On Friday, the rest of the Beijing Civ students got to Beijing for orientation, which excited me to no end. After the Center opening, I had a pretty quiet week- writing a lot of stuff for Model UN, skating, making sure I had enough money to survive in China, etc. As nice as it was to get to sleep in and not be running around constantly, I was excited for everyone else to get here and to start classes (TOMORROW!!!).
On Friday night we had a meeting at the center, which included a lecture on the Forbidden City, which we visited today (Sunday). However, the highlight of the evening was likely the announcement from Mr. Yuan, who works at the center, that we would have access to free coffee at the center during our entire quarter abroad! Coffee here tends to be a bit more expensive than in the States (it's still a novelty), so getting it free makes my cheap little soul immensely happy. :) On Saturday we had an orientation to the campus/center/neighborhood, and we got to have lunch with our Chinese language teachers (who are from Renmin, our 'hosting' institution here) and our language partners. The language partners are provided for us to practice conversing with, which is actually going to be tremendously helpful - I'm reluctant to randomly engage anyone in conversation, just because I can't have a full fledged conversation in Chinese yet, and they may not be able to understand my English substitutions. The lunch was great, and I spoke Chinese for probably 90% of it, which also made me happy. :)
Also on Saturday, I got a Chinese phone! Since I'm only here until December, I got the bottom-of-the-line model for 200 RMB, roughly 30 USD. It's actually a cute little phone, about the size of my palm, and I like it better than my phone at home. :) I also have texting, which is cheaper than calling here, something that I know will make my sister insanely jealous.
The other highlight of Saturday was getting to eat a banana split at one of the cafes on campus after the tour. Chocolate ice cream never tasted so good! :)
Today we went to the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Even though I'd been to the Forbidden City before, it was nice to go back and see it again. Every time we visit a historic sight, I always wish I could be there either 1. when it was completely empty (no tourists) or 2. During its heyday, when the emperor still lived there and everybody was running around on official business. I love learning the history, I just wish I could actually be there for it. Same thing for the Temple of Heaven, which was also really neat - I wish I could be there when the emperor was giving the sacrifices, rather than learning about it hundreds of years later. That said, they didn't have banana splits or coffee (free or otherwise), so maybe just learning about it isn't that bad. Random fact of the day: The emperor had roughly 3000 concubines that lived in the Forbidden City.
After the Temple of Heaven, we went to the Pearl Market, which is right down the street. As its name would imply, they do sell pearls there, although I didn't buy any. They also sell a ton of other things, including electronics, clothes, and random little trinkets (such as mini statues of Chairman Mao). It was set up much like the electronics market I visited, complete with aggressive salespeople. They had everything from "Rolex" watches to "Puma" sneakers and "Louis Vuitton" bags, as well as supposed iPod Nanos (though the box said iPod Shuffle) and "iPads". It seems like a place a lot of Westerners go, and consequently you have to bargain down the price, which is fun to do and watch. I only bought a gift for my mom (can't say, since she might be reading this!), which I bargained down from 680 RMB to 100 RMB. When I named the price, though, the lady agreed instantly, which makes me think I probably still could have gone lower. But mom will like it, so it's ok. :) I think I'll go back in the future, though - I'd love to get a 'Burberry' scarf, and maybe some 'Puma' sneakers. They also have really cute coats and jewelery, too, so thank goodness I didn't have much money on me, otherwise I would have spent all the money I'm saving on coffee there!
Overall, it's been great getting to know all the other students in the program and our professors. It's also been nice knowing that I'm already over the jet lag, and watching/helping everyone else adjust to life in Beijing reminds me that I've come a long way since I first got here. I think my Chinese is most definitely getting better, and I know my way around the city pretty well, too. Tomorrow is our first day of class, I'm so excited to get back into a school routine with papers/readings/assignments/having to think! Our first course will focus on Ancient China and its development - did you know they used to use elephant carts as a means of transportation!?
Wishing I was taking an elephant instead of a bus to the ice rink,