While many students and teachers dedicate the summertime to much needed rest and relaxation, Mrs. Zeyda Marsh of the World Languages Department, seized an opportunity to further her studies in China. In July of this year, she took intensive Mandarin courses at the University of Languages in Beijing for four hours each day for several weeks. After school, she had over three hours of homework, but did manage some sightseeing and experienced Chinese Culture. Enjoy some photos and excerpts from her writings to us here at Mater Dei this summer. It was a joy to live vicariously through Mrs. Marsh and her travels to the Far East!
This weekend I slept under the stars on the Great Wall of China in Haikou to the North East of Beijing. It took two hours to get to the town where we started the hike on a narrow- steep path that lead us to the wall. I hiked for about two hours carrying my backpack, sleeping bag, mat, and tent before reaching the wall. The hike was both exhilarating and scary at times, since this part of the wall built under the Ming Dynasty and it has not been rebuilt since. It is mostly made up of debris and very narrow steps of about 70% to 80% angles (see picture of other hikers). This trek was a one in a lifetime experience!
Today I visited the Forbidden City (Gugong) in Beijing. This was the home of 24 emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties and the heart of China for 500 years. This is also the largest palace complex in the world, and it was named “The Forbidden City” because an unauthorized visit would result in instant death. The Ming emperor Yongle established its layout between 1406 and 1420, and it was the seat of power until 1911 when the revolution ended imperial rule. It is absolutely impressive!
It is officially summer in China! Schools are out and the crowds are unbearable! A bit of stamina, determination, lots of water, and “Hanyu” or Chinese do the trick. I have yet to visit many places, including Mao’s tomb. I am hoping to get up at the crack of dawn one of these days to beat the crowds, since I already tried but gave up. Standing in line for hours under unbearable heat is not my idea of fun, but I would like to see the most revered person in China.
After concluding my studies at the Beijing Language and Culture University, I embarked upon a week-long tour of China to further expand my cultural understanding of this ancient nation. To kick off my tour, I took a six-hour train ride from Beijing to Datong this past weekend. Datong is a city of approximately 3 million people located to the west of Beijing in Shaanxi Province. Known for its delicious noodles and coal-mining industry, Datong is consequently one of the most polluted cities in China. However, upon arriving, it was not so bad, and the cool, mountain weather provided a welcome respite from the stifling humidity of Beijing.
The following day, I headed to the Yungang Grottoes and the Hanging Temple of Hengshan. In order to get to these places, which are at significant distances from Datong proper, I hired a taxi for the day.
Using my masterful bargaining skills obtained in Latin America and honed amid the cutthroat competition of Beijing’s markets, I managed to whittle down the price to a mere 350 kuai (less than $60). The taxi driver was an affable fellow with whom I got to practice my Putonghua for several hours, trying to decipher at times his Datonghua, the nearly impenetrable dialect spoken in these parts. He also seemed to be the most cautious driver in the entirety of the People’s Republic of China, coasting along the mountainous roads at 30 kilometers per hour (roughly 20 mph), when the posted speed limit was much higher. As a result, my trip was prolonged by several hours which afforded me more opportunity to learn about the Chinese culture and inform the driver about the illustrious culture of the USA, or “Meiguo” (translated literally: Beautiful Country).
My first stop was the Yungang Grottoes, a series of shallow caves carved into the limestone hillsides on the outskirts of Datong. My expedition hit a small snafu when the ticket clerk refused to give me the student entry price into the site owing to my one-day expired student ID, but my bargaining skills prevailed once more, and minutes later, I headed into the grottoes triumphantly with my half-price ticket in hand.
The grottoes themselves, some which date back over 1,500 years, were spectacular! Each cave held a stone carving of Buddha more extravagant than the last, the culmination of which was an enormous cavern housing an immense Buddha flanked by several smaller figures, all painted and plastered with gold leaf.
From there, it was onward to the Hanging Temple of Hengshan. Perched precariously upon a sheer cliff face, I joined several other tourists in my quest to scale the temple, which is a collection of rickety wooden planks forming a snaking path that winds up and down past staggering drops and railings much too low to save anyone should they fall over. I myself, the intrepid Mrs. Marsh, was even daunted by the height!
Thus concludes my latest dispatch from the East.
Until my next adventure,