We woke up at around 7:00 that Sunday morning. We'd been warned about fog for so long that I expected to never see the sun in China, but as Jansen pulled back the blinds in our hotel room, the sun shone bright and the sky was clear above the city. It was a perfect indicator of how the rest of the day would be. Dressed in layers and equipped with our cameras, we headed down to the hotel breakfast buffet. And at that moment, I fell in love.
The buffet spread was unbelievable. So much Chinese cuisine mixed with some American classics, such as doughnuts, rolls, and muffins galore; yogurt; all types of sliced fruit; bran cereals; French toast, pancakes and waffles, to name a few. There were also tons of fruit smoothie and juice flavors (we're talking celery, grapefruit, and watermelon juice here). As far as Chinese options, there were delicious omelets, sticky buns, pork & veggie buns (our previous night's dinner), rice, sushi, eggplant, tofu, and dozens of other delicious options that I sampled but couldn't even tell you the names of. Every person in my class got a minimum of 3 plates each day. I kid you not, that food is what dreams are made of.
After stuffing our stomachs to their absolute limits, we hopped on the bus and set out for our first true day of sightseeing. The thirty-minute drive provided us the chance to settle our stomachs, enjoy the scenery along the way, and meet Robert, our Chinese tour guide for the week. Robert was absolutely hilarious without even trying, which made it all the better. Our first stop of the day was the Forbidden City...if you don't know what that is, re-watch Mulan...it's where the Emperor lives in the film, and where he really would've lived hundreds of years ago (before it was a tourist attraction and when emperors still ruled China). The cobblestones inside the "city" were the same ones that such emperors walked on all that time ago, which was fascinating.
We explored inside, first taking photos and then being the subject of them. We'd been told that us white Americans are a rare and exciting thing for the Chinese people, especially at famous sites such as the Forbidden City. Before we knew it, Chinese women (and then men) were grabbing our arms and having their friends and family take their pictures with us as though we were celebrities. It was such a fun thing, to not understand a word they said and to be such a novelty to them. We traveled through the Imperial Garden as well, and as we left it to climb a tall hill providing us with a panoramic view of the city, we came across a morning exercise group of women dancing to a dubstep version of an American song from the '90s. Of course, what else could we do but jump into formation behind them and do the same?
Following the Forbidden City and our climb down the hill, our next stop was lunch at a delicious restaurant called Cangsu Fengji in Houhai (a well-known nightclub & bar area in Beijing). There, we had another huge 9-course meal, complete with dessert, with a IU grad reporter working for the Wall Street Journal in Beijing. Even the veggie options were exquisite (I ate lots of eggplant and tofu on that trip). Our next stop, the Temple of Heaven, was a beautiful, peaceful place. I wandered around just looking at the ornate color and design. It was a vibrant blue, and Robert the tour guide told us that no nails were used in its construction--just Elmer's glue and a pint of tree sap. (...kidding.) Here again, we provided popular photo ops for the Chinese travelers.
Skipping ahead, we traveled back to the hotel by bus, lounged around 'til dinner, and following dinner, the ten of us enjoyed our first night out while our two professors and Jim, our translator, rested. We took cabs back to Houhai, and peeked our heads in a few different places before settling on a cozy looking bar with an upstairs balcony overlooking a stage. The place was smoky, but we were quick to discover that is true of all bars in Beijing. When we arrived a band was playing on stage, singing American tunes and doing a solid job of it, besides their rendition of Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" sounding more like "knockin' on Harrah's door." Still, it was a great night, and a bonding experience for all of us as we celebrated a successful first day abroad.