Tales from Beijing

IMG_8394

So, Beijing, China. I had been waiting for this trip for almost a year, ever since I got accepted to this project last May. To give you some information, this is my one of my high school’s international projects. We have a friend school in Beijing, so last August a group of students came to Helsinki and we hosted them, and now it was our turn to go and visit them. So, on April 17th, 12 students and two teachers left to Beijing for a week, and damn, if I could just put all my overwhelming experiences here. But there would be no point in trying to describe everything, that’s why you have travel guides, so I’ll tell my bits, my tales, the ones that made the trip what it was for me.

The mountains in China. Reminded me of the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings.
The mountains in China. Reminded me of the Misty Mountains from Lord of the Rings.

I remember the first impression being not so great to be honest; the smog was quite bad the day we arrived and everything looked very grey. It reminded me of some ghost city, like we had arrived in a different planet. In a way we did though, because China is something I really cannot compare to any country I have been to before.

Forbidden city seen from above. The smog was pretty bad on the first day but then it cleared up.
Forbidden city seen from above. The smog was pretty bad on the first day but then it cleared up.

Our weekend was planned to spend it with our hosts and let them be our guides. Here I think I should tell a bit about my host, Katherine. I still cannot understand the stroke of luck that I got last August when I got Katie as my guest. Maybe she was some sort of gift from the universe or something. We clicked then, almost on the first day we met and what had been a name on a list of hosts and guests, became one of my best friends. It’s funny how some people just are immediately on the same exact level as you are, making you feel like you’ve known them for ages. So that’s what happened with Katie and me, I simply knew I had gained a friend for lifetime. We had kept very close contact during these months in between so one of the things I was most looking forward to was seeing her again. She’s the most energetic and enthusiastic person you could ever imagine, so full of joy of living and seeing new things, and I just love people like her.

We bought matching panda caps that have ears in them and they are just so cool hah!
We bought matching panda caps that have ears in them and they are just so cool hah!

So obviously our weekend was incredible. I would never have believed that it was humanly possible to see that much during one weekend, but because of Katie we did.

IMG_7456

We went and wandered on Beijing’s most known hutong, Nanluoguxiang. Hutongs are basically alleys, narrow streets, where people used to live, very close to each other. They can be found on different parts of Beijing and could be described as Beijing’s Old Town. I loved them, the atmosphere and the people and the houses. There were lots of people, tourists but also locals enjoying their free time. Shops were selling different Chinese handicrafts and food, for example fried squid in a stick like a popsicle and ornaments made by blowing hot sugar. Everything was so overwhelmingly new that I must have looked like an Alice in the wonderland.

IMG_8220

IMG_7221
A dessert from somewhere near the Russian border. It’s hard to describe but super good: a bit like a mixture of ice cream, yoghurt and a popsicle.
IMG_8233
A squid on a stick

IMG_8228

IMG_8222

IMG_7228

Near the main hutong was a cat cafe that I had been looking forward to far too much that is normal. But hey, can’t help being a crazy cat lady. I obviously loved the cafe; it wasn’t too new and stylish but a bit funnily decorated and full with mostly sleeping cats. We lured the cat to sit with us with bacon from Katie’s pasta, even though you’re not supposed to feed the cats. Apparently he was really called Noodles, but we named him Waffles, because of the waffles I ordered. She was absolutely beautiful, gorgeous looking cat. I could talk about the cats for hours but maybe I won’t, maybe some of you aren’t that interested. I forgive you. But I’ll still add some photos, bear with me 🙂

IMG_7255
I have no idea how someone can be just that relaxed in the middle of a busy cafe. And there’s even someone sleeping there with her.
IMG_7261
Isn’t Waffles stunning?
IMG_7291
Katie and Waffles
IMG_7253
Me on Mondays

Even though Beijing is a huge metropoly with about 20 million people and many environmental problems, I was surprised that there were so many beautiful parks like Beihai and little lakes like Houhai which we visited during the weekend. Those places really felt Chinese to me, as far as I feel what’s Chinese. Old buildings and gates etc. were so pretty and skillfully made that they made me feel like I was walking in history in a way. Flowers like tulips and pionis were blooming on parks and were so stunning and refreshing after walking in the busy streets. I love flowers. They just make this sometimes ugly world so much prettier.

