Fabiana in China: The Last One

May 1, 2015

As we wrap up the month of April, I sit back and enjoy my last plane ride back to Beijing. I look at the blue sky and clouds, and remember I forgot to throw out the milk in my refrigerator before leaving (two weeks ago). Haha.

With approximately 1,400 photos in my camera (of which 200 are basically selfies), I feel as if it was only yesterday when this trip started. We had seen and learned so much, to the extent that I have to make an effort to remember what I had seen in each city. I could go on and on about everything that has happened, but instead I’ll briefly narrate my top 10 experiences.

(Because it’s too hard to rank them, I just listed them according to the order in which each was done)

Visiting the White Horse Temple (Luoyang, western Henan province, China)

The White Horse Temple is the first Buddhist temple in China. Established in 68 AD under the patronage of Emperor Ming, the temple is considered “the cradle of Chinese Buddhism.” The legend says Emperor Ming had a dream vision about a Buddha who established Buddhism in India. He then sent emissaries to search for Buddhist scriptures. In Afghanistan, they found two Buddhist monks that agreed to come to China to translate the Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. These monks carried their Buddhist books, scriptures and relics on two white horses. In their honor, the Emperor built and named the first Buddhist temple The White Horse Temple.  Creative huh?

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Witnessing tens of thousands Buddhist statues carved into mountains (Luoyang)

The last time I remember feeling this amazed was when I saw the Taj Mahal in India two years ago. The view of the Longmen Buddhist Grottoes was simply breathtaking, especially because you never really know when you’ll reach the most famous sculptural site of the place. The construction of the grottoes began in 493 BCE, and in 2000, the area was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With around 2345 caves and niches, 2800 inscriptions, 43 pagodas, and over 10,000 Buddhist images at the site, it is one of the most impressive collections of Chinese art from the Northern Wei Dynasty, Tang Dynasty and other periods.

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Touring The Terracotta Soldiers Site (Xi’an)

Ever since I saw an exposition at Epcot, Disney of the Terracotta Soldiers, my dream was to go see “the real-deal.” These life-sized statues of warriors older than the Roman Empire are located 1.5 kilometers east of the Mausoleum of the First Emperor, Shi Huang Di. Farmers found pieces of broken terracotta in 1974 when digging a well. This is how the 14,260 square-meter pit of terracotta warriors and horses was found. Today, more than 8,000 soldiers and 100 chariots have been excavated. However, because of the “limited technology” today, most of the excavated warriors have been buried again for better protection. There are only 1,000 terracotta figures in exhibition today.

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Riding a Tandem Bike on Xi’an’s Ancient City Wall

There is truly no other way to wander this 14-kilometer city wall other than riding a bike. If you’re up for spicing things up, try renting the tandem bikes. From the top, you’ll be able to see the contrast between the old and new architecture: the old referring to the construction located inside the city wall, and the new referring to the outside. The city walls form one of the largest and most complete, ancient military systems of defense in the world. They were built on the fortifications of the Tang Forbidden City.

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Eating in Xi’an: Arab Street Food

From fried bananas on sticks to spicy meat over bread: when in Xi’an this street is a “must-go” to eat. Half the time you will not know what you’re eating, but the lines of people waiting will depict how good the food being sold there is.

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Roaming Around the Potala Palace (Lhasa)

This palace is truly astonishing. When seeing it from the outside, you see a combination of white on the bottom and red on top. These two colors correspond to two palaces built in different time periods, but connected to form one from the inside. Pilgrims walk around the Potala Palace for hours to pay homage, so as soon as you’re near the palace you can get a feel of how important this building is for Buddhists. The 13-story palace stands 117 meters high and has over 1,000 rooms. It covers an area of 130,000 square meters.

The red palace contains jaw-dropping mausoleums of previous Dalai Lamas and the white palace contains the living headquarters of successive Dalai Lamas and their tutors. The Potala Palace is full of precious sculptures, murals, scriptures, and Buddha figures accompanied by the hums of the Buddhist prayers. It has been considered one of the most sacred places for Buddhism for hundreds of years.

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Having Tea by the Barkhor Street (Lhasa)

“入乡随俗,”by far one of my favorite four-character word sayings in Chinese means: “In Rome, do what Romans do.” After walking one of the oldest streets in Lhasha called Barkhor Street, one has to make an effort to find the famous teashops located on hidden alleys. Our tour guide took my friend and I to one of these for a big surprise. These places are not the ordinary teashops you’re imagining, where you sit in an ordinary manner and have a server ask your order. These are the type of places you sit wherever you fit: there are long tables and chairs everywhere. This is a type of place locals sit and chat, do business and meet total strangers. With a whole pot of milk tea priced at $1, this is the place to end your day’s adventure.

