Adventures in China: Part III

by Katelyn Noll '07

Nimen hao, everyone! I'm back with some more of what I have been doing at Xiamen University, in China. Last time I wrote about classes and tests, and said that I was about to leave for the Trek, our study tour. Well, the Trek is over, and it was great! I visited Xi'an, Beijing, and Shanghai, and experienced new things and saw pieces of China's past, present, and future.

We flew from Xiamen to Xi'an, the first capital of China, on Thursday, November 2. Qin Shihuangdi, the man who unified the warring states into the nation of China and first used the term "emperor," established the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C., and during his reign began the construction of the Great Wall, and also ordered the creation of an elaborate tomb with an enormous "army" of terra-cotta soldiers. This first emperor's tomb has not been excavated, but we were able to visit the soldiers, and it was amazing! The three pits are filled with thousands of life-sized soldiers, each with different facial features, and forming ranks as the emperor's real army did.

We also went to the Muslim Quarter, a large area traditionally inhabited by Chinese Muslims that has now become a marketplace. The shopkeepers there are very aggressive, and I took advantage of this by honing my bargaining skills and practicing my Chinese. My friends and I loved looking at all of the things for sale. We saw an overwhelming variety of wares, including traditional paper lanterns and scrolls with paintings or calligraphy; watches, coffee cups, shirts, lighters, and alarm clocks with Chairman Mao Zedong on them; and imitation everything—North Face gear, Louis Vuitton bags, Rolex watches, and more.

After about four days of exploring China's ancient capital, we boarded a train for its current capital on Sunday night, November 5. It was an overnight trip, so we slept in bunk beds and arrived in Beijing on Monday morning. One day we went to the Great Wall, and that evening we saw a Beijing Opera. Both were amazing. While in the city, we also saw the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the tomb of Matteo Ricci, one of the first Christian missionaries to come to China.

Our hotel was only one subway stop from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, so I visited each of those. It was incredible to stand in the Square where so much history happened within the last 25 years. One of the most interesting parts of the Square was visiting Mao Zedong's mausoleum. Because he is such a venerated icon in China, his body has been preserved and is available for viewing. Three American friends and I waited in line along with hundreds of Chinese people (I didn't see any other foreigners there) to see the body, and many of the Chinese purchased yellow chrysanthemums before entering the building. The first room held an enormous sculpture of Mao sitting in a chair, and the people placed their flowers in front of it, many of them bowing in respect. Then we filed into the next room, in the center of which was the body. It was both amazing and strange to see Mao, and to see the actions of the Chinese around me as they paid respect to the man who had such influence in shaping modern China.

On Thursday/Friday, we took another overnight train ride from Beijing to the rapidly growing Shanghai, which is said to be the city of China's future. We visited the Shanghai Museum, and saw exhibits of traditional Chinese painting, calligraphy, pottery, clothing, and more. We also saw a Shanghai acrobat show, which was amazing. Our stay in Shanghai was very short, but it was a good way to end our tour of three major cities in China.

After about 10 days of traveling, we arrived back at XiaDa on Saturday, November 11. Since then, I've started two new classes, Chinese painting and taiji (or tai chi, as it's called in the United States). I already know that those will be challenging but fun classes, and I expect to have more adventures to tell you about within the next three weeks, my last weeks in China. Until then, zai jian!

Read Adventures in China: Part I here.

Read Adventures in China: Part II here.