IMG_7306
Houhai lake with its bar streets

IMG_7381

IMG_7405
Beihai

IMG_7401

IMG_7433
At the temple I met the most peaceful cat you could imagine. She had her eyes closed the whole time and her movements were like from a slow motion movie. We named her Meditation Cat.
IMG_7409
Beihai
The scariest taxi ride I've ever been to but the man was so funny and I ended up staying alive
The scariest taxi ride I’ve ever been to but the man was so funny and I ended up staying alive

I also saw two amazing Buddhist temples, Llama temple and Temple of Heaven. If I could just trap the atmosphere In Llama temple and describe it here. For me, it felt very different from any Christian churches I’ve been to. Personally the feeling for me was much more still and free, if you get what I mean. The air was full of smoke: if I didn’t know that it came from the incense I would have thought a fire had broken out. The smoky smell from the incense made the place feel like out of this world.

IMG_7534

IMG_7538

IMG_7596

Llama temple also has the largest Buddha in the whole South-East Asia: 26 meters tall, made of one single piece of wood. Needless to say, all different little temples and statues on the area were very impressive. Buddhism really fascinates me. We were talking about this with Katie’s mom, about how the way of living is so different in different cultures. In Western countries it’s admirable and desirable to do things all the time and move forward, constantly developing yourself and being busy, whereas in Buddhism the desired state is to be still and that’s the way you can truly be happy. I myself have thought about this a lot and I think it’s something we all could learn from some Asian cultures, appreciating stillness.

IMG_7527

IMG_7541
Prayer wheel
IMG_7581
The enormous Buddha
Gate to the Temple of Heaven area
Gate to the Temple of Heaven area
IMG_7692
Temple of Heaven

IMG_7714

IMG_7715

IMG_7584

We also visited Forbidden city and Summer palace. Forbidden city was much larger than I expected, I mean it was huuuuge. Plazas and temples one after the other, and then smaller alleys to courtyards and cute little houses where the emperor’s staff and relatives lived. We had a very eccentric guide who had this hilarious way of speaking English. He pronounced “h” like an ”r” and always wanted to tell us Chinese stories and legends. He was so heartfelt and kind that even though I couldn’t make even a half of what he said, our tour in Forbidden city was still very interesting.

IMG_8047
Tiananmen square
IMG_8067
The gate to Forbidden city, with Mao’s portrait.
Me and my lovely friend Cecilia
Me and my lovely friend Cecilia

IMG_8180

IMG_8179

IMG_8167

IMG_8150

IMG_8138

We encountered this weird phenomenon so many times during the trip: people photographing, staring, videotaping and even asking to take picture with us (!) Apparently because we are non-Asian people and for some Asians they are really rare. It was so strange but made us feel like movie stars.
We encountered this weird phenomenon so many times during the trip: people photographing, staring, videotaping and even asking to take pictures with us (!) Apparently because we are non-Asian people and for some Asians they are really rare. It was so strange but made us feel like movie stars.

And Summer palace was one of my favourite places on the whole trip. There were lots of gorgeous peach trees blooming in pink, and the color was just so bright and stunning that it made the trees seem unreal, like fake or animated trees or something. Pretty bridges and water around us I could easily imagine why the emperor spent his summers there. I mean I would, walking beside the lake and drinking some tea in the old boat building.

IMG_8393

IMG_8397

IMG_8403

IMG_8407
The upstairs of this “boat” used to be the Emperor’s tea room

IMG_8418

IMG_8419

IMG_8423
There is a different picture on every painting and they all have a story in them

IMG_8424

IMG_8425

IMG_8426

IMG_8430

Great Wall was probably my favourite place there. Saying it was amazing would be an understatement, because the feeling when you’re there, seeing it all that you’ve seen before from history books and movies, is just incredible. Knowing the Wall’s history and how remarkable it is, I mean it’s the only human-made thing that can be seen from space, walking there was so surreal. Everyone had told us that ”oh, it can be sooo cold at the wall, you should really bring a lot of clothes, it can even snow there!” Oh well, it didn’t. It was probably the hottest day there, easily over 20 celsius so after 50 meters of climbing, my shirt was wet from sweating. Somehow I had expected the wall to be more flat (silly me, it’s on the mountains…) but I very soon discovered that it’s actually veeery steep. In the beginning it was so crowded with lots of tourists but as we reached higher people got fewer and fewer.

