Traveling: Home Stay in Chengdu 

Finally, I was able to travel outside of Ningbo! I watched all the other international students take weekend trips to Shanghai for weeks, but after raising some funds I was finally able to book some trips for the winter break. I am apart of the Home Stay department in VAV, so  I realized doing home stays would be the most affordable way for me to travel this winter without completely breaking my bank. With Home Stay, international students are invited to domestic students homes for their desired period of stay and have the option to go sightseeing with a new friend who is familiar with the area.

Before coming to China I always knew I wanted to go to Sichuan province. Not only did I want to see pandas, I really wanted to visit Jiuzhaigou, a scenic spot in the north of Sichuan. Luckily, my best friend here lives in Chengdu and she invited me and two of our other friends to stay with her for five days.


After two flights we finally made it Chengdu. The boys went on a separate flight than my friend and myself and when we all met up with her parents at the airport, one of the boys had bought her parents a really nice bottle of wine. I suddenly felt like a huge idiot; I had forgotten the importance of bringing a gift to a Chinese persons home! After mentally kicking myself the whole car ride, we arrived at my friends apartment. It was super fancy and lavish so I was excited about being more than comfortable for my week stay. I had my first homemade meal! It was ridiculously spicy, but pretty good.

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The very first day, we headed to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding. Of course, I was freaking out because I love pandas and I couldn’t wait to finally see some up close! We spent the whole afternoon at the park admiring the pandas and even got an up close encounter with a red panda. At this park, the red pandas can roam freely so you can expect to see one walk past you in their area of the park!

For dinner we headed to a hotpot spot in the city. Sichuan is famous for its hotpot so I was excited, but also afraid, to try this authentic meal. Luckily, my friend only ordered us the lowest level of spicy out of the three. We had so many laughs that night and the food was delicious!

The next day we headed into the city to have a look around the mall so it was a pretty relaxing day. We met a new friend and of course, ended the night with another round of hotpot!

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On the third day, we visited Leshan to see the world’s largest stone carved Buddha. Even more fascinating than the giant Buddha itself were the tiny stone carvings in the walls that looked way more ancient than the Buddha, which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. After climbing down, we visited a city square and enjoyed the nice weather. At night I finally saw the dancing aunties I always read about who come out for some Zumba like exercises in the middle of the square. The boys joined them and of course stole the  entire show. It was good fun!

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That night we took a speed train to Mt. Emei and stayed in a hotel at the bottom of the mountain. The next morning we bused about half way up the mountain and then started our icy climb up to the top. I was so excited, because it was my first time experiencing snow! It was only light flurries, but I was just happy to finally see it. I had on three layers of clothes, two hot packs on my back and all my snow gear on, so I was ready embrace the 14 degree weather. After seeing mountain monkeys, walking up iced steps, and a cable car ride later we finally made it 10,000+ feet in the air! At the top sits, a Golden Buddha which gives Mt. Emei the title of the four sacred Buddhist mountains of China. The air up top was so clear and I could look out at see a sea of clouds which was simply breathtaking.

After the trip to Emei we were extremely tired, so we pretty much did nothing. For the next few days we stayed in town and did simple things like go to a black market and buy new glasses, as Chengdu is known in China for being the best place to buy them.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go to Jiuzhaigou as it at the edge of Sichuan; a plane ride away from Chengdu that we didn’t prepare for. Now that I didn’t get to go there, I have one more reason to come back! Sichuan is fantastic for those who love spicy food and scenic spots. I will definitely have to come back again in the future!

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I’m back!

It looks like I’ve completely abandoned this blog since December, but I’m back! I’ve decided to remain diligent in posting frequently, so I’ll be posting every Tuesday and Friday from now on. On Tuesdays I will recap my travels in China and on Fridays I will be revisiting some fun moments of my time here in China.

Enjoy!

Not Your Average Strawberry Festival

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On a whim, I visited Dongqian Lake on the 22nd of October to attend the Strawberry Musical Festival. I intended to spend my Sunday like I usually do, wasting away in bed until I finally get hungry enough to get up, but luckily my friends invited me out to have some fun! This was a big deal for me because 1. I had never been to a music festival (unless you can call Wild Splash one) 2. It was a Chinese music festival and they would have folk, EDM dj’s and rock artists there which is way different than the Chinese love ballads I’m used to hearing 3. It was somewhere away from Ningbo, which I have hardly ventured out of, unlike my other fellow international students.

