UDNSLIY Day 37 Aug. 7 – Beijing

Beijing Day Two: Great Wall, Great Food
By Michael Cheng

Today, we climbed the Great Wall, explored Beijing’s old Hutong district, and saw a stunning Peking opera show. We woke up early in the morning to an amazing breakfast and blue skies. Since it rained last night, Beijing’s air was unusually clean, and we 受益匪浅-enjoyed the great benefit. Breakfast in Beijing is at our hotel, every day, and consists of a breakfast bar featuring Chinese foods like steamed buns, fried rice, and heated soy milk, as well as toast, fried eggs, and other Western breakfast foods. After eating breakfast, we got on the bus at 8:30 to go to the Great Wall.


As we got closer and closer to the Great Wall, the rolling mountains and rich wildlife elevated our level of excitement. Once we got to the wall’s base, we were greeted by faded architecture, vibrant open-air markets, and endless flights of stairs on our journey to the Great Wall. After arriving, we marveled at pristine wilderness and winding towers as endless ribbons of bricks stretched towards the sky. Some of us were able to stand on top of a tower and take in the vastness of the wall we were standing on, a product of thousands of lost lives and centuries of conflict. It was truly a great scene.
We ate at a local restaurant for lunch. Like many of China’s restaurants, we ate in round tables of nine or ten, with dishes placed on a rotating glass disk. Unlike the US, where Americans usually pick separate dishes, everyone shared entrees and appetizers, using communal chopsticks and spoons to transport food to their plate. Most Chinese people eat collectively like this when they eat in groups. In this manner, we could all try about a dozen different dishes in one meal, all of which were extremely delectable. We will continue to eat this way for the rest of our trip throughout Beijing and Shanghai.

Later on, we went to the Hutong, an old district close to Beijing’s city center. Largely untouched by China’s modernization, the Hutong felt like a scene from 1930s China. It was filled with narrow, snaking alleyways slowly crumbling, closed doors leading to vast courtyards, and elderly people sitting by the street playing cards. We were fortunate to be able to ride rickshaws (similar to a buggy but driven by a person bicycling) throughout the Hutong tour. We also visited a siheyuan, a traditional Beijing house, complete with a courtyard and rooms on the edges representing the four cardinal directions and the elements of fire, water, wood, earth, and metal. Since siheyuans take up a lot of space, they are extremely rare in China’s densely populated cities.

At 7:30, we watched a Peking opera show, complete with graceful and high-pitched dancers, beautifully ornamented clothing, and a mishmash of ribbons, staves, and fake swords as props. The opera show consisted about three short stories. The stories were all fairly short and had relatively simple yet elegant storylines. For instance, one of the stories was about a woman who needed to get past numerous armed guards to obtain the medicine of heaven in order to cure her dying husband. The choreography in this story was quite amazing: at one point, the woman was surrounded by guards all throwing dart-shaped weapons at her, and the woman used her body to gracefully divert the darts back to their original throwers in midair.


As the events of our day today show, our trip to Beijing has truly been a wonderful experience helping us to better understand China’s unique culture. In one day, we hiked the Great Wall, got a glimpse of Old China, and were greeted by graceful acrobats performing ridiculous tricks. Even though our time at Xiamen University is over, I’m really excited to see more of Beijing. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

13 14 15 16 17 18

UDNSLIY Day 35 Aug. 5 (Part II)

After a successful two-week homestay (July 22-Aug. 5) the UDNSLIY participants hosted a farewell party (Aug. 5) to celebrate their rewarding homestay experience and thank the hospitality of their host families. Short though the homestay program was, only two weeks, they had developed a deep friendship with the Chinese host families and regarded the host parents as their “Chinese Moms and Dads.”  In addition to a variety of cultural activities, the host families also helped the program participants with their Chinese language and culture studies. On behalf of all the students, Phoebe Harmon said in her thank-you speech at the farewell party “We have benefited so much from our homestay program, having learned so much from you, our Chinese Moms and Dads, from our Chinese host siblings that we would bring the fond memory back home and will be dedicated to our Chinese studies and our good relationship.” At the farewell party, the student participants rendered a rich variety of performances, deeply impressing their host families with their daily increasing Chinese knowledge and expertise. The two-week homestay program has enabled the students to experience the daily life of ordinary Chinese on a first-hand basis, leading to a better understanding of Chinese society in its complexity and diversity.

Matthew with his host familya1

Leo and Michael learning to make dumplings with their host families


Tim with his Chinese host family siblings


UDNSLIY Day 35 Aug. 5

Reflections on Xiamen
By Michael Cheng

As usual, in the morning we had our Chinese classes. After lunch, we continued our student project presentations from yesterday. Like yesterday, everyone had 7 minutes to talk about a Chinese culture topic they’re interested in. My project was on educational inequality between urban and rural China; some others were on pregnancy restrictions, the effect of the 2016 US Presidential Election’s outcome on the Chinese government, the situation in Xinjiang, Chinese martial arts, and so much more.


At 5pm, we started our closing ceremony with all homestay parents, NSLI-Y students, teachers, and Xiamen University tutors in tow. We were first treated to speeches from Dr. Chen on the program overall, the Vice President of Xiamen University on continuing to understand Chinese culture and improving US/China relations, and Betty, a Xiamen University student tutor, who talked about the experiences of the student tutors and growing emotionally attached to all the NSLI-Y students.


Then, we ate pizza in a variety of flavors, from “Classic US American” to “Fruity.” Afterwards, we had eight wonderful acts performed by UDNSLI-Y students, which included graceful fan dances, riveting songs, epic Chinese yo-yo stunts, and Chinese-only renditions of “Snow White” and a mash-up of Romeo and Juliet with Chinese folk tales. At the end, I was so sad to see everyone go and leave XMU that I cried fountains of tears with Betty.


After close to five weeks in Xiamen, today is our final day. Tomorrow morning, we leave at 5am for Beijing. Looking back on the program, I feel conflicted– both depressed that we’re leaving and happy that we’re moving on. Even then, I’m going to miss a lot of people: from the shopkeeper on the 2nd floor of the dorms who sold us Pocky to the friendly Xiamen University student tutors to the teachers lived to help us learn Chinese.


I’m going to miss waking up at 6:30 in summer to go to class in the morning and complaining about not getting enough sleep. I’m going to miss being surrounded by hundreds of Chinese students taking pictures of us at lunch in the canting. I’m going to miss the stares of all the Chinese people taking pictures around us, and the shock on their faces when they find out that I’m not Chinese. And I’m going to miss slow-walking through the tunnel surrounded by beautiful murals and the sounds of honking bikes, bustling tourists, and nervous students.

But at the end of the tunnel, there’s another day.