Stop 1: First Seminar
In the morning, we had the first seminar of our Western China class, to be taught by the professor leading our trip. We sat in the courtyard of our hotel under a canopy of hanging vines and discussed our experiences thus far and a few readings about Tibet and China. It went well, and I’m excited to have this class with the rest of the students all semester!
Stop 2: Exotic Food Market
Next, we all took the subway (for the first time on the trip, and if my memory serves me well, my first time on a subway ever) to a popular shopping district in Beijing. The streets are blocked off from car traffic and the streets are filled with folks strolling along, doing their shopping. After a bathroom stop in the fanciest two-story McDonalds I’ve ever seen, we found our real destination; the exotic food market, located on a side-street from the main thoroughfare. We bought and shared delicacies such as fried centipede and scorpion, and I personally purchased and consumed a stick of what appeared to be tiny apples coated in a thick hard sugary candy. They had huge pits and were delicious to crunch on as we walked, taking in all the food and goods for sale. We also saw, but did not sample, fried starfish on a stick and smoking tea that appeared to have dry ice at the bottom.
Stop 3: Leg of Lamb Dinner
The exotic food trend continued into the evening with a stop at a local restaurant one of our group members wanted to try. Looking through the windows you could see that each table had a hood, like for an industrial stove, a hole in the table where trays of hot coals were set, and, on the tables where patrons were seated, racks with huge animal legs roasting over the coals. After walking in and collected a number of curious stares, we were seated at a table between two 5-6 member groups of older, mostly shirtless, mostly drunk Chinese guys. With a lot of trial and error, hand gestures, and help from our neighbors, we ordered a leg of lamb and some side dishes. The rest of the meal was punctuated by frequent interruptions from our new friends to mime instructions on how to cut and distribute the meat (no simple task for a beginner) and which spices were to be used where. Actual verbal communication consisted mostly of ‘Yes’, ‘no’, and “China good country. America good country. We should not fight.” We all agreed, of course.
Stop 4: Exploration and Club MIX
After a break at the hotel, most of the group decided to take a stab at the bus system and try to find a group of clubs recommended by a friend. An hour and a half and one gang fight later (for all you worriers out there – don’t. We were a street over, very not involved, and the weapon of choice seemed to be folding chairs) we found the spot and ended up having a good evening. In short, it’s pretty surreal to be dancing with an entire floor full of Chinese people and, say, start clapping your hands, and have them all start clapping their hands too. I don’t yet have fully formed opinions on the kind of privilege I’ve been experiencing here as a foreigner, but I find it disconcerting, to say the least. But it was also incredibly fun to just be able to dance and have fun without the language barrier being an issue – we made some friends we’ll never see again!