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Our Days in Beijing

November 8, 2018 – originally posted on你好北京-hello-beijing/

By Justine N., Loyola University Chicago, TBC Fall 2018 Student

Hello, everyone! It’s been quite a while!

Since coming back from both the Silk Road and from whatever adventures we planned for ourselves during the Chinese National Holiday, all of us have been quite busy with schoolwork. We’ve come to the middle of the semester now. I’d be lying if I said that the semester hasn’t been flying by since the National Holiday. Midterms are this coming week, and many of us are spending this weekend preparing for them. As for me, I am a chronic procrastinator, so here I am writing this blog while my to-do list for this weekend stares mockingly at me.

With the help of finally having an academic class schedule, life living in Beijing, China has smoothed out to a fairly rhythmic routine. I had thought that adjusting to the new environment around me was going to be more difficult than it has been. Every day has many thoroughly enjoyable moments that I share with my fellow TBC students and the TBC staff, and it makes life here in Beijing that much more interesting. The days seem to all blur together because they’re all so fun, and you know what they say about when time flies.

As for my own academic schedule, I am currently taking 18 credit hours, so I’ve got a pretty full plate.  Originally, I had planned on taking only 15 credits, but my sudden decision to switch into the intensive beginner Chinese language class has bumped those credits to 18. This hasn’t prevented me from going out and exploring Beijing or laughing with my friends in the TBC dormitory lounge, however. I love all of my classes because they provide a certain insight into Chinese culture and history that I couldn’t have gotten just by walking around Beijing. For example, I learned about the usage of Wade-Giles in my Modern Chinese Fiction class, a writing system that was used in China before the adoption of Pinyin. In Wade-Giles, if there was a “t” written, it was actually pronounced as a “d.” So, the original word for “tofu” in Chinese is actually pronounced and correctly written in Pinyin as “dofu,” but because people didn’t know about the difference between Wade-Giles and Pinyin when tofu was brought over to the West, it is now pronounced in the Western world with a “t.” How fascinating is that?

It also isn’t hard to stay on top of all the schoolwork, so long as you make the effort to stay on top of it. A bonus is that all of the classes for TBC students are located in one building so that significantly reduced the difficulty of university life here, much to all of our gratitude.

In particular, I love lovelove, my Chinese language class. In the TBC program, everyone, regardless of their Chinese language level, is required to take a Chinese language class. I have never spoken a word of Mandarin before coming to Beijing, and I was very eager to start learning it formally in a classroom setting. Like I mentioned before, I switched over to the beginner Chinese intensive class, which basically means that the class covers Chinese 101 and Chinese 102, or two semesters of Chinese, in one semester. The pace that we’ve been going at is perfect for me, and I feel like I’ve been making leaps and bounds with my Chinese. Just the other day, during pair work in class, I was able to make a pretty good conversation with my Chinese professor, and it was so rewarding to know that I’ve come so far in my studies when I had no background in the language before coming to China. In fact, I’ve picked up a Chinese language minor!

我很喜欢学中文!I love learning Chinese!

My Chinese classmates and I! 我的中文同学和我!

In addition to having all of our classes in one building, they’re all located on the same floor, the 4th floor of the Ning Yuan Building, otherwise known to us students as the TBC Building. This is because the 4th floor houses the actual TBC center, with all the staff offices and the extensive TBC library as well as the classrooms that we students have class in. I can’t express enough how amazing it is for us students to have our own facilities and our own staff dedicated to helping us throughout our time here. Everyone is so, so friendly, and the friendly, welcoming, and warm atmosphere of the program have no doubt helped all the students, not just me, to settle into our lives here. I can pop my head into the Student Development Office at any time just to have a quick chat with the Student Development people. I’m so grateful for the support system here, through the staff members as well as my fellow students. My entire TBC experience would not be the same without any of the people I’ve made good friends with here, studying together, laughing together, stressing out together, eating together, and more.

But finally, I’d like to talk a little bit about living with the pollution here in China.

A screenshot from the Air Quality app that I use. You can also see the color coordination that they give the different ranges of indexes.

It really isn’t anything that is completely life-changing or life-altering. During orientation, we were advised to download an AQI (Air Quality Index) app in order to monitor each day’s air pollution rating, and I check this app every morning like I check the weather every morning. The app will give me a number index as well as a color to symbolize how bad the pollution is, with green representing pretty clean air (the number index ranges from about 0-90) and purple representing pretty bad pollution (an index of about 250-300). Basically, the higher the index, the more pollution there is for that day.

We’ve only had a handful of days where the air pollution has reached the nasty “purple” rating (I remember the rating reaching around 290 those days). The great majority of days, however, are “orange,” or an AQI of around 100-150. The difference between these two air qualities is quite jarring, as you can see in the pictures I took just a day apart below.

A “purple” AQI day.

An “orange” AQI day.

I include these pictures to show that beautiful blue skies are still prevalent in China and that the air pollution is getting much, much better than where it was in the past. Before coming to China, my assumption was that the pollution was just plain bad, and that was an assumption created by ridiculous media coverage. I’m here to tell you that the pollution really isn’t all that bad to deal with, and my health is completely okay — the effects that one might get from directly breathing the air of a bad AQI day are only very temporary and manifest in like runny noses and sometimes headaches. I will wear a face mask whenever there’s a “red”  or higher AQI. But the locals here, regardless if it’s a purple AQI day or not, don’t really wear masks: this is just what life is for them. As one of the Chinese roommates for TBC put it, “I’m used to it.”

In terms of water pollution, people just buy bottled water. The water here (including literally everything else) is really cheap (we’re talking maybe 30 U.S. cents for a 550 mL bottle of water and 40 cents for a 1.5 L bottle of water), so access to clean water is not a problem here.

I will dedicate an entire blog post about the food I’ve been stuffing my face with while I’ve been in China — you will have to wait until then to hear about the details of the amazing food here in China! Trust me, it’s quite different from the Chinese takeout back in the States. What I will say that food, along with water, is really cheap as well. Most of my meals are around $2, and I usually won’t spend more than about $7 on food per day. Plus, because of UIBE’s amazing restaurants and street food vendors around off campus, I rarely get bored of Chinese food. But more on that later.

So yeah, in conclusion, life is good! Homesickness is definitely a feeling that I get from time to time, I won’t lie, but I know that my time here will be over within a moment’s time, so I gotta enjoy it while it still lasts!

That’s about it in terms of how my days in China are going so far. I apologize for the lack of pictures for this blog; I promise the next one will have more. But I have to get back to studying for midterms now, so see you next time!