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  • Writer's pictureVicky Huang

Practicing Resilience in Beijing - Prologue: Before the Internship

Written October 9th, 2019:

Wow, it's been over two weeks that I've been in China - so much has happened, yet not much at all, considering I haven't even started my internship! Haha.


...but first, let me fill y'all in on my first two weeks. 😊


September 23rd - 28th: Beijing

I spent my first 5 days in China in Beijing, going around to its many places in historical and significant sites - Tiananmen, The Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, the Olympic Bird's Nest, and more with a tour group of 26 people.

Hehe, a little bit about the Great Wall (not that I know thaat much, but just a little tidbit for y'all):

The Great Wall of China! I guess I'm...a good person now? :P Read on to find out what that means, and see why millions of people want to step foot onto this landmark...:))

The Great Wall of China (长城; " cháng chéng ") was built over literally, thousands of years! Its earliest days were from the Warring States from 5-8th Century BC, but the Wall that had been built back then have mostly since eroded, or been destroyed. The Great Wall that we see today was mainly built during the Ming Dynasty, from the 15th--17th Century! But do get this: The Great Wall is not solely a wall for protection and defense against invading enemies -- it truly is a symbol of indomitable Chinese spirit. Every single Chinese person (lol, who's grown up in China) knows that countless -- literally, millions upon millions -- of people shed sweat, blood, tears, and their literal lives (yes, over a million people died) to build this wall. It was all hand-built before modern machinery, using local resources like sticky rice (yes, sticky rice was added to the mortar!! this is a key ingredient and reason why the Wall is so strong!!). The longest building in the whole world...literally, unimaginable. It unites us, and humbles us. I say that every Chinese person knows its significance because it is part of the Chinese National Anthem, to "let our flesh and blood build our new Great Wall!"

"不到长城非好汉" (bú dào cháng chéng fēi hǎo hàn) ----- to not reach the Great Wall is no hero

There is the famous saying by Chairman Mao: "不到长城非好汉" -- that "one who does not reach the Great Wall is no hero"

(好汉 " hǎo hàn" means 'good person').

Of course, it does not literally mean that; it symbolizes that respectable, admirable people must overcome hardships. The original phrase comes from a poem written by Chairman Mao in 1935:

The heavens are high, the clouds are pale, We watch as the wild geese disappear southwards. If we fail to reach the Great Wall we are not true men, We who have marched more than 20,000 miles. - Mao Zedong, 1935

This verse was written referring to the "Long March" that Chinese soldiers underwent to circumvent their enemies, and is inscribed in stone and put as a statue on the "Hao Han Hill", the section of the Wall that my tour group came to climb. This is the quote that motivates and inspires millions of Chinese people to come and set foot on the Great Wall!

好汉坡 (Hǎo Hàn Pō) -- "Good Person Hill"

Don't let the stairs on the picture fool you -- the Great Wall is *actually* a challenge to climb!! The stairs are very uneven, and sometimes really tall (like, up to my knees!!) -- some parts are much steeper than others too! I found myself getting out of breath many times before I reached this point, which was the furthest we tourists were allowed to go. It took me about 30 minutes to get to this picture-spot! 💪

I was (am still!) deeply humbled.


September 28th - October 4th: Panyu (Guangzhou)

Then, I went to Panyu, Guangzhou where my grandparents on my mom's side live, and stayed with them for 5 days. It was so nice to see them again, especially to see that my grandpa who hadn't been doing so well, is still eating and sleeping alright :') What a relief! Really 😌

My grandpa, writing a Chinese verse. The paper is special water-ink paper, which uses water to act as ink. It dries quickly though, which is why the first part of the verse (from his right-hand side) is almost gone!

While I was in Panyu, it was the 70th anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China, on October 1st, 2019. It was equivalent to the 150th Canada Day - extremely anticipated and strongly celebrated, at all levels. The Chinese government had spent months preparing for the big day, the live broadcast at Tiananmen Square where the official speech, parade and performances were held. Every household would watch the ceremony live on TV, every news channel replaying and commenting on it for days on end (it's even on today, a week later).

((I was there at Tiananmen Square too, just last week!!! This is where the ceremony was held!))

I had watched the ceremony on TV with my grandparents and my cousin, and it was truly breathtaking! The soldiers were unbelievably meticulously aligned and ordered, standing or marching. Honestly, I don't know any other nation who can train their soldiers to be as perfectly straight and synced as China. It strikes me even more with wonder because nine years ago when I had come back by myself, it was to attend a military summer camp, and so I had been in a similar environment (although not even close to their amounts of training, as my camp was for kids and character-building). The songs that were sung, the respect that the people had for the Chairman, the pride that they held for being Chinese, and their ardent belief in a stronger nation was undeniably reflected in the ceremony.

Below is a video of a video (dun dun dunnn LOL) of their 'Today is Your Birthday, My China' song! It was played quite often on all channels -- really hypes up the setting (along with their dozens of other celebratory songs)! Sadly I forgot to take a video of the soldiers on the screen for y'all, but I have nooo doubts that official videos of the ceremony and parade online too, where the video quality would be much better anyways! :P)

Me and my cousin! I don't get to see her often at all, so I'm so glad I got to!!