Hiking the Leshan Giant Buddha (Leshan)

The Leshan Giant Buddha is the biggest carved stone Buddha in the world (71 meters high). Located at the confluence of three important rivers, the statue was built to bring the water spirit under control. The falling stones during the carving would also help reduce the water force there. It took 90 years to complete the carving.

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Visiting the Panda Research Base/Giant Panda Breading Center (Chengdu)

The research base, which has elements of a veterinary lab, a park, a panda habitat, and a zoo, is one of the best places to see giant pandas in the world. The research base, covered in trees, flowers and 14 species of bamboo, provides a pleasant escape from city life. Red pandas (closer-looking to a raccoon than a panda) are also sheltered there, giving a twist to the whole experience.

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Walking through Jinli Street (Chengdu)

In ancient times, Jinli was one of the busiest commercial boulevards of the Kingdom of Shu. Today, visitors from all over China and abroad enjoy this renovated street, as there is a lot to see, hear and EAT. WARNING: eating some of the local specialties will literally make you sweat. If you’re not into spicy food, make sure you tell the vendor “bu yao la” 不要啦 = I don’t want spicy. They’ll look at you a little insulted (they love the spice), but will make sure you get the least amount of spice in it (if possible).

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With the semester completed and a month left in Beijing, I wrap my last blog post with a BIG THANK YOU. I couldn’t have done anything without the support of my family, boyfriend, and friends I made along the way. I liked having this blog for my stay in China, who knows if I’ll have another independent one in the future.

There is still so much to see, touch and taste out there. I am young. I am hungry for experience.

Till we meet again.

F.

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Fabiana in China: Adventure Awaits

April 13, 2015

As I finished writing the last sentence of my essay this morning, I realized one thing:

I was done.

I had finished my final exam.

3 months went by, just like that. And now I look back, and I’m like: “Fabiana, that wasn’t that hard, or was it?” It’s funny how when we’re facing challenges and difficulties, it’s so hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re like, “Man, I just can’t do it anymore.” We fight with ourselves. We cry. We want to give up. But when it’s all finally over, when you’ve been on the go for days now, you look back, smile, and say “Agh, that wasn’t that bad.” Haha.

Although I have seen my roommates start pilling up their papers filled of Chinese vocabulary words written over and over again, corrected homework, and not-so-pretty exam grades, I just can’t make myself start doing the same. Yes, I am done with the semester, the grades are all in, and I do feel like a weight has gotten off my shoulders. But nevertheless, I do not want to get rid of my Chinese books or tests, or those laborious and tiny “study tips” I like to do with a pink pen on top of my already summarized study guide. Yep, welcome to my world.

Although I have finished this semester, I have not finished learning Chinese.

I think to it as a never-ending project. It’s been a while since I started learning Chinese~ as soon as I start to feel comfortable with the language I realized, “Wow, I know this much. If only I knew THAT much more.” Chinese just keeps challenging you. I love it.

In retrospect, I now look at those 5am morning coffee sessions I had with my Chinese book everyday. I see myself there working, listening to that one “The River Flows in You” Pandora radio station. No one’s up and I am just there absorbed by the new vocabulary words. I smile and laugh for no apparent reason. I’m in my medium.

People often look at me and say, “how do you do it?” The truth is that I simply enjoy studying. I enjoy waking up at 5am knowing that by the time my 9am class starts, I’ll be prepared to answer every question and feel happy with myself. I have truly tried my best.

It’s not very practical, I confess. But it’s what makes me, me.

Now, I sit on the high-speed train making my way to Luoyang. The trip has finally started, and I’m starting the “gaining new eyes” part of my study abroad.

2 weeks of discovery and new landscapes.

Fabiana

A real voyage of discovery

A real voyage of discovery


Fabiana in China: Stage Fright

March 30, 2015

“This was my chance,” I thought as a rushed into the program’s office and wrote my name on the list. I had just signed up for the 2015 CSI Spring Semester Speaking Contest. Oh God Fabiana. What were you thinking?

I was terrified. How was I going to stand up there that day and give a presentation in Chinese? I mean, even back at UR I try to avoid all sorts of presentations!

My second thought after leaving that office: I had single-handedly signed up for getting my butt kicked out of my comfort zone, that’s for sure.

