My friend is coming to visit me next week, and I couldn’t be more excited. This will be the second time he’s ever left the U.S., and so while he’s only here for a week, I want to be sure to make the most of the time that he has by showing him as much of Beijing, China, and Chinese culture as I can possibly cram into eight days. The itinerary I’ve put together for him is specific to Beijing, of course, but its basic outline applies to any city anywhere in the world. I’ve put together some guidelines based on it for you to follow if you want to plan a short-term visit for yourself or a friend, either to Beijing or abroad.
1. Start with a brief list of “must visit” places.
For Beijing, these include the Great Wall, Tian’anmen Square, and the Summer Palace. Since all of these places tend to be very touristy, I planned out how best to visit them without drowning in the crowds. I did some research and found a Great Wall site that is less touristy than others; Huanghuacheng, the site I chose, is also only partially restored (great for hiking) and half-submerged in water (great for pictures). For our visits to Tian’anmen and the Summer Palace I am relying on expert guides, either in person or online, to make the experience memorable. I recommend Time Out for great tips and reviews that are specific to the city you are visiting.
2. Think of a few “cultural experiences” that you feel your friend can’t leave the country without experiencing.
China is one of the most diverse and also one of the largest countries in the world, and unfortunately my friend won’t have time to experience it all while he’s here. Instead, I’ve tried to condense some of the things I find most interesting and exciting about China into his visit. For example, I am taking him to a national park a few hours’ bus ride outside of the city that boasts some natural views that rival travel photos of China taken much farther away. Cultural experiences aren’t always about majestic views, though. I’m also insisting on a trip to the grocery store (see my second post to read about my feelings about grocery stores as windows into the local culture), a visit to the local bakery to try some interesting pastries (durian and red bean, anyone?), and a stroll around a neighborhood park. I’ve also decided that while my friend is visiting I am going to take him on a culinary tour of China, and the city––no McDonald’s or other Western-style food for him.
3. Search your memory or travel blogs for several “memorable hideouts”––locations that you enjoyed, are well-reviewed, and might be less touristy.
As I’ve already been in Beijing for a couple of months, and have visited China a few times already, I am basing my friend’s itinerary off of some of the highlights of what I have visited so far. These include a walking tour of some of Beijing’s lesser-known Hutong neighborhoods, a visit to my favorite bubble tea place, and a couple of restaurants that I’ve heard about or tried and loved already. I’m most excited to sample some “baozza” from a Beijing cafe––traditional baozi, or Chinese steamed buns, that are stuffed with pizza fillings, including tomato sauce and cheese.
4. Tailor your friend’s visit to their interests.
Visiting places or learning about things in a foreign culture that relate to my own personal interests has always been a way for me to feel closer to the place I am visiting. I try to find things that I’m interested in (feminism, history, cool bookstores, stationary shops, etc) as soon as I arrive in a new city, and I’ve done the same for my friend by highlighting a few places and events that I think relate to his interests specifically. My friend is a jazz saxophone major, and so while I’ve insisted that his week in China is about Chinese culture (so no jazz performances), he did mention that he’d like to hear a performance of traditional Chinese music. I visited a Buddhist temple––Zhihua Temple––that gives live concerts of Ming Dynasty traditional music and thought he’d enjoy a visit, so I added it to his itinerary. My friend is also a vegetarian, like me, so I’ve found a vegan restaurant in Beijing where we will eat dinner one night.
If your friend does decide to visit you while you’re abroad, keep in mind that they probably haven’t visited the country where you’re studying before, and might not be used to (or bored of) the things that you are. Try to make sure to accommodate their interests while incorporating as much of the local culture into their visit as possible. As we all know, long-term study abroad is one of the best ways to get to know a culture, but in a pinch, a short-term visit can do a lot to open up someone’s eyes to knew worlds––especially when they have the expert help of someone who’s been in the host country for a while longer than they have!