As was the case last year, I went to China for a month this summer. Instead of establishing a base out of Changsha, I decided to travel to Beijing. A main purpose of my visit was to study and practice Chinese with another being to visit friends and attractions in and around the city. During my time there, I was also able to give a statistics talk at the Chinese Academy of Forestry.
The first big-ticket item I visited was the Great Wall at Jinshanling, 2 hours outside of Beijing, with Xiaoen Ding and her parents. This was quite a different experience than the first one I had that chilly spring day in 2014 when I visited the Great Wall at Badaling, teeming with people. The weather was gorgeous, if not a bit hot, and it seemed like we had lots of solitude for periods of time. A visit to Jinshanling is highly recommended if you want to see and experience the architecture, history, and geography of the Great Wall.
Xiaoen and her parents also took me to see Xiangshan (Fragrant Hill) and the neighboring Beijing Botanical Garden, both just outside of the city. All told, I would say a trip from the parking lot to the summit of the hill and back might be roughly a 3 hour affair. It’s longer and steeper than it looks 🙂 If I lived in Beijing, I am quite confident I would be visiting Xiangshan a few times each month because I think it’s really beautiful and provides good exercise.
The biggest “wow” moment was when Xiaoen and I fly to Datong with Qiuchen Li (one of my former MS advisees from several years ago) and her husband Meng Zhang. Quichen and Meng are great friends so it was a real hoot to get to spend time with them on a weekend adventure. Datong is about a one-hour flight directly west of Beijing in Shanxi Province. The city has a pleasant vibe to it and it seems less congested, less dense, than Beijing. The draw of Datong is to see the scenic spots and historical sites nearby. The first day took us to Yungang Shiku, which are famous, ancient Chinese Buddhist temple grottoes from the 5th and 6th centuries. I was blown away by the cave art and the Buddha statues. The next day, we drove considerably south of Datong and stopped first to see Xuankong Si, a 1,500-year-old hanging temple built into the side of a cliff (see picture at top of page). Next door, we then climbed Beiyue Hengshan, one of the 5 Sacred Mountains of China. Immediately from the parking lot, one begins a constant steep ascent on a well-worn path, mostly through the woods, punctuated by lots and lots of stairs. Along the way, there are vendors, old temples, and scenic views. If you try this yourself, plan on a 3-to-4 hour roundtrip for this gorgeous hike.
So what did I do when I wasn’t sightseeing and traveling? Studied Chinese, of course! I was fortunate enough to have been put in touch with a graduate student (Yao Jiang) from Beijing Language and Culture University, arguably among the best universities in China for studying the language of Chinese. Most days, I would take the subway from my hotel up to the campus where Yao and I would sit down in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and work on listening to and speaking Chinese. I learned a lot and gained valuable practice working with this very nice, young lady!
I had the opportunity to check out the 798 Art Zone, courtesy of my friend Lei Wang. This is an area with some old military buildings that has undergone gentrification and now houses a cool, vibrant artistic community. Check it out if you ever visit Beijing.
There was also the chance to reconnect with old friends. Ding Ding and I spent quality time together, including seeing my first Hindi movie subtitled in Chinese (haha!). I had dinner one night with Yuxiang Wang, who played in a band with me at Colorado State University, and another night with Yongxu Huang, another former MS student. Thank you for your time!
It might be hard for anyone to understand but I think what I enjoyed most about my time in Beijing was embedding myself into the local culture and doing what some might deem the “small stuff”. I’ll look back on this trip and I will vividly remember Xiaoen and her parents and I eating a great hotpot dinner at a local restaurant; walking over to a local convenience store every morning to buy some bread for breakfast and speaking with the friendly lady clerks; riding rental bikes with Qiuchen and Meng to a bowling alley; playing guitar with Lei in the middle of a university track field on a moonlit evening; walking around the campus of Tsinghua Daxue; working out and swimming laps at the local health club; and on and on …
Life is all about the experiences!
Please click on any one of the pictures below to enjoy the entire photo album.