Editor’s note: Cadence Baugh is a Fishers resident and an undergraduate student at Indiana University. Baugh received a Fulbright scholarship to study in China last semester and was required to write an article about the experience.
Guest commentary by Cadence Baugh
My four-month adventure living in the heart of Beijing, China, at Minzu University began during the blistering cold days in mid-January. I was to spend my time hammering away at textbooks and absorbing culture and history at ACC’s intensive Mandarin Chinese program. With this being my first time in China, it felt like I had ventured into a whole different world.
Unlike the sunny and lushly green suburbs of Indy, I was thrust into a world of steely industrial buildings and pollution as dense as fog. With a population 20 times bigger than that of Indy, I was perplexed by all the bustling activity and heavy traffic, especially traveling through the subway system at rush hour where people were packed like sardines.
Many amazing sites and experiences became endearing to me. It wasn’t uncommon to see old men practicing calligraphy with human-sized brushes on the sidewalk, clusters of people practicing Taichi in parks, and happening upon a 5-star Pizza Hut. I learned the tricks of haggling, which was necessary for all shopping purposes, and had to acclimate myself to the ubiquitous squat toilets. At the time, Chinese New Year had passed. There was not a place in the city that wasn’t strewn with colorful red lanterns and bursting firecrackers.
Nevertheless, there was not one thing I loved more than the food. Most places were traditional “mom and pop” places, serving only the homemade stuff. Besides American fast food restaurants, you would seldom find chains. Meals were always family style with large banquets of succulent Beijing duck, hot pot, dumplings, steamed buns and eggplant, but never could I pass up a spicy omelet from a street vendor.
My days off from class often consisted of touring some of Beijing’s historical sites. With a history as rich as China’s, there was no lack of sites to see. In places like Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, and the Great Wall, I could tread on grounds where warriors, emperors and party leaders alike had stood before.
One important thing I realized from this experience was that I knew very little about Chinese history because it wasn’t a topic often covered in classes back home. I hope that in the future, more people in the United States, and Indy, too, for that matter, will have more opportunities to better understand and appreciate this beautiful culture and its wonderful people.