Considering it’s name,  I was really hoping to find strawberries for sale somewhere, but the only strawberry I got was a big tent where I could get a tattoo. I explained to my friends that in February we have our own Strawberry Festival in Plant City where you can buy actual strawberries in bulk and experience specialty fair foods like donut burgers and any fried food you can think of. I did not find any fried oreos, but I did find something similar to a churro and tasted fried octopus on a stick.

Even though I couldn’t understand 90% of what was being sung, I still enjoyed the sensation of the bass rattling in my chest and seeing the performers give it their all to a singing crowd. That’s the cool thing about music; it doesn’t matter what language you speak or what language the song is in, music transcends it all. You connect with a song or artist no matter what language you speak, it’s really the music that’s speaking to you!

 

A Night Out with Vis-a-Vis

I have never been so scared to eat food in my life.

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I don’t know what I was thinking Sichuan hot pot was going to taste like. Sichuan province is notoriously known for having spicy foods so I guess I thought it was going to be as hot as the pits of hell. Turns out it’s not that bad, but hot enough that I couldn’t stomach much of it my first time eating it. It’s not so much the spiciness of the food, but the lack of other things to calm the heat. A Chinese staple is drinking hot water with your food. Hot food plus hot water (in a tiny glass) just creates an uncalled for sweaty situation. If you’re in luck, your friends will buy a liter or two of soda or sweet milk by the end of the meal, so you don’t look like as much of a baby as I did. By the end of the meal, I was nibbling on a piece of raw Chinese Watermelon to cool my throat down. I would not champion Sichuan Hot Pot that night, but I would have the chance to fight that battle many times in the near future.

Vis-a-Vis is such a huge organization compared to what I am used to in the states, so it’s so hard to get all of us together in the same room for long periods of time other than when we are working. It was nice to actually get to know my fellow members better and experience more Chinese food culture. Bonding over food here is really important and now it has become one of my favorite things to do.

Never wanting to let the party die, 小美 suggested that we all go out to KTV. I had my first karaoke experience on my 21st birthday back in the US at a Korean noraebang so I was really excited to see what it’s like in China! Even though the interior was…odd, it was just like any other karaoke room. They had so many songs to choose from and we spent almost four hours covering everything from Taylor Swift, Big Sean, to watching my friends sing old Chinese love songs only ayi’s listen to. Of course I had to sneak in BTS, even though I didn’t actually get to sing it. Next time, I’m making that the first song on the list!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ningbo Week 5 and 6: Reflection

Homesickness didn’t hit me in the first week of being here. It hit when I realized how different I was from everyone else.

Anywhere that you go outside of your country, you will always be seen a foreigner.By that I mean you will always stand out, no matter how hard you try to fit in. You can speak the language, dress like them, and do everything else, but you will always be a foreigner. Being a Black foreigner just makes it ten times harder, especially in a mainly homogeneous country such as China.

I came to China knowing exactly what I was getting myself into. It doesn’t matter that I am at a British school in China, you can still probably fit all of the Black people here in one room. I knew what I was getting myself into before I came here. I knew that I would stick out like a sore thumb. But when you’re missing friends and family who would understand it’s just a little bit harder to cope with. I don’t mind the stares and I don’t mind the pictures, but I am not of fan of being laughed at and being the butt of some joke that I am not in on. These last two weeks I was really bummed about it, but after doing some reflecting I realized something.

It gets better. Sometimes such a big country can make you feel so small, but you are never alone. I’m surrounded by many good people who have made my experience so enjoyable that those small moments when I feel insecure or different become insignificant. Honestly I’ve faced worse discrimination in my own country than I have here. I never feel out of place when I am with my friends and they have never excluded me just because I am a foreigner. My lack of Mandarin skills has never stopped us from getting closer and even though our cultures differ, we still can find happiness in the same things. Putting yourself out there may seem frightening, but you will only enjoy being abroad if you’re not afraid to meet people, go places, and try things you would have never imagined.

I’m trying as hard as I can. I’m studying more, I’m going out more, I’m traveling more and it’s producing good results. So far, I like what I’m seeing.

 

Ningbo: Week 4

We’ve only been in school for a month and we’ve had two breaks already. The first break from school was for the 中秋节 (Mid-Autumn Festival) on September 15th. It’s a day for family to be together, give thanks and hope for good fortune (essentially Chinese Thanksgiving). Even though I was lacking the family part, I ate one moon cake so I can say it was a success.

