Chinese New Year!

The past few weeks have been so exciting, non stop fun and adventures. I spent time exploring Beijing and later celebrated Chinese New Year with my host family! Before the holiday began I went to some cool new places I have never been, I included some of the highlights below.

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Exploring the city Tianjin!  A 30 minute bullet train ride away from Beijing, we were able to explore this major port city. Below is us on Guwenhua Jie, a street lined with traditional architecture, temples & shops.

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Going to the top floor of the China World Trade Center (81 floors!)

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Making food with friends! After 5 months of Chinese food, we of course long for some of our favorite dishes at home. Luckily, a few of my friends have gone out of their way to scout out the international supermarkets in the city, pick up ingredients, and make some delicious meals. From pesto grilled cheese to apple crumble, nothing taste better than some home cooked Western food! 

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Exploring many of Beijing’s incredible malls – places that could be more so classified as art museums than just shopping areas.

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Eating burritos at a place called Avocado Tree, which truly lived up to it’s Chipotle vibe by charging extra for guac.

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And other fun adventures with friends in new areas of the city.

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After a handful of days in the city, it was time for Chinese New Year! Chinese New Year marks the start of the lunar new year. It is most commonly known for being a time where a lot of food is eaten, fireworks are set off, and red lanterns are hung.  Also known as the Spring Festival, this is the most important Chinese holiday. 

During this time everyone gets together with family to celebrate. I went with my host family to my paternal grandparents house for the first few days of the holiday. The first day we arrived we cleaned the entire apartment, a common tradition to take part in before the festivities begin. Later we bao jiazi – made dumplings! 

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This is one of my favorite foods and activities, hand making dumplings. When dinner ruled around we were advised to eat and eat and eat. My host family, who knows I normally eat small portions, told me during chunjie (spring festival) you can’t jianfei (loose weight). This was their version of saying, no dieting during the holiday! And this phrase proved to be very true. The next few days I ate an incredible amount of food, and some foods I had never tried before. Think… chicken feet and cow heart. It is common in China whenever you are done eating your host mom or grandmother will put more food on your plate, and strongly encourage you to keep eating. 

After dinner of dumplings on Tuesday February 5, (the start of Chinese New Year) my family sat together and watched CCTV – China Central Televion’s new year banquet. This ranged from musical performances to magic tricks to dances, full of many elaborate pieces that made for an exciting show. Because all across China people were watching this same show, my NSLI friends and I were texting in the group chat about what was happening. As in how the lead singer of TFBoys (one of China’s most famous boy bands) wants to study at Berklee college of Music! Below is a picture of the TFBoys during the CCTV New Year’s show.

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After the New Year, I spent another few days with my host family visiting their family. One day I went to the park with my host sister Yiming and my NSLI friend Melinda.

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Something interesting is that parks in China are very different from parks in the United States. At home you typically find swings, a slide, and some sort of jungle gym-esque structure for little kids to play in. In China, the parks are more so “outdoor gyms” that while are fun for kids, also benefit the older population. You can often find elderly people at the park getting their daily excersize in. Below is a photo of a traditional Chinese park.

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After some fun times visiting with my paternal grandparents, we drove an hour to the house of my maternal grandparents. When we arrived we were greeted with plates steaming with fresh food. Ranging from cooked vegetables to meat to dumplings, every meal during this holiday was nothing short of a feast. I did not remember to take any photos of our food before we ate, but luckily some of my friends did! Below are pictures of what a traditional meal during the holiday looks like.

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I met many many cousins and aunts and uncles and family members, and saw all around me smiles and laughter to be spending the holiday with their loved ones.

In regards to the holiday, I was my friend Jess summed up super well expectations vs reality. “In China for the Lunar New Year, I was expecting festivals and fireworks, floods of food and crowds of people. But at its heart, the New Year is all about family. It’s about caring for each other, no matter how far the distance is. It’s about spending time together, at least once before work and life begins again.”

After the holiday I had the unique experience of going skiing with my host sister and cousin. This was a super fun experience! I have so many great memories of snowboarding in the mountains, from when I was first learning with my family to later ski trips with my high school. Being able to take part in something so special to me, across the world, was really special. 

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Over break I’ve read a handful of books, but there are two specifically worth mentioning. “Crazy Rich Asians,” was a super fun read!! Being in China made this book even more special as  I had a better understanding of some of the dynamics and background for the story.  Second, “Blink” by Malcom Gladwell – a completely different type of read, but so worth my time. This is one of my new favorite books, a phenomenal piece that changed the way I think about first impressions and snap judgments, and a story I believe everyone should read. Not only so educational, but a powerful way to think about how we can understand our own prejudices and counter harmful implicit bias. 

Reading this book in the perspective of a foreigner living in a new culture, I have even further appreciation for this idea. Perhaps if everyone better understood where our stereotypes come from and what they mean, they could begin to actively break them down.

As I am coming close to the month 6 mark of my time here (the 2/3 point!!) I’m constantly reminding myself to enjoy every day. Out of everything I have learned so far, the ability to be open minded, aware, and accepting of new cultures is by far one of the most valuable lessons. Although times it is difficult to be in such a drastically different environment with different norms, I am so glad I have the chance to learn how to navigate those differences. As adventurer Bear Grylls always says, and somehow the NSLI gang has now adopted as our mantra – in the face of any challenge or difficult here we remind ourselves to always Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

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