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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:

TimeOut 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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Tuesday
May122015

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. 

Sunday
May102015

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 

 

Friday
May082015

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!

Friday
May082015

Yong He Gong Temple

Sherry and Emily here! Beijing has been a blast! Two days ago, the whole group went to the Yong He Gong Temple. We meet up at 9am to walk to the Chinese subway. The day before we recieved blue subway cards that had money preloaded on them. We have to swipe the card when we go on the subway and when we exit it. There's also a security check as we walked in, which was different than expected.

After Kevin and Kai navigated us through the subway system, we finally arrived at Yong He Gong Temple. At the entrance we each received a complimentary bundle of incense sticks. There are multiple temples within Yong He Gong. In front of each main temple, there is the option to burn three incense sticks to use for worship. Typically, you bow three times holding the incense in both hands, making one wish for each bow. For this purpose there were cushions in front of the temple for people kneeled on. Then, people placed their incense sticks up right in a metal bin filled with what appeared to be sand, allowing the incense to continue to burn. Areas designated for worship were also found inside the temples, but we were not allowed to burn the incense here.

 

 

Inside the temples were large, exquisite, detailed statues of famous bodhisattvas. In one temple, the was a Bodhisattva statue that three stories high made from a single tree. (It had a guinness record placard on the outside!) 

 

After we left the temple, we ate lunch at a baotzi restaurant, which are delicious steamed buns that we dipped in chinese vinegar. We had some pork ones as well as some with eggs and mushrooms. So yummy!!

That night, our BNU students visited us. It was great meeting them and we're looking forward to getting to know them in the next few weeks. 

Tuesday
May052015

It's 5am Somewhere...

Aric here. Eddie, my roommate, and I arrived to Beijing for the most part feeling as if we had overcome any sort of jet lag, going to bed around 11ish our first night, and waking up around 6 the next morning. The group headed out for breakfast and then sat in on a BNU class very similar to our own Psych 457. As described below, a group of us adventured the campus and the surrounding area of the city for a few hours, arriving back to our rooms at 3:30pm. We were told to meet the rest of the group for dinner at 5pm with plans to attend a class taught by our very own Kevin Miller at 6pm. Back to 3:30pm, with our legs feeling a bit weary, Eddie and I decided a quick nap before dinner couldn't hurt so we set some alarms on our phones and passed out...

I was awoken to Eddie saying this: "Dude, it's 6:30!..."

Need more be said? Eddie and I had slept through our alarms, missed dinner, and were now missing class. With no ability to text our fellow Beijingers, we helplessly waited in our rooms. Feeling absolutely embarrassed, no, mortified, we pleaded for forgiveness from our faculty advisors, and being the incredible, understanding humans that they are, they pardoned us for our embarrassing lack of control over our circadian clocks.Sums it up pretty well