By Terry, Age 17, 12th Grade in Boston. Born in the U.S. to parents from Vietnam and China.
Q: Terry, tell the readers about the crazy 798 Art Zone in Beijing!
A: The 798 Art Zone we visited was the coolest place I’ve ever been in China, and we saw a lot of places!
It used to be a giant factory complex, and now it’s a public art zone with statues and art galleries everywhere.
There was art inspiration in the Art Zone that I’ve never seen in my life. They were extremely unique and I loved it!
Some of them include art that was made with nuts and bolts, some with clay, some had odd designs, some had splattered paint, and some were freaky to the point that I was just wordless.
There were so many different types of art, it was endless. I wish I could go there again to see more, because the hours we spent there were not enough!
Plus, the food in the many restaurants and cafes there there was delicious.
Q: I agree that the Art Zone was AMAZING. It was not at all what I thought I would see in Beijing!
How did YOUR understanding of China and Chinese culture change from our trip?
A: After a week of spending time in China, the experience changed me, even though I’m Chinese. China taught me to see people in all points of view. People often see Chinese people as shy, scared, and with nothing to say.
But when you actually go to Beijing you will see that people in China have guts! Some street vendors even go in your face to sell things. They’re not shy; they will run after you and do anything they can to get what they want. I think their courage is pretty impressive. I wish I could be like that sometimes.
Another thing I noticed in China was how much people in China enjoy their life. On the bus, I’d see children laughing, smiling, seniors enjoying their dance in the park, playing hackie sack and badminton, and vendors having the guts to go up to a stranger to ask them to buy their trinkets.
I look at them and I compare them to me. They are down there and I am way up there, economically, but their life is way more fun and joyful than mine.
From that, I learned that life is unexpected and I need to enjoy whatever is in front of me and forget about the past and not go beyond the future. I learned to just live life the way it is because people in China are.
Q: Wise words! On a less lofty topic, how were the toilets for you?
A: When I first saw that China had squat toilets, I didn’t even bother going. It was the grossest thing to just squat there. You could smell the trash can right next to you with the toilet paper in it (because you’re not supposed to flush it because the sewage system can’t handle it). I wanted to throw up. I just couldn’t do it no matter how bad I needed to go.
Then days later, when I really couldn’t hold it anymore, I finally used a squat toilet… and it was actually not that bad! But still, modern sit on toilets are so much better. Note: If you ever go to China, travel everywhere with toilet paper or tissue, and hand sanitizer, because you never know whether or not the place has toilet paper, or whether or not the sink has soap or hot water.
Q: Again, wise advice! What were your favorite parts of our China travels, and why?
A: My favorite part of the trip was definitely getting the chance to walk the Great Wall because from year to year, I would always hear about people climbing the Great Wall and how tough it was. I never really understood how hard it was, though, until now. Walking it felt like I was actually rock climbing. The stairs and ground angles were so steep, the gravity pulls you down, and it felt like I was falling. If there were no rails there, I think I would actually fall!
My other favorite part was having dinner in Hutong (historic) neighborhood with a family. The neighborhood is probably at least four generations old and is still going strong. It was really the true essence of China. The dinner was delicious and the family was really nice to us. It was something that only a few could experience, and I’m really glad we did.
Q: China is known as a Communist country, though it doesn’t always seem like it.
Did you see any evidence of this?
A: One thing that shocked me was seeing rarely any beggars on the street. I really love the fact that beggars rarely exist in Beijing because comparing this to America; there are way more beggars on the streets in America than in China. It seems that people in China, they work hard to earn money. The street vendors we saw every day, they work their tails off to sell their trinkets. I truly admire their hard work. They even motivated me to buy some stuff off of them.
Q: What are some facts about China that you remember our Tour Guide, John, taught us?
A: I remember John taught us that China has a car policy. For example, on a Thursday, cars with license plates that end with either a 1 or 3 or 8 cannot be driven out or they will get arrested. Or on Monday, license plates that end with a 2 or 5 cannot be driven out.
I had never heard of such a rule before, but I think it’s a unique rule because it helps save the world with less pollution. I like it.
I also learned that the Emperors in Ancient China had 1,000 wives (concubines) and each concubine had her own little home. For the lady to be the Emperor’s concubine, she must pass certain tests. For example, the first test is the height and weight test, the second is the appearance test, then the body health test. There were many tests to pass in order for the lady to be the emperor’s woman (or rather, ONE of his women). But overall, I think having a thousand wives is pretty impressive.
Q: How was it traveling with a group of BLA students, some of whom you’d never met?
A: Honestly, when I signed up for this trip, I thought traveling with a group of Boston students was going to be boring and weird because I’d never seen many of them before in my life, but I was wrong. Traveling with them was one of the best experiences.
I had the chance to meet absolutely everyone, even the teachers. I learned a lot from them and also developed some communication skills. It was an amazing trip, except I wanted to stay for one more day to just shop all day.
Note: Traveling with a group of students and teachers is so much more exciting than to travel with family.
Thank you to my teachers, EF Tours, and all the students in our group for a fantastic trip in China! And also THANK YOU to our wonderful tour guide, John, for a warm, welcoming tour! It will always be treasured in my heart. Everyone on the trip was out of this world!
Thanks so much, Terry. Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this cosmopolitan high school student?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!