Aventures in Beijing (by Brian Donahue)
I remember first looking out the airplane window as my flight began its descent into Beijing Capital International Airport. A smile was plastered on my face as I realized that, after six years of studying Chinese, I was finally in China. Despite the jubilation, anxiety took over as I realized for the next two months, my Chinese language abilities would be put to the ultimate test. The first week went by faster than I could imagine. Within two days, our program visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Lama Temple. On the third day, we officially started our intensive language classes, where we met three amazing laoshi who would serve not only as our teachers, but who would also become great friends.
After finally getting into the groove of things, navigating China’s capital became a breeze. My friends and I spent much of our time just outside of Tsinghua’s campus in the infamous Wudaokou (五道口) neighborhood of Beijing. Given its proximity to many of China’s top universities, a large number of students, both domestic and international, live here. As a result, many restaurants in Wudaokou cater to the cosmopolitan audience. A favorite of ours was Pyro Pizza, an American-owned pizzeria that provided us with a sometimes-necessary taste of home.
My favorite memory of Beijing came one night while exploring the city with my mom. My mom, fortunately, had a business trip to China at the same time I was there. After hearing much about Jingshan Park’s spectacular views of Beijing at sunset, I decided to save that excursion for when my mom was there. Because Jingshan doesn’t have a subway stop, my mom and I decided to be adventurous and walk from her hotel near Tiananmen Square to Jingshan Park, an approximately 2.2-mile walk. This excursion took us through some quieter streets of Beijing that ran parallel to the Forbidden City. The traditional hutong’s in this area were completely restored. It was here that I saw the magic of Beijing and could happily share it with my mom. When we finally reached Jingshan Park, the panoramic view of the city at the top was so stunning that not even photos could do it justice.
My greatest thanks goes out to everyone who made this trip possible. It truly changed my perception of China and helped me to finally connect the language I had spent so long studying to the culture it belongs to. My greatest thanks goes to the three laoshi who helped improve my confidence in my Chinese tremendously and challenged me to improve my skills. I anxiously await the day I get to return to China and once again experience its allure.