Since my Yonsei program ended in December and the Peking program starts in February, I had the longest winter break ever-practically two months. Of course, I didn’t let it go to waste..that much. I was able to explore a bit around my family’s hometown of Guangzhou (better known as Canton) and do an internship while there. Here’s a post on the things I did while in China in between programs if anyone is interested!
Right after Yonsei ended, I headed to Singapore and Malaysia with my sister. My sister had previously done study abroad with UCEAP at NUS so I just followed her around everywhere-just kidding, I had a better sense of direction than her. We got to experience living at MBS (the night view is so beautiful), the night safari, and I finally tried out eating at a hawker center. In Malaysia, we took hundreds of photos of the Petronas Towers, trying to get the whole building into the shot and we had lots of cheap (seriously so cheap, I cry) and delicious foods.Most importantly, I got spend lots of time with my sister whom I rarely see anymore since everyone is all over the world now.
Sadly, because of the influx between super cold and super hot weather and then super cold again once I returned to Canton, I got a stomach flu just in time for New Year’s. I had to sit out some of the family gatherings and didn’t get to eat much at the Lai Heen in Ritz-Carlton but from my family’s review (they’re super picky about food omg) it was 10/10 would recommend, creative take on Cantonese cuisine. Although I missed out on New Year’s dinner, I got to eat my ass off during the practically one month long Chinese New Year celebrations. I also got to experience local Cantonese customs (each area in China has their own thing to celebrate the lunar new years) for the first time in my adult life. I visited the flower markets (as the ‘city of flowers,’ Guangzhou takes this flower business really seriously) in the city with my parents and saw the SWAT team carrying flowers in one hand and a gun in the other. Flower vendors came into the city from all parts of the province to sell flowers to welcome the coming spring. Each flower has a symbolic meaning to them: the pussy willow resembles silk and represents prosperity, the Chinese sacred lily (paperwhite narcissus) also symbolizes prosperity and its blooming, the coming of the new year. During the Chinese New Year or 春节 (spring festival) period which basically started right after the Western New Year, I got to experience a lot of local customs for the first time. I picked out my first plum blossom tree-I’ve never even picked out a Christmas tree before, and I got to experience the terror of a very, very long firecracker. Most importantly (kidding), I got lots of red envelopes.
While in Guangzhou this time, I was able to visit some ancient towns and ancestral halls which was quite an interesting experience. Most of the inner-city (the development of Guangzhou within the original city walls) architectural and cultural developments have been heavily influenced by Western culture and to be able to see more ‘lingnan’ (嶺南) culture was a first for me. I got to try traditional delicacies like ginger milk curd and also see the homes constructed with oyster shells. I also got to see a lot of the countryside and how much has changed there as well which was exciting because it offered two sides. The continuation of farming and the development of it into a sustainable economy for the province is contrasted with steady extension of the city outwards to ‘improve’ living standards. Both have their merits and consequences but which one will be the better option in the end-only time will tell.
I also got to do an internship during my break and got to meet a lot of wonderful people-and also learn about what financial leasing is. The coolest thing was that I got to work in two skyscrapers (the company’s offices are split between two buildings) and see a panoramic view of the city. Since I was the intern, I was often times running back and forth between the two buildings and although the weather wasn’t hot, I sometimes took the metro for one stop just to be lazy-although walks through the park were nice too with all the flowers blooming. I was lucky enough to be placed in one of the funniest and kindest departments there and got to experience some local banter and office culture. I got to try out eating at the office cafeterias and enter a lot of high security buildings (so scary…I’m just trying to deliver a folder, please don’t yell at me). After the Chinese New Year break, I also got to experience the ‘拜年‘ or rather asking for red envelopes (红包) culture. It was super fun and felt a lot like trick or treating but this time, you’re getting money (aw yes). Definitely a rewarding experience and I’m missing my coworkers already!
Closer to the PKU Spring move-in date, my parents and I flew to Beijing a few days earlier to take a quick trip around the city. We went to the Temple of Heaven (天坛) which I haven’t been to since I was one year old (and definitely did not remember) and explored the PKU campus a bit. My dad also took us to a restaurant near Tiananmen to try some traditional Beijing and Qing Dynasty food which was a delicious and fun experience. There’s definitely more and more people in Beijing now and…it’s sad to say this but I feel like the city is gradually losing it’s unique identity and culture even though there have been efforts to revive it. Even though places like 前门 and 后海 have been preserved, renewed, advertised, etc., specifically created tourist spots just don’t compare to culture that is ingrained into a society and a city in this case. If people in Guangzhou/Canton thought that their culture was disappearing, it’s happening even faster in Beijing.
I’ll finish on a positive note though. I’m definitely going to miss the food in Guangzhou. ‘食在广州’ is a famous saying that basically means that if you’re going to eat, you should come to Guangzhou. However, I look forward to exploring Beijing more in depth during my stay here! I’m definite that I’m going to have lots of fun in big ol’ Beijing and learn lots of new things.