Random Assortment of Links

Useful resources for learning about contemporary China:

 English language Sinica Podcast

James Fallows - not always China-related, but always interesting

What's going on in Beijing:

City Weekend - Beijing

The Beijinger

China Daily's Beijing Weekend 

Beijing Weather - Weather Underground


Useful language learning tools

Chinesepod podcast - free beginners' podcasts

Popup Chinese podcast - another very good podcast series

Hacking Chinese - interesting ideas on learning Chinese efficiently

Skritter character-learning tool for iPad/iPhone - really fun app

Sinosplice - John Pasden's site on many interesting aspects of China and the Chinese language



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Xi'an and the Terracotta Warriors

I know it has been a few days since we have posted, but we were experiencing some difficulties with the wifi in Xi'an. However, now we are back in Beijing and we have some catching up to do. I will keep this blog post short, sweet, and to the point, so I will post lots of pictures because as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words! Here is a brief overview of our time in Xi'an...

May 15th

We finally arrived in Xi'an after about a 13 hour train ride and we had a long day ahead of us. We attended class taught by our very own Professor Miller and Professor Cortina at Shaanxi Normal Univeristy. 


Photo: It was the train to Xi'An and all through the car, not a creature was stirring...probably because there was no room for stirring or anything else for that matter.

Later that night we attended a cultural dinner and banquet sponsored by the Shaanxi Normal University (SNU) students, which consisted of games, painting traditional Chinese masks, and calligraphy. 

Photo: Game that required us to pass ping pong balls down a line using chopsticks

We ended our night by serenading our new friends to our favorite song, "Hail to the Victors!"

 Photo: The entire group singing Hail to the Victors to the SNU students at the cultural night

May 16th

Today we went took a bus to see the Terracotta warriors. There is a collection of over 7,000 terracotta soldiers currently uncovered and many more to be excavated. The terracotta army was built to guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China.

The terracotta army was not discovered until March 29th, 1974, making its debut after more than 2,000 years underground.

Photo: The terracotta soldiers in Pit 1 (there were 3 pits total)

Photo: Posing amongst the terracotta warriors (replicas of course)

We ended our day by returning to Xi'an and having a dinner in the Muslim Quarter consisting of Xi'an's legendary noodles, plum juice, and peanut brittle for dessert.

Photo: Evening in Xi'an walking around the Muslim Quarter

May 17th

We started off our day at the Shaanxi History Museum and then headed to the Muslim Quarter to perfect our bargaining skills and pick up souveniers for our friends and family members back home! Photo: Several of us decided to get fish pedicures, which consists of fish nibbling the dead skin off your feet (...very ticklish!)

And of course we found a Starbucks, so we had to dare to eat the ice to get our caffeine fix.

Photo: Starbucks selfie. The one time we didn't have to order "Bu yao bing" (aka "don't want ice")

We concluded our day with an evening stroll around the Wild Goose Pagoda, which is where the Buddhist monks translated the Sutras into Mandarin. 

May 18th

Our time in Xi'an had come to an end, and we packed up our belongings and walked (for what felt like forever) to the train station, where we dropped off our luggage at a temporary storage place, so we could ride bikes along the old city wall, where we had incredible views of the city of Xi'an. However, it was extremely hot, so we had to take preventative measures to stay cool by eating lots of ice cream!

Photo: Walking with our luggage to the train station in Xi'an

Photo: Logan and Hannah finsh up the bike trip around the old city wall in Xi'an

We definitely slept well on the 13 hour train ride back to Beijing after that bike ride!


Temple of Heaven, Houhai, and ACROBATS!

It's been a busy couple of days here in Beijing, with all of us packing up now to head to Xi'an for a long weekend trip!


On Tuesday we traveled to the Temple of Heaven, a series of religious buildings created for emperors to pray to Heaven for a good harvest. I am constantly in awe of the detail and beauty of the buildings, and how long they must have taken to build! The Temple of Heaven was constructed from 1406 to 1420, and was built by the same regime that designed the Forbidden City. We walked around for a few hours, bought some souvenirs, and then headed to a late lunch. For the evening, we were on our own, and people went to different restaurants around the campus. It's great to feel so independent and comfortable with the area now!

the temple of heaven!


Yesterday, a group of us ventured to Houhai with Kai, which is a park area with shops and restaurants surrounding a series of lakes. It was a beautiful day to walk around and see a bustling area full of different foods and people - Kai even treated us to ice cream!

by the lakes at Houhai!

At night, after a delicious dinner at a restaurant found on China's version of Yelp (thanks Han!) we saw an acrobatics show. All I can say is WOW! There were contortionists, jugglers, and - most impressive to me - men on motorcycles in what can only be described as a giant hamster ball. At one point, eight men drove around inside of the ball, making many of our hearts race!! After the show, some of us went back to Houhai to see what the nightlife was like. 


the daredevils at the acrobat show!

We're off to catch a train, see you in Xi'an!