IMG_8258

IMG_8285

Even though I consider myself to be in quite a good shape, climbing the steep steps upwards was physically incredibly exhausting and hard. Climbing stairs isn’t exactly the exercise I’m used to doing at home. Most of the people didn’t climb all the way up, but me and a bunch of my friends decided that ”we’ve come up all this way so there’s no way we wouldn’t go right to the top.” So we did, stopping quite often to take pictures and admire the breathtaking views. And the feeling when we reached the top was just so magnificent and even though my legs were so sore, the experience and the endorphin from exercising made me feel incredible. This is what winners must feel like, I thought.

IMG_8318
Almost on the top and we were almost the only ones left

IMG_8291

IMG_8299

11125478_997043300330679_66687344_n

IMG_8307

IMG_8324

Almost on the top!
Almost on the top!
11198464_997043306997345_1390476054_n
Those who go all the way up don’t need photoshop, though I look like a tomato 😀

Coming back down my legs were so tired that they were shaky and I wasn’t the only one. I was practically hanging onto the trail because I just didn’t know if my legs were going to let me down any second.

IMG_8381

It was so weird to think that we were only about 1,5 hours away from Beijing, and it felt like it was a different country. I’ve been on mountains before, like the Alps, but somehow the wall and climbing added so much into the experience. It was so unique and something I’ll never forget.

IMG_8380

Our stay wasn’t all sightseeing, we also got to know the life of the students in Renmin High School. It’s affiliated to the Renmin University and it has than 6000 students. Coming from a school of 700 students it was quite a change. We watched the flag rising ceremony that takes place every Monday and it was maybe one of the most unbelievable events that I’ve ever witnessed. Somehow it reminded me of Hunger Games, you know the part where they choose the volunteers. 6000 students, all dressed up in their similar uniforms, gathering to the field to straight lines in about 10 minutes while some national Chinese music is playing in the background was really something to watch. Then I got the feeling that hey, I’m now really in China, a country where being true to your homeland and traditions is crucial.

IMG_7841
The principal and his 6000 students

IMG_7844

IMG_7850

The dormitory on the campus where I spent two nights after staying at Katie's home
The dormitory on the campus where I spent two nights after staying at Katie’s home

Observing the lessons was so fascinating and eye-opening. The amount of work and studying they do is something unbelievable. It felt like many students’ only life is studying, they simply don’t have time for anything else. And while I admired their work and accomplishments, I also partly felt a little bad for them because I felt like many of them are missing one essential part of human life: being young. To the class where we went to we quite surprisingly got to talk about some controversial topics such as human rights and politics as well and I found those wonderful conversations so enlarging and teaching. I felt like a little window had opened for me where I got to see how some young people in China see the world, their country and most importantly the future.

IMG_7897
This man who is China’s best at the traditional dough-making taught us how to make these roses
IMG_7909
And he made this in like 5 minutes
IMG_7913
Our roses turned out great!
IMG_7924
And he made me this cute panda!
IMG_8016
We also tried Chinese paper-cutting

IMG_8020

IMG_8028
We also tried see cutting, making our own names. There’s mine, Julia.

IMG_8026

There are really a lot of things wrong in China, I mean how the country is ruled, all the propaganda, environmental problems and human rights issues such as freedom of speech. And it’s easy to see things as black and white but it’s not as interesting as seeing the whole picture.

Propaganda posters
Propaganda posters

Now in Finland I’m so thankful to live here and appreciate some things I used to take for granted but still there are things that I’ll miss very much from China. I miss people. Honestly, I’ve never been ANYWHERE where people would have been more hospitable, welcoming and helpful. When I arrived I didn’t feel like a tourist, the people made me feel like I was one of them, equal. Many thanks to Katherine’s family for making me feel that way and especially her mom who completely smothered me and made me feel like their own daughter.

IMG_7950

IMG_7954

IMG_7970
Walking home
IMG_7987
The guard dog of Katie’s house
IMG_8004
Her lovely mom held me a tea ceremony

Another thing I’ll miss and that’s often missing from the Finnish culture, is the sense of community. I loved seeing old people gather in parks and these outside gyms to exercise, to play cards or just to spend time together. One of the most precious moments in the trip for me was in a park in Temple of Heaven area. There was this choir of both women and men singing some Chinese songs together. There was a choir director and another man playing the accordion. As a person who sings as well, it was so wonderful and touching to see that the people really enjoyed it and that singing really gave something to them. It was coming straight from their hearts: they weren’t performing to anyone, just being together and singing, without microphones or anything additional. I admire that sort of singing so much and I was so glad to see that some people still sing that way; so genuinely for their own and each other’s joy and happiness. I believe that is how people feel well in their lives, by going out and spending time together, living.