What made that stay even better was seeing my cousin, whom I hadn't seen since I was back 3 years ago. She doesn't come home often as she goes to university far-ish away, but she was back for the National Holiday week-long break. We went and watched two movies together, got dim sum and bubble tea, and had some life chaaats. Haha ^~^ It made me really happy to connect with her again and this time (I think and hope!), stay connected!

...Oh, and it was also my grandma's birthday! :') Much celebration 🎉

Happy Birthday, Grandma :'))


October 4th - 8th: Shanwei

I then took the high-speed train (only an hour and half!) to Shanwei, where I stayed with my grandparents on my dad's side for the next 5 days. The urbanization of that once-little fishing town is astonishingly fast. Eight years ago, dirt roads were bustling with three-wheeled carts sharing the road with motorcycles, bikes, cars and pedestrians alike, somehow an order amongst the mess. Three years ago, roads were paved but still, three-wheeled carts carried the everyday passenger. Along the seaside, a beautiful boardwalk (stonewalk really) had just been built; and with it, pride for the local citizens. Today, that stonewalk has become more than that - it holds the heart of Shanwei, the city's pride and beauty.

Everyone who comes to visit the city is taken to the stonewalk at night, to be in awe of its night scene and sea-breeze. The lights that had been curated along the seaside are mesmerizing, dancing with colour and life.

Shops and new malls come alive. Multi-lane roads have islands dividing the opposing directions, and three-wheeled carts have been replaced by cars and DiDiDaChe (the Chinese Uber). New condos are being built in ever area.

The modernization is unbelievable.

At the same time...just gape at all these motorcycles!!! The video doesn't even capture all of them!! Shanwei really was full of them before, and now, they're still there! LOL - I guess this part of Shanwei's culture won't be changing for a while. 🛵


October 8th - present: Beijing

Just yesterday, I had left my grandparents and my hometown, and took a 14-hour trip across the country on a high-speed train back to Beijing.

It was past midnight when I had finally arrived at my new humble abode for the next two months, a very modest apartment unit within the 2nd-ring road of Beijing (which is considered to be a very prime location - Beijing has 6 ring roads, each further away from the city center, with the 6th ring road around an hour and a half away). I had just been informed after I had gotten off the train that I would be staying there, with my family friend's grandmother, instead of at the previously-arranged place (with my family friend's dad, near the 3rd ring road). That was quite a surprise to me; I had not prepared myself to live with a grandma for the next two months. With that unexpected change, I tried to stay optimistic.

It's just a little hard. I am not sure how the other housing situation would've been, but this little abode is definitely one to get used to. My host grandma - Grandma Wang - has lived here for the past 30 years. My humble room smaller than my South single room. The (usable) kitchen counter space is maybe a hand-length deep, and three hand-lengths wide. I won't go into much more detail but basically, I hadn't been mentally-prepared for this. So when I first came in, of course I had felt a little....unsettled. But honestly, that's plain wrong to complain. How can I even be ungrateful? I can't.

This grandma was also given two days notice that I was coming over for two months. This is her home, where she spent over a third of her life. It is her space, and she has so generously shared it with me and welcomed me in. It is already considered a big space, considering the location (Beijing is so tight for housing, especially near city-center!). I am honestly so grateful and so honoured. I will not take this for granted.

Not gonna lie, I miss home. A lot. I miss comfy beds and friends and the food and the hot tap water, the cleanliness of the floors and desks and washrooms and walls. I miss instant hot showers and a heating system and access to my frequented websites. I miss the ease of communication, my social adeptness, familiar faces, independence. Maybe the added unexpected change of housing has further prolonged me in making this new house "home", but for now, this new abode has yet to "hit home" for me. Sometimes I think to myself, "Vicky - what have you signed yourself up for?"

But this is exactly that. I didn't come to Beijing for a comfy, luxurious life. I came here to learn. Yes, it was to learn through my internship (which starts tomorrow!!!), and yes, I was hoping for a bit more personal space, but I see this as another learning curve - and I am ready to take it on. This will really allow me to practice my patience and resilience in my cooking skills, adaptability skills, communication skills, and my independance too - just in another way.

This is only the first day. I still have to get used to so many things but....I will learn to find joy in this unfamiliar, humble (and pretty cold, LOL - Beijing is already starting to get cold!!! Brrrr...) new space.

I guess I'll show you a video I took of the outside, when we went on a little stroll! The unit shown at 0:09 is ours - we live right on the first floor! In the video, Grandma Wang describes how they're putting in new heating pipes, as well as new insulation for the apartment walls (since they're pretty old infrastructure and it gets really cold in the winter). Exciting, because AHAH I am always cold (ask anyone), and also very much dislike the cold! XD

Anyhowww, that's my update for now!!

I will be getting up at 6:45am tomorrow, to leave home by 7:30am to get to the Zhongguancun Institute for Innovation before 9am. It's my first day. I will be bringing with me my best self - my positivity, resilience, a humble learning-intended mind, and my friendly, genuine attitude. I am determined to make tomorrow a great day!

....I just...have to get used to this sleeping situation first...😅😅

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