In all honesty, it took a lot from me. I had two weeks to find a theme and prepare for the contest, apart from having the normal workload. There were a few times where I stopped working and reflected on why on earth I like to do this to myself. Haha. I mean, it was not an obligatory event, and I already had enough work to keep me really busy. But then again I thought to myself, what’s life if we’re always taking the “easy” road? Doing this would not only help my Chinese, but also my confidence level. I was given an opportunity.

The day finally arrived. As I stood up there, I could feel the typical red-tomato blush I get in circumstances like this. Undeniably stumbled with some words, but managed to go through it sorta-like one of the hundred times I practiced for it. When those 10 minutes were done, I felt like an enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had done it.

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The judges

The judges

For some surprising reason, I was kindly granted one of the three awards given that day: “Best Story Award.” There was literally no one who could take away my smile. No one. I had not only finished what I started, but I received recognition for it. I was beyond content!

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I really ought to give a lot of credit to my incredible Chinese tutor who was there with me all the way. She not only believed in me, but also pushed me. She was patient and kind, and corrected me ever single time I mispronounced the same word over and over again. I really couldn’t have done it without her.

After the show was over, I couldn’t wait to get back home, but on my comfiest pajamas, and enjoy an episode or two of “The Mindy Project.” It had been a long week.

This week, however, had a very different pace. I had no longer the pressure from the speaking contest and the schoolwork has gotten a bit lighter. I can’t believe we only have a week left of actual school, and then a week for our final exams! After all that jazz, we will be heading out of Beijing to our 2-week end-of-semester trip. The trip’s focus is Tibetan culture and Buddhism and the cities that we will be visiting are Luoyang, Xi’an, Xi’ning, Lhasa, Chengdu and Leshan. You probably never heard these names before, but you have probably heard about the Shaolin Temple, Terra-cotta Soldiers, Leshan Giant Buddha, and the Giant Panda Center. Yes, all located –somewhere- in these cities.

While I keep on daydreaming about visiting Tibet in two weeks, I leave you with some pictures of one of my favorite places in Beijing: 798 Art District.

‘Till the next post!

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Fabiana in China: I Was The Donkey

March 17, 2015

As I finished reading the story, I remembered where I was about two months ago. I had fallen into an empty well and had no one to save me but myself…

After successfully finishing two textbooks since we first started, we began a new one last week. It welcomed us with a very curious and inspiring story:

In summary, the text talked about an old donkey that had fallen into an empty well. The owner and his neighbors did not know what to do to help this poor donkey out, so they decided to fill the well with dirt so the donkey would not suffer anymore. As they shoveled dirt in, they listened how the donkey become more and more silent. After some time they were all curious about what the donkey was doing, so decided to look down: as the dirt fell on top of the donkey’s back, he swayed his body and made the dirt fall to one side. He then took a step on top of the pile of dirt and repeated this motion as more dirt came in. When the pile got high enough, he took a big jump on top of it and trotted out of the well.

“I am that donkey,” I quietly whispered in class, and smiled right after.

I smiled because I realized I had been doing exactly the same: shaking the “dirt” of my body and stepping on top of whatever wanted to knock me down. I still have to jump out of my well, but I can see the light, and I am not far away from it.

From increasing the amount of Chinese vocabulary words learned each day, to increasing the amount of times I have to refer back to my English dictionary to check the English translation the book provides, I can now say that if I would ever take the SAT again, I would ace the reading part. Haha. But actually.

In order to shake out this week’s stress the program surprised us with a very entertaining weekend. On Friday, we had a scavenger hunt on Peking University’s campus. I was asked to recall Chinese famous dishes and New Year’s traditions, ask a “handsome” Chinese guy for his phone number, complete character writing in order to find hidden messages, and many more tasks. We had a beautiful day that accompanied the afternoon and delicious snacks waiting for us at the finish line! It was a lot of fun!

 Snapshots from PKU during the Scavenger Hunt

Snapshots from PKU during the Scavenger Hunt

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That same day, I finally decided to go to that Kickboxing lesson I was long thinking about. With the scavenger hunt in the afternoon and the kickboxing lesson at night, I was destroyed. Although my body still hurts from it, the 加油s (“you can do it!”) I received from random kickboxing peers that day made the muscle pain worthwhile.

On Saturday, we all went to THE GREAT WALL! How exciting! We had a big bus waiting for us back in PKU (Peking University) and left for our half-day adventure. Although I had been to The Great Wall about two years ago, this time somehow felt more magical. We had all broke down into small groups and hiked our way to the very top. Well, except a couple of friends and I that didn’t really make it to the top. In my defense, I thought there was no such thing as a “top”! I could only see more of the Great Wall in the distance, and when we got tired we just started to walk back down. Apparently if you keep hiking up like some of my classmates did, there is a way to use a slide to get back down! So keep this in mind if you’re planning to come and visit! (I guess I now have an excuse to go back).

