May 7th was my first day eating the hotel breakfast. Although I would change my meal over the course of the week, my staple portions would begin here. I knew from prior international trips that finding a way to understand the local rhythms and food was a key part of experiencing a new culture.
It was a difficult night, due to the time change. China is 12 hours in advance of Eastern Standard Time, so it was difficult to fall asleep for most students and difficult for others to stay asleep. For me, it was easy to fall asleep- the hard part was staying asleep. I ended up waking up a few times during the night. At least 2 or 3 times, and I still ended up waking up for good around 5 or 6 in the morning. Not a great night’s sleep, but okay.
Waking up around 5 or 6, breakfast was not served for another hour or two, so I sat in bed and thought about what my day might entail. I knew that I had some time on my hands, and wondered what I thought China would be like. Would it be all fields and pastures like I saw in Mulan? Or would it be all industrialized like I heard? Breakfast itself was fantastic- I had fried noodles, a croissant, a sticky bun, and for the first time I could try dragon fruit. It was like a pineapple crossed with a kiwi, and was very good.
After a solid breakfast, we set out for our program orientation. It was given by our two guides for Beijing, Jane and Liliana. They were adept at giving a presentation, and we learned about what the Asia Institute was and how it works with universities across the United States in bringing students to China. After the orientation meeting, we headed on our way to the bus that would take us to the Great Wall and lunch. On the bus we met Joe for the first time, our tour guide for the Great Wall and eventually for the Forbidden city. He was very capable, and knew what he was talking about. He was funny, and only asked for us to pay attention for a brief time so that we could take a nap on the long ride to the Great Wall.
Soon after I awoke to lunch, a great way to way up. This meal was my favorite meal in the first week, with great dishes served. My favorite dish was a cooked celery dish, as well as a fantastic orange chicken dish that was very similar to a dish you might find in the states. After this fine lunch, we headed out to the Great Wall.
One thing that is cool about the United States it that our success is based on a country that is only a little over 200 years old. China, though, is over 3000 years by some counts, with history dating back that far. Seeing the Great Wall, and knowing it was used to defend against invaders for at least the past 1500 years was amazing. I was walking on history older than my home country, and it was just a regular day for the Chinese.
The Great Wall itself was also impressive. It wasn’t as big as I thought it was going to be, but it was long, and you could see it in the distance as it wound up and down the mountains. Although, as some points, there were other destroyed portions, which led me to believe that what we were walking on was likely more of a recently improved section if you will, a variant of the Great Wall.
After we had headed up to the top and finished our walking around, we went down the Wall on a toboggan ride. It was a cool trip, and was something I had not done before. Upon reaching the bottom and heading home, I had the first option to eat out in the city of Beijing. In the end, I ate with others in our group inside the mall close to our hotel. It was very good, but difficulties arose as we were ordering our food. Chris, one of the people at our table had a peanut allergy, and we had trouble letting the chefs know this. In the end, with help from a translator app, we could get food he could eat and make sure the payments were correct.