Week 4 was mostly uneventful up until the weekend because it was the start of our second break for the National holiday. On October 1st 1949, the People’s Republic of China was inaugurated and thus the celebration of 国庆节 (National Day, essentially China’s 4th of July) was created. Even better, National Day kicks off 黄金周 (Golden Week) which meant from October 3rd-October 7th the entire nation was on vacation! For National Day, I paid a visit to the Ningbo Historic Museum and visited Tianyi Square.

The Ningbo Historic Museum gives a small look into China’s extensive history and a glimpse at Ningbo’s rich culture and history.

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The other half of my day was spent shopping at Tianyi Square, the largest shopping center in Ningbo! The only familiar stores here are H&M, Zara and the Abercrombie and Fitch that has yet to open. People have been telling me for months that clothes will be so cheap in China, but I’m here to tell you they are wrong. Probably on a street market the clothes will be cheap, but in the malls the clothes are the same price or more expensive than what you would pay back home. It’s like going shopping at International Mall; you only stay on the bottom floor to shop unless you’re going to the food court. Every mall in China is the top floor of International Mall! One outfit here is worth $100 USD or more… You don’t realize how much you treasure F21 until you leave the country. For now I’ll settle with H&M when I need winter clothes and the clothes that I brought with me. The good thing is I’ll be able to curb my shopping addiction.

For dinner we stopped by E-Kafe to get a 360 view of Tianyi at night. It was simply breathtaking! Tianyi was fantastic. It was nice to see a different part of Ningbo and everyone out and about for the holiday. I’d say that my National Day went pretty swell!

 

Ningbo: Week 3

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Week 3 in Ningbo was when I finally felt like I could see myself having a great time this year. I always have a hard time adjusting when I leave home and being in an entirely different country has not made it any easier. Finally, I was starting to see myself fit in somewhat here. I went to a bar with some friends during the week and had my first ever shot. I can’t believe I can actually say that I had my first shot in China!

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Friday I found out that I was officially inducted as a member of the Marketing department in Vis-a-Vis and threw myself into the initiation process as much as possible. I went dress shopping with new friends for the VBall. From what I was told, China does not have prom and homecoming like they do in America. For many of the girls there, it would be there first time getting all dressed up in extravagant gowns and experience feeling like a queen for the night. I watched as the ooh-ed and aww-ed at curling their hair and putting on makeup; something that I’ve been doing since middle school and am very familiar with by now. Of course I have already noticed many of the cultural differences but this is one that I never thought about. I can’t remember that wide eyed feeling of seeing my hair be curled for the first time or putting on make up and feeling like an entirely different (and more fabulous) person. Homecomings and Prom were some of the best moments of my high school and I hadn’t considered that those practices were American and uncommon in the rest of the world.

After trying on a few that were all either too big or too small I gave up on getting a gown. I’ve been there and done that and I don’t need add another to the collection in my closet that will never be touched again. Either way, I had a great time at the VBall!

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One thing that I learned in my Mandarin lessons and finally experienced is the food culture here. Food and eating together is a big part of communication and bonding between family and friends in China. I went out to eat with my department members twice on Saturday and both were interesting experiences. For lunch we headed to a Sichuan style restaurant near the school. I’m going to be honest… I was terrified. I can handle spicy food, but I didn’t think that I could handle Sichuan spicy food. Luckily, Ningbo locals also can’t handle food that spicy so this meal was apparently nothing in comparison ( I still don’t think I’m ready for Sichuan).

This was the first time everyone in the Marketing department would meet each other. I found out that I am the oldest and still the only American. The food was delicious and I knew at that meal I would have a great time with my new family.

Later that night after the VBall we went to  蚝翅 (Hao Chi)which is a popular seafood restaurant in Ningbo. I was craving seafood up until our visit and they exceeded my expectations. Being a seafood lover, I’m glad that I chose Ningbo as my destination. Eating out in China is fun because it almost seems like the food never stops coming from the kitchen, especially if you dine with a large party. So much food was brought out that more was still coming even when we were all full and done eating. I also noticed I had been receiving special treatment that day. I was given food first and given any extras. I’m not sure if it was my age or just hospitality, but I definitely didn’t mind.

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Sunday night Vis-a-Vis held the official team welcome meeting. I was also chosen to work in the Home Stay program that night. We were able to meet the new inductees, share some laughs, and let everyone else know in Vis-a-Vis we are the best looking department in this organization (it’s our new slogan and very fitting). Overall, I had an amazing weekend and I can’t wait to make more memories with these great people!

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