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After that adventure, I had to end the day with my favorite dessert in China: Bubble Tea. Tapioca pearls, milk, tea, and your roommate’s smile are all you really need to end a day like this. With three more weeks left of actual teaching until the end of semester trip with the program begins, I can truly say I wish I would have extended my stay in Beijing for one more semester. I think I can speak for everyone in the program when I say that I still feel I have so much left to learn! Chinese language learning seems endless, but we all just simply love it! It’s sort of like a love-hate relationship. We can’t get enough of it!

Till next week!

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Fabiana in China: Chinese Interrupts My Sleep

March 2, 2015

Gkdgfjhdowjd.

That’s what my brain did as it switched back to English mode on Friday. I had stepped out from my midterm exam exhausted, but accomplished; I had successfully finished half of my time here in China!

Later that day we went to celebrate to a Hotpot restaurant with two of our teachers. We invited them to join us because we had never talked to them in English before, and personally, I wanted to change the impression I thought they had of me: I was a 5 year-old that thought everything was “很好” (very good) and that the weather was always “特别冷”(specially cold). With all honestly, with the limited Chinese we have, we can’t really have “deep” conversations. This was my time to really get to know them.

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As we arrived, we were given red aprons, zip block bags to cover our phones, hair ties, and hot towels. I was quite confused. I had been to a hotpot restaurant in Hong Kong before, but never was I offered such service! (For those who do not know what hotpot is, Wikipedia explains it all: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_pot) As I tried to form questions regarding this curious meal to my teachers, my mind went all crazy again. Suddenly, I couldn’t speak English anymore (?) My brain and my eyes didn’t agree: I guess this happened because I associate their faces with speaking Mandarin and my brain just didn’t want to cooperate. This was quite an experience.

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During the meal, some were speaking English, others Chinese, and I unconsciously started to speak Spanish (?) I was really confused. This whole event reminded me of a question I was made regarding speaking three languages: “since you are fluent in English and Spanish, is it easier to learn Chinese?” My answer: “NO. It’s harder.” He looked at me confused and continued, “but there are studies…” I listened to him and continued, “In my experience, I consider it harder because I tend to change the language in which I think.” My mother tongue is Spanish, but I have been studying English for about the same time, so both languages come naturally to me. (To my bilinguals out there, have you ever thought about the language in which you think?)

Spanish and English have different sentence structures, ways of expression, and the list continues. So if I change the language in which I think unconsciously, it makes it hard for me to translate my thoughts to Chinese.

I considered the idea of writing an extended essay regarding the reasons why learning Chinese has been hard for me, but I will only write it once I find a scientific explanation behind it. You’ll have to wait for it.

Just to give you an example of how confused my brain has been for the last two months, ask my roommate. Today she came up to me and told me I sleep-talk A LOT: “During the first week you spoke English, some days you switched to Spanish, and you’ve been recently speaking Chinese!” Now that I think of it, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night with a headache: I had forgotten a word in Chinese in my sleep and my brain has just been going over and over the same sentence. I have to say, that going through experiences like this have been both frustrating and interesting. They just leave me thinking, why is this happening to me?

As I try to leave aside what I think is unexplainable at the moment, I dream about our beautiful Wei Ming Lake back at Peking University. “It’s no longer frozen,” I think to myself. I have been seeing more green in its walking paths and small gardens. What a wonderful way to start the spring!

Till next week!

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Fabiana in China: Adventures in Harbin

February 24, 2015

Fireworks woke me up. I was on a train heading to Harbin, China on the night of Chinese New Year. 干杯 (“cheers”) and laughter could be heard on the light-less hallway, and as I closed my eyes to go back to sleep, I thought about how lucky I was to be in China for one its most important holidays.

The city of Harbin left me amazed of how China’s panorama can change so abruptly depending of where you are. I had traveled to other cities in China before, but this was the first time I was traveling this north. As I walked through the Harbin streets, I felt like I was in Eastern Europe; the combination of Chinese and European architecture styles puzzled, but charmed me. I had a Chinese monastery on my right and a Russian Orthodox church, Saint Sophia Cathedral, on my left. It was simply breathtaking!

Saint Sophia Cathedral

Saint Sophia Cathedral

Zhongyang Pedestrian Street, one of the main streets in Harbin, was overcrowded with Chinese people taking photos with the different ice sculptures, buying Russian goods, and eating street food delicacies. It was a spectacle! Although I am pretty sure we were all freezing (I personally couldn’t feel my toes), everyone seemed to enjoy the music played on the streets and the happiness of beginning a new year in such a magical city like this.