The Summer Palace

Monday morning at 9 - the usual time - the group set out for the Summer Palace, a destination that was a mere bit of walking and two subway lines away from the BNU campus. The weather warmed up a little bit from Sunday which had been rather chilly and very rainy. Lead by our tenacious professor Kevin Miller, we entered the former summer resort of Empress Dowager Cixi, who controlled the Chinese government from 1861 to 1908 (go ahead and check Wikipedia) and who was, according to Kevin, not the wisest strategist in military matters (see “Marble Boat”). 

Three quarters of the grounds of the Summer Palace are covered by Kunming Lake, which is artificial but picturesque nonetheless. The group seized the opportunity to take another couple pictures with the Michigan flag while we walked around the manmade body of water. As far as I know, the U of M Instagram page has not tapped any of us to ask if they may repost one of our group pictures. Don’t you worry, though, we still have two weeks to go in China.

After crossing over numerous bridges, walking the perimeter of South Lake Isle, stopping for steamed buns and more photo opps by the lakeside, we eventually made our way to Longevity Hill, where a series of buildings dot the landscape. A handful of moans and groans were exerted as we climbed the stairs on the hill, but they were nothing in comparison to the Great Wall on Saturday. It took maybe 10 minutes to get to the top. There we stumbled upon an artist that specializes in painting customers’ names all fancy-like. He incorporates dragons, butterflies, fish, pine trees, bamboo, pandas, and a selection of birds and flowers into the names, each of which represents something. The pine tree, for example, symbolizes long life, and the dragon is a symbol of power. Nearly everybody in the group had one or two names painted for themselves. Kevin, with his formidable bargaining skills, bartered the price down to 40 yuan a piece for the paintings (30 by themselves) and their lamination (worth 10). 

It took the artist a hot second, but he managed to finish all of our 20+ paintings, including an emphatic “Go Blue.” While waiting for him to finish all of those, the group either watched in awe as he spit them out systematically or lounged about on the series of rocks nearby. In the meantime, other visitors to the palace paid to have their pictures taken in traditional Chinese garb. Some of us found ourselves inadvertently in the background of these photos. I guess it’s hard for U of M students to escape the spotlight (ha-ha).

We ended up leaving the Summer Palace around 3:30 PM, which meant we had effectively skipped lunch. That was okay, though, because the scenic views provided by Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill had been more than enough to satisfy our aesthetic appetites. 


The Great Wall 

Yesterday we went to the Great Wall and it was amazing!! It was pretty cool outside which was nice and no one got sunburned. We took about an hour bus ride to the part of the Great Wall we were climbing. When we arrived within ten minutes we were spotted by two Michigan alumni. It was great to see fellow Michigan fans halfway around the world. We then started the climb! 

The walk up the wall was a bit challenging at times, but looking at the view and thinking about the history of the wall made it all worth it. We went to a more secluded part of the wall, where fewer tourists go, and the views were AMAZING! Some of the BNU students came with us, and told us stories and myths about the wall and its history. We all brought snacks and had a little picnic on one of the seven wonders of the world - a once in a lifetime experience!snack time!


All matching in our Michigan psych shirts! 

Ran into some Michigan State fans at the Wall 

After our long day at the wall, we came back towards campus and ate at a Hot Pot restaurant. Hot Pot is when you cook the meat yourself in boiling water with different flavors, some were really spicy! At this restaurant they're known for their hospitality- they gave lens wipes for people with glasses, and hair ties to girls with their hair down. Also, if you have to wait to be seated (which lots of people do because it's so crowded) complimentary manicures and snacks are provided. They were also very theatrical, a man stretched out noodles in front of us before we ate them, and someone performed Bian lian - a dramatic art where a man changes masks without anyone seeing how! Overall, this day was really great (no pun intended) and everything from morning to night was awesome.

Stretching the noodles 



A Trip to The Forbidden City

Our adventures in Beijing continued yesterday, as the group traveled to The Forbidden City. To get there, we took the subway into the heart of the city. There was a sense of excitement, not only among the group but in everyone around us, as thousands of shuffled through the gate into the city. The gate itself was a spectacle to behold, spreading quite wide and rising far above the ground. Once inside the first gate, we were greeted by a vast open square that lay before the second gate. Once our tickets were purchased, we proceeded through the second gate. Many of us found the space and vastness of the city baffling as it stretched far and wide with ancient structures preserved throughout the centuries. Some of the structures included the emperor’s green room, changing room, and political strategy room. One common feature of many of the buildings was elegantly an designed throne on which the emperor would sit. One of the last features of the city that we visited was the imperial garden. Situated towards the center of the city, the garden provided an intimate and green space in a city characterized by relatively open courtyards. It was dotted with multiple gazebos and several unique rock and tree structures. Although we were able to witness much of the beauty of this iconic point of interest, there were still many features that we were unable to visit due to time constraints. This will most definitely be one of the most memorable days of our trip!

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