunky compared to chopsticks, I also subconsciously thought I could identify various kinds of Asian ethnicities (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.). Let me explain.

You know how animals seem to have a sixth sense and can detect when there is danger? It may sound strange, but I swear there are people who have a sixth sense and can tell the difference between different nationalities (much like people here pick up on what regional area a person is from based on his/her characteristics). While in China I interacted with people from Japan, Singapore, and other southeastern Asian countries. After awhile I began to subconsciously identify the people I interacted with as belonging to certain nationalities. The funny thing was I had no idea about this until two months after I returned to the United States.

 

One day, while waiting for an appointment, my friend was looking up different doctors on her phone. She handed me her phone and asked me if the doctor she was looking at was possibly Chinese. I looked at the person and at the name, and it was definitely not a Chinese name. I shook my head, saying I did not think he was Chinese. Still, I continued looking at the doctor’s photo, my eyes going back between the name and the face. And then it clicked.

“He’s probably Vietnamese.” I told my friend. “He looks just like my friend so-and-so from Vietnam.”

“Oh, I was judging based on the name.” My friend responded, quickly taking her phone back. A few minutes later she said, “I looked up the name and it’s Vietnamese.”

Once we were back in her car, she told me the receptionist had given me a harsh look when I brazenly said the doctor looked Vietnamese. I was completely taken aback—I had just spent nine months living in a country where it was almost second nature to classify people based on their appearance. After hearing about the reaction my comment had gotten, I was immediately self-conscious. On one hand, I could see people of certain ethnic identities not appreciating me judging others based on looks. On the other hand, it was normal to me because I had just come from a country where that was normal—people would call me Russian or ask where in Germany I was from. Some people told me I was obviously American. I learned to roll with it. Once back in the States, however, I felt obligated to consciously realign my thinking. It was weird at first, but I have gradually shifted back to certain attitudes and behaviors that are more accepted in the United States.

When I think about this experience, it is almost embarrassing to think that people thought I was prejudiced. I considered myself operating as I had been trained to do abroad, in a different country and in a different culture. It became natural to begin to identify the people I saw with certain Asian countries. The interaction at the doctor’s office made me immediately conscious of how habits developed in other countries may not be very appropriate when I am in the US. Hopefully this awareness transfers to further travels and interactions with various people.

 

-Michelle Yeager, Peer Adviser.