Zhongyang pedestrian street ice sculptures

Zhongyang pedestrian street ice sculptures

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Over the course of 2 nights and 3 days, we got to visit the Harbin Ice and Amusement World, Zhaolin Park (home to the largest collection of lit-up ice sculptures), the Siberian Tiger Park, the Temple of Bliss, and Harbin’s famous Russian district.

As I try to decide what was the part I enjoyed the most of this whole experience, I think about conversations I had with Chinese locals as they tried to figure out the year I was born to match me up with their sons; I think about holding a Siberian baby tiger and hoping his teeth wouldn’t be that sharp, or witnessing the very traumatizing extermination of a chicken by his dad. I dream of that amazing Russian lunch and chocolate for dessert; and how could I forget crossing that 3 kilometer frozen river from a Harbin island to the mainland; and of course the joy of being hypnotized with the sculpture lights! AAGH! Every moment had its own excitement.

Siberian baby tiger

Siberian baby tiger

White tiger eating steak

White tiger eating steak

Pay to feed the tigers

Pay to feed the tigers

Russian district

Russian district

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Harbin Ice and Amusement World

Harbin Ice and Amusement World

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Now, I think back and reflect on the things I have learnt through this adventure. The most important thing I got from it was due to a conversation we had with our Chinese roommate in the youth hostel we stayed in. We were trying to save some pocket money, so my two friends and I decided to get a room for four and have someone else stay with us. She was from the southern part of China and had come to Harbin to fulfill the “Chinese travel dream.” She explained this dream as being able to go to the “most” northern, southern, eastern, and western parts of China. She was staying the night in Harbin and traveling towards the north the next morning.

This “dream” amazed me, really. It made reconsider the type of traveling I have been doing for some years now. I acknowledge I have travelled very little inside my own country, and instead had always tried to go outside of it. I now feel a great desire to go back and really get to discover it. I mean, now that I think about it more carefully, we tend to underestimate the importance of knowing ourselves first. And this, could go multiple ways.

I am grateful for meeting such interesting people and the great stories that accompany them. Now, as I sit back and realize this is my last day of vacation, I mentally prepare myself for my the second and last round. I can’t believe I am halfway through the semester!

Happy Year of the Sheep/Goat!

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Fabiana in China: Chinese New Year for Beginners

February 19, 2015

Red lanterns, golden dragons and white goats.

YES! Spring is finally here! The arrival of the Chinese New Year (or modernly called as the Spring Festival) can be seen, smelled, and touched everywhere you go. For a foreigner like me however, the countdown to a holiday like this has meant smiles, less traffic and clear skies. What not to love about it!?

While trying to find out more about the holiday, I found a short&sweet video I’d like to share with all of you. The video explains what the most common Chinese New Year traditions are and things History.com “bets you didn’t know” about the holiday. Deep stuff.

http://www.history.com/topics/holidays/chinese-new-year/videos/bet-you-didnt-know-chinese-new-year

As part of this week’s language activity, our professors organized a dumpling-making(饺子) evening. We gathered in the immersion guys’ apartment and were taught how to wrap (包)pork and onion leaves dumplings (猪肉大葱饺子),and chives and eggs dumplings (韭菜鸡蛋饺子). Although I did most of the taking-pictures part and not much of the actual making of it, we all learned about the different techniques used and traditions held behind the dumpling-making. We definitely enjoyed our time with the whole Immersion-track family.

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The most interesting thing I learned that day was the reason why northern Chinese people eat the dumplings on New Year’s Eve. According to my professors, the tradition of eating dumplings occurs because the word dumpling or jiaozi (饺子) in Chinese, sounds like a Chinese word meaning “bidding farewell to the old and ushering the new” (credits to travelchinaguide.com for the translation). I can’t think of a better adjective than superstitious when I think about Chinese people and customs, but then again who am I to judge after freaking-out every time someone tries to hand me the salt.

Next week, we’ll be having a break from 5am coffee and endless character-writing for our one-week Spring Break vacation. As a treat to our hard work, today, two friends and I decided we wanted to travel. YOLO right?

With the luck we have, we managed to get train tickets to Harbin, China, or may I say, the “Ice and Amusement World.” So yes, I’ll be freezing to death in one of the most beautiful cities in China, most know for its ice sculpture festival, Siberian tigers, and Russian landmarks. 10 hours in a hard-seat train during the famous “spring travel rush,” OH! am I going to breath in Chinese culture. I can’t wait!


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