Coming to China studying abroad out of the University Denver would normally lead a student like me to study at Peking University in Beijing, China’s top university. However, my experience coming from Denver has been much more original than my peers. I chose to do a program unaffiliated with my university leading me to the southern capital of China, Nanjing. At first, I was really nervous about my situation studying away from my classmates back home, but after having lived in Nanjing for the past 3 months and visiting those friends at Peking University in Beijing last week, I have come to realize how happy I really am to have chose Nanjing.
Last week was the first time I made the journey up to Beijing to see my friends all semester. I got my train ticket, and four hours later on one of China’s 300kmh bullet trains, I had arrived in Beijing. Stepping off the train I was completely overwhelmed. People are everywhere and I really had no idea what I was doing. All I had was a message from my friend Chris telling me to meet him at Wu Dao Kou station, wherever that was. Not only is Beijing such a big city, but it is so spread out to the point that they have 15 subway lines; thirteen more than Nanjing. I must have stared at the giant subway map displayed on the wall in the station for a good 20 minutes just trying to figure out where to go and how to get there. I was easily frustrated, probably due to how spoiled I am in Nanjing with its two simple subway lines. Our stop, Gulou, is right in the heart of Nanjing making everything so convenient and simple. This process was the first realization I had, and I hadn’t really even experienced any of Beijing from a college student’s perspective yet. It was an easy situation to be judgmental in, and I was definitely playing the role.
One hour, two transfers, and a million new Chinese faces later, I had finally arrived at Wu Dao Kou station. I had never been so anxious to get off a train in my life and was so relieved to finally see my friends waiting for me outside of the station. It was night time around 6:30 or so, and we were hungry. We went to one of Chris’ favorite local Chinese eateries, ate some food followed by a couple beers and then stopped by his apartment to meet up with his 4 other roommates and to drop off my stuff before we hit the town! Chris shared an apartment with three other Americans and a Chinese guy. All great guys, but the dynamic felt pretty awkward at points. All of the Americans are best friends and do everything together, while the Chinese guy was just kind of there in the background minding his own business. I felt bad for him. Even Chris had mentioned how strange and awkward it is sometimes. I have also been living with a Chinese roommate for the past couple months, so I understand the cultural differences, but my roommate, Ding Pan, and I got over the awkwardness very quickly and have grown to be good friends. These guys had a strictly roommate only relationship with theirs, and it was clear from our first interaction. We both have Chinese roommates but they are in completely different circumstances. Mine is also a college student and he speaks almost perfect English while Chris’ is twenty eight years old and is a working man who does not speak of word of English past the simple greetings. It was interesting to observe, and I was observing the dynamic the entire time I was there.
After the first greeting with all these guys we finally hit the town and went out Beijng style, which meant paying lots of money! In Nanjing almost every time we go out, everything is handed to us for free because we’re foreigners. In Beijng we were literally surrounded by foreigner’s, which meant we did not stand out like we do here in Nanjing. Other than these aspects, the social seen and nightlife were pretty much the same: loud music, lots of lights, and entertainment from dancers or singers from time to time. We had fun, and after words I was feeling hungry. In Nanjing, I eat a ton of street food. After all, it is some of the best food China’s got, but when I told those guys I wanted to get some food on the street, they could not believe what I was doing. None of them had ever even considered trying some BBQ and all the other cart food that lines the streets at night. They looked at me like I was a crazy person, eating a bunch of kebabs at once. They were mortified, but I was surely enjoying myself! Nanjing has given me lots of practice, so I am confident with my street decisions. I had no idea about their eating habits in China, but it all made a lot of sense the next morning.
All of us got up and one of Chris’s roommates had his breakfast heart set on eating at a place called Grandma’s Kitchen. He said it was the best Western breakfast in Beijing, so I was honestly really excited to have some good ol’ American cookin! We got there, and it literally felt like we were in a diner back home until the Chinese waiter came and asked for the order in Chinese. The menu had everything from pancakes to one of the best skillets I have ever had. We were all excited and we got talking and one of them said he probably eats there four or five times a week, no matter if its breakfast, lunch, or dinner. That’s when I new that these guys eat a lot of western food here. They talked about burgers, deli sandwiches, Grandma’s, pizza, and all other kinds of stuff they like to have. I do enjoy a nice change back to western food in Nanjing, but these guys eat it a lot here. That skillet was amazing, and if I was in Beijing, I would probably eat there all the time too, but that’s also the reason I am happier in Nanjing. Nanjing feels more authentic and my experience here has been amazing and is full of crazy Chinese stories and memories. I could have been at Bei Da with all these guys and I know it would have been a great time, but Nanjing has been a truly out there abroad experience, and I am really proud to say I studied here. It was the best choice I could have made, and the experience has been nothing short of amazing.