IMG_7608
Yoyoing is a very popular Chinese sport and one man in a park was doing it. When he saw me watching he asked me to try it and of course I did, not with such talent as he did though. He was so kind even though he didn’t speak English, thankfully I’d Katie to translate.
IMG_7639
These outside gyms are very popular in China and especially old people come there. It was so funny to watch 🙂

IMG_7656

Men playing cards in Beihai park
Men playing cards in Beihai park
IMG_7675
The choir singing so enthusiastically and with such passion it was so moving

IMG_7676

IMG_7679

And then I should (or want to) of course tell something about the food. So the first thing I discovered is that Chinese people eat a LOT of meat, especially pork. So as a person who eats mostly just fish and plant based foods it was sometimes tricky but not too hard, you just have to be flexible. The thing I really liked was that when we were eating we had no ”own foods”, there was always this round glass ”table” on the table that rotates and everyone can take what they like, so it was pretty easy to avoid meat. I loved the seafood like shellfish and squid. There was eggplant in many dishes and it was so good and well made and marinated as also was tofu that was very common as well. Seaweed and peanuts which were in many dishes were also very delicious. One interesting experience was this way of eating called hotpot. Basically you order a broth that goes in the middle of the table where there is a little stove. Then you order all sorts of foods like meat, squid, crabs, tofu, noodles, seaweed and mushrooms and just throw what you like there and let it boil. And then dip it into a sauce and it’s ridicilously good.

From left, tofu and mushrooms, peanut-sesame sauce that Katherine picked for me, crabs and seaweed rolls
From left: tofu and mushrooms, peanut-sesame sauce that Katherine picked for me, crabs and seaweed rolls
Super good watermelon juice
Super good watermelon juice
IMG_7761
Two broths on a stove

IMG_7766

IMG_7513
Chinese porridge: different beans and different rice, peanuts and dates
IMG_7471
A very traditional Beijing drink/snack: it’s a bit like Turkish yoghurt but more runny and blended with honey and it’s very yummy

 I guess now it’s the part where I should sum this up and I’m really bad at putting things shortly, as you may have noticed if you’ve made it this far. So as you maybe understood, my trip and Beijing were wonderful. Also very teaching and different. It truly widened how I view the world and for me that’s the most important thing in traveling. And it was fun, too, and it was the people who made it fun. Our group was so great and we had so much fun together, so if they read this, thank you. And most of all, this is for Katherine, my sister far away, who made my trip the best it could possibly be. Thank you.

Thank you, Katie. Love you <3
Love you Katie ❤

So if you are even considering going to China, please do. I can almost promise that it will teach you crazy much and show you so many beautiful things. And personally I think I’m so much more conscious now somehow, I know more. And I find that to be very important. And I’m just terribly grateful.

IMG_8336

Love,

Julia xxx

Advertisements

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Ella Ahola says:

    Rakastan tätä ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julia B. says:

      Äää Ella kiitos, rakastan sua 🙂 ❤

      Like

  2. Moritz says:

    The smog in most Chinese cities is shocking when you arrive, but soon after you’ll learn to love the country. It looks like you enyjoed your time to the utmost 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julia B. says:

      Yes it was a bit, but then it rained the following night and it cleared up amazingly quickly and then the rest of the week was just sunshine so they told us we were lucky 🙂 And yes I did enjoy, enormously 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Moritz says:

        Sounds like you are a lucky person 🙂

        Like

  3. Paula Brown says:

    Julia, I, once again, thoroughly enjoyed this! I wonder if you’ve ever thought of becoming a travel journalist? You would be great at it! You seem to highlight just the right things to allow someone to really get the “flavor” of a place. I always feel like I’ve been there too, in a way after reading your posts and seeing your photos. Well done and thank you so very much for sharing this!!!😃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Julia B. says:

      Once again, thank you Paula! ❤ And yes, becoming a journalist is actually my plan A, and specializing in traveling would be more than a dream come true. And I'm so happy to hear that my post made you feel that way since that is always my ultimate goal and what I go for when I write. So your words really mean the world to me, thank you 🙂 ❤

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s