For the past three days, the weather has been perfect. This is exceptionally uncommon in Beijing where pollution is an almost permanent resident. Since the smog is so thick, most days you can’t see the sky, or the sun, or sometimes even the tops of tall buildings. This article from February says you can even see the pollution from space. As I learned recently, though, this is partly because of topography. The city sits in a valley just above sea level, and is flanked on three sides by mountains, which trap the murky air inside city limits. If it rains hard enough, however, the skies get washed clean for a few days, which is exactly what happened at the beginning of last week. A thunderstorm with flooding rains brought us three beautiful days of sunshine.
The first was the Fourth of July, which couldn’t have been better timing. Everyone got out of class early to prepare for the holiday in the west campus garden. Sunlight streamed through gaps in the trees while we all ate watermelon, roasted chicken, beef sandwiches, root beer floats, and other delicious American delicacies (see gallery below). Afterwards, my language tutor (Zhao Laoshi), a few other students, and I played Ping-Pong at an outdoor court nearby. Some residents of the neighborhood were there too, but they were playing in a league of their own. It was enough just to watch them. After that we went to the Bei Wai library, which is brand new, huge, and completely stunning, and we talked with Zhao Laoshi about different ways to learn Chinese. In the evening, I did homework. It was a simple day, with no fireworks or excessive patriotism, but it was one of the best Fourths I’ve had.
On Friday I had class until late in the afternoon, and then I read about China for my area studies course, which I love. Every reading is engaging and interesting. One of my favorites this week was about the lives of factory girls who live in one of China’s booming southern cities. This specific factory makes one-third of the world’s shoes, mostly for big brands like Nike and Adidas. I kept thinking, “Whoever thought Santa’s elves live at the North Pole apparently didn’t know about places like this.” Each week we cover a different topic. The first week it was Chinese history, then we spent two weeks on politics, and this week it’s the economy. If there’s any advice I have to give about living abroad, it’s to seize every opportunity you have to learn about where you are. I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in learning about China if I weren’t actually here. It’s so much more exciting and rewarding when you can witness everything first-hand.
Yesterday was Saturday, and I spent most of the day at Zhao Laoshi’s house with other students in my class. He and his sister invited us over for lunch. We stayed for four hours, watching Chinese TV, eating steamed dumplings, and talking casually about politics and language. After that we threw a Frisbee around the Bei Wai athletic field. It was hot and a little muggy, but we didn’t mind. We played until the sky turned peach-colored, and then walked back, tired and satisfied.
P.S. I met my goal from my last blog of making a Chinese friend! I count Zhao Laoshi and his sister as my first two, since I hung out with them outside of class.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">I’m from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where I lived almost my whole life before I moved to Iowa to study English, East Asia, and pre-medicine at Grinnell College. I'm a third-year now, and for me that means I'm ready for a change in scenery. When I make the time, I like reading newspaper columns, writing, and hiking when it’s sunny. I love eating warm chocolate muffins with milk. I've never left the states before, so my head is full of what I'm sure are one-dimensional impressions of Beijing. I'm eager for those impressions to become 3D, and I can’t wait to share what I learn living abroad this summer!</span></p>