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Touring (and Eating) in Beijing

Touring (and Eating) in Beijing October 23, 2015
Emily Gaul
On the heels of five days in Shanghai with a group of faculty visiting the new ACM off-campus study program there, ACM Assistant Program Manager Emily Gaul (at left) caught a flight to Beijing to join the Shanghai Program students, who were in the midst of a three-day excursion to China’s capital city. Here’s her blog post about the students’ experience and the final days of her own whirlwind trip to China.

Tour boat at the Summer PalaceTour boat at the Summer Palace

As part of the ACM Shanghai Program, Visiting Faculty Director Liang Ding has organized a variety of cultural activities and excursions for the students to learn more about China.

At the Great Wall of ChinaShanghai Program students and Prof. Liang Ding visiting the Great Wall of China.

At the beginning of October, the students had a week-long break during the Chinese national holiday, and many were invited to visit their Chinese roommates’ families. After the holiday, Professor Ding arranged to take the group on a three-day excursion to Beijing.

While Shanghai and Beijing are two of the largest cities in China, they are distinctively different from each other. In Shanghai, there are high rises as far as the eye can see. That’s certainly not the case in Beijing, which is less commercialized and almost has the feel of a small town as you tour the hutongs — the narrow alleyways that weave through the city.

Professor Ding and the students flew to Beijing and joined a local tour group to see all the major sights around the city. With their intrepid guide in the lead, holding a blue flag and a fish flag and frequently taking roll call, the group had no difficulty staying together in the crowds of tourists.

Follow the tour guide!Follow the tour guide!

The Forbidden CityAt the Forbidden City.

The first day they visited Tia’nanmen Square and the Forbidden City. Day two brought them to the Great Wall. During the two-hour drive to get there, students took turns singing songs for their Chinese tour companions, which brought lots of smiles and laughs for all. After the Great Wall, they visited the Ming Dynasty Tombs and the Bird’s Nest at Olympic Park.

I met up with the group on their final day in Beijing. We started the morning with a boat ride to the Summer Palace, the Emperor’s country retreat. Three-fourths of the park is made up of lakes, so we were able to enjoy two more boat rides around the grounds. At one point, the students were being photographed with all the other tourists on the boat, and despite the language barrier, everyone was laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

Tour boats at the Summer PalaceTour boats on the lakes at the Summer Palace.

Boat ride to the Summer PalaceA photo-op during the boat ride to the Summer Palace.

Leaving the Summer Palace, we boarded the bus to go to Yuanmingyuan — the Gardens of Perfect Brightness, also known as the Old Summer Palace. It was once the home and governmental center of the Qing Dynasty before being looted and burned in 1860. Now it’s a park of ruins that can be toured by all. The visit finished with a glimpse of a nine-hour documentary recounting the history of the buildings, complete with computer-generated images of what the grounds looked like before the fires.

Another highlight of the trip was sharing all of the meals together. There were tasty local dishes like Beijing hot pot, which arrives in a large brass caldron with a small fire lit under it. The pot is deceivingly deep and filled with all sorts of meat, seafood, and vegetables. Along with lotus root, green beans, and boiled peanuts, the students loved the unlimited rice and tea!

Beijing hot pot mealA Beijing hot pot meal.

On Sunday, the students headed back to Shanghai on the high speed train — a 1,200 km trip that takes just five hours, with 25 trains daily!  They were looking forward to spending the time sleeping or getting caught up on homework.

Susan Long and Emily Gaul pausing during their bike ride at the entrance to the Forbidden City.

I was lucky enough to get an extra day to spend touring, including an evening bike ride with Professor Susan Long from Lake Forest College — one of the participants in the ACM faculty site visit to Shanghai — through the streets (both big and small!) of Beijing. Certainly a wonderful way for us to end our visit in China!

Photos courtesy of Emily Gaul and Liang Ding.


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