I was in Beijing, China spending two months of the summer of 2006 learning Mandarin through a program I had applied to and learning the art of dumpling making from the host family I stayed with. It was my first time staying in a foreign country without my parents and with the added element of staying away from home for almost two months, I initially saw it as a huge risk. Several weeks after I returned from China, I defined it as an experience of a lifetime.
In those two months, I saw both the traditional and modern sides of Beijing. Beijing is divided into a set of rings and I noticed that the outer rings contained the older side of Beijing. With the program I was a part of, I visited Buddhist and Daoist temples that scatter the outer rings of the city and visited a Muslim community that had its own mosque and special supermarkets that carried halal meat. We went to an opera house and watched a traditional Beijing opera, a form of art used to entertain the emperors that has survived centuries. We took calligraphy lessons and then went out to the parks where people could be seen writing, in their own calligraphy styles, poems and sayings from Mao on the ground with large brushes dipped in water. As we traveled further out, there were more restaurants and street vendors that sold traditional everyday Chinese food and snacks. Later with my host family, I visited the Summer Palace where they taught me about the emperors that came to vacation in the large palace, enjoy the large gardens, and the palace’s own lake.
When we went further into the city, we visited the more modern aspects of Beijing. The inner rings in Beijing held the tall skyscrapers and the beginnings of the Olympic stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest. We visited the big shopping centers like the Beijing Silk Market and Xidan Shopping Center. We also visited Wangfujing Road that holds the famous Wangfujing malls and night markets where almost anything can be bought from both modern and traditional Chinese clothes to various Chinese delicacies. After passing through all the rings we finally reach the center of the busy metropolis.
At the center of all the modern buildings and the construction of even taller buildings is the amazing Forbidden City. The Forbidden City contains the Imperial Palace and the living quarters of the emperor’s advisors, large courtyards with statues of guardian lions, and a beautiful garden with various flowers and centuries old trees. Since the Forbidden City has high walls surrounding it, it is cutoff from the rest of the city and makes you forget that you are in the middle of the bustling city of Beijing.
Beijing is a perfect mixture of old and new. The older historical structures may stand in the outer rings of the city, but its influence is clearly seen in the architecture of the modern buildings that populate inner Beijing. Many business men and women can be seen working around Beijing, but they also take the time out to visit the old Buddhist or Daoist temples and Muslim mosques. And although many fast food restaurants and fancy restaurants serving Chinese food and Western food are popular in the inner rings, so are the street vendors that serve traditional treats down the block. After visiting Beijing, I realized that it was the perfect example of the Chinese philosophy of balance and harmony.
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