Today, we traveled to a university about an hour outside Beijing, went to a Chinese grocery store, and visited the Olympic Park. It was another jam-packed day, and I honestly have never slept so soundly than I have on this trip.
After breakfast (they unfortunately didn’t have the pears, but they did have some crisp apples), we went to the Central University of Finance and Economics. The campus reminded me of a more rural campus in the US, lots of big university buildings around, all confined in its own space, sort of like Virginia Tech. Once we got there, we sat through a presentation about the importance of big data now and in the future given by Dr. Yao who graduated from one of the top universities in China and was a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania. It was very interesting to hear his perspectives of data in the future and how it will progress, and to be able to ask questions related to his own expertise and how he got to where he is now professionally.
Once we finished his presentation, we got to use those lovely squatty potties again. What I think baffles me the most about these toilets is there are no toilet paper in them. Do people just carry toilet paper around with them? Everyone needs toilet paper, so wouldn’t it just make sense if it was provided to everyone in the stalls? I just don’t get it.
Anyway, we went to lunch afterwards in the school’s cafeteria. They had normal cafeteria-styles lunch for their students, but they placed us in this little side room and served us family-styled lunch. They brought out beans that were like the beans we had yesterday, so I was super happy. We also had great Chinese pancakes that are nothing like American pancakes, but in a good way. They had scallions inside them and were flat with multiple layers. They were also very yummy. They also brought out fried fish, but it wasn’t like American fried fish where it was just the meat fried. It was the entire fish covered in breading and fried – head and tail included. I didn’t touch it, but it was supposedly good. I decided to just take their word for it.
We then visited their library, which was 6 stories tall and cost about $13 million to build. It was a very cool library and they had a really unique way of finding seats there. So what you did was you scanned your student ID and picked a floor, section, and specific seat that you wanted to sit in. You clicked on it, and your seat is then reserved, and you can sit there for as long as you like. You could also reserve your seat for an hour and a half if you wanted to. I thought it was a novel way to find a seat instead of just walking around and wasting time looking for a seat.
We left the library and were going to do some team building activities. We did these activities with some of the Chinese students from the university which was a fun way to interact with them. We did the human knot, but my group was struggling because I made a mistake with my hands. We were trying to figure a way out of the knot for so long until someone realized my hands weren’t correct. Once we realized this mistake, we tried again and got it instantly, but it was just funny that it wasn’t because we couldn’t figure it out, it was just because of our initial positioning. I got a participation certificate as a consolation because we tried our best.
Once we finished our games, we headed to back to the hotel for the day and had the rest of the night free. A few of us wanted to go to a Chinese grocery store just to see the difference and may buy some weird Chinese snacks, so we went to one that was underground. We all bought weird Chinese candies and cookies. I bought these Chinese Oreo’s and lemon biscuits. The reason I bought the biscuits was because they had a spelling mistake on them. The box said “Enjoy the sweat time of afternoon tea” when it meant to say sweet. I thought that was pretty fun and they turned out to be good cookies to it worked out well. When we got back to the hotel, all the people that went to the grocery store just put our snacks in the middle and we shared them all. Someone bought these marshmallows that had this blueberry filling and those were really good.
After the grocery store, all 24 of us decided we wanted to go to the Olympic stadium. We traveled there by subway (Thank you Dr. Lee for buying us those tickets!), which was pretty nice. To me, the subway in Beijing made so much sense, yet I still don’t understand the subway system in Pittsburgh. I just think it’s funny that I can ride a subway in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language better than I can understand the subway system where I live. Another note about the subway system, it’s very similar to the system used in places like New York or D.C. except two key differences. First, the platforms in Beijing have glass barriers between the platforms and the rails of the trail so no one can accidentally fall or jump in the way of the train. I think this is genius and would save so much time and money in the long run if subway systems in America were to adopt this method. Secondly, individuals in China have a smaller definition of personal space than Americans. People were basically sitting on top of one another, nose to nose, and it didn’t bother anyone. It was just a normal part of their routine, and that just doesn’t happen in America. We like our personal bubble.
We got off the subway and headed towards the stadium, and what a sight it was. This stadium was something I had only ever seen on TV as a kid and seeing it now in person was incredible. It was huge, and the park surrounding it was also ginormous. I never grasped that there was an entire area dedicated towards the Olympics, and it’s unfortunate that the area is now basically just a tourist destination, but it was still cool to see the stadium in person. Also, in the same area was what was called a water cube. The water cube was just the building that all the swimming events took place in, but its lights looked really cool from the outside. All the buildings were lit up, and I’m so happy to have seen this in person after having only seen it on TV.
We got back onto the subway and went to a Market street that was nearby. They had so many shops and food places you could go into, so I bought a soup dumpling that had to be eaten very strangely. The dumpling was placed in this little container and you were given a straw. You had to poke a hole into the dumpling and suck the soup out of it, and then once the soup was drained, you could eat the dumpling part. It was very yummy, but the soup was so hot that it burned my tongue and I still felt it the next day. We passed a candy shop while at the market, and you could buy a pound of candy for $6, so I bought a few candies to bring home to my family to make them try. I have no idea what they are, but I’m excited to try them.
We tried leaving the market by subway, but the subway was closed since it was so late. We decided to hail a cab instead while wasn’t as much trouble as we expected it to be. The cab ride was also very cheap in terms of US dollars. It cost $8 for a 30 minute taxi ride which would never be the case in the US, so I am very happy with how it worked out. Once we got back, I again immediately crashed because it was again a long day. I’m loving every day and everything that we do, it just gets tiring. I know by the end of this trip I am going to be so so tired, but it will be worth it.