Please forgive me for keeping you waiting this long; I am sure it has been rather frustrating wondering what on earth happened to me during these last few months. It must be like reading three-quarters way through a novel only to find out that your best friend's dog ripped out the last 50 pages... Or not. Anyway, my point is worry no longer; the wait is over! Here is the noticeably condensed, slightly rushed story of my three few months in China...
In April, I left you with an abbreviated version of my trip to Xi'an. Soon after my trip, a fellow American friend and I finally had the opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and put a contemporary Western twist on a traditional Chinese food. Honestly, we had been planning our cooking fest for months and were incredibly excited when the time came to make dessert 饺子(jiaozi)! For those of you who have no idea what that means, 饺子 directly translates to "dumplings" in English, but, in my personal experience, American dumplings, American-Chinese dumplings and Chinese dumplings are all completely different food items.
Basically, all you need to know is that American dumplings tend to be flavored dough, boiled in soup and scooped out into bowl (which ironically is similar to another Chinese dish that does not directly translate to "dumpling"); whereas Chinese dumplings can be filled with an endless variety of flavor options, and are either fried, boiled, or steamed. Meanwhile, I find American-Chinese dumplings are just a wannabe in-between, suffering from a flavor identity crisis. They all sound similar but taste incredibly different.
With the help of my host mom, my friend and I made steamed Chinese dumplings with gourmet chocolate, strawberry, and banana fillings. My host family was at first very wary of trying our creations, but after some coaxing they came around and tasted them. The dumplings were worth making just for the look on my host mother's face when she bit into the rich, warm, chocolatey treat. Her eyes literally sprung open with a mix of shock and delight.
The week after 饺子 making I received news that our NSLI-Y American Councils group was having a visitor, Lee Satterfield, U.S.A. Deputy Assistant Secretary and one of the leaders responsible for our program. She was touring Beijing as a part of Hilary Clinton's delegation visit; and, luckily for us, we all had the opportunity to talk to her and ask her questions about her work. During her stay she came to see one of our classes, ran a conference with our host families and us, and also visited the Forbidden City with our group.
After visiting the Forbidden City, some friends and I went out for lunch at a 饺子 restaurant (yes, it is quite possible that I am obsessed with Chinese dumplings). The restaurant is in this cool area in Beijing called Sanlitun. Nearly all of the embassies in Beijing are located in or near Sanlitun. The area is known for having many foreign restaurants and clothing stores, as well as hosting many community events. On the particular day we were there, Converse (yes, the shoe company) was having a promotional event, where anyone could sign up. All you had to do was wear a pair of provided black Converse sneakers, strike three poses, and hope to get chosen for a regional ad. A friend and I both signed up; and although we still do not know what the results were, I am quite satisfied with the free "I Converse Beijing" T-shirt and tote bag I was given for participating.
After meeting Ms. Satterfield, we had a four day weekend break from school, and I decided to take advantage of the time off by calling up a family friend from Shanghai to see if I could come visit for the weekend. I had a wonderful trip. Shanghai's skyline is beautiful at night. I was surprised by both how similar the food was to Beijing's and also how much higher the living expenses were. (For example, in Beijing subway rides are only 2RMB whereas in Shanghai they can range from 2-15RMB depending on the distance of your journey). While in Shanghai, I went to an outdoor music festival called The Strawberry Festival. I also visited multiple temples and ate at a wide variety of restaurants.
Soon after arriving back from Shanghai, one of my friends celebrated her 19th birthday. We went to an American restaurant and then went out to sing karaoke. It was a pretty typical birthday in China, except that she ordered ice cream cake from Cold Stone Creamery, an awesome U.S.A. treat for the warming May temperatures.
During the last stretch of May, my time was mainly occupied with running at the gym, attending hip-hop and jazz dance classes at a local dance studio, hanging out with friends, studying Chinese, and finalizing my plans for the summer and next school year.
This last January I applied to Bard College at Simon's Rock . Simon's Rock is a small liberal arts college in The Berkshires, MA. It is also the only college in the U.S.A. that specifically admits a "younger" student body. I applied for a merit scholarship and was granted full paid tuition renewable for all four years of schooling. As much as I love Breck, I feel both ready and excited to start the college experience one year early at Simon's Rock.
Before I knew it June had arrived. I was soon approached by my teacher to present a graduation speech and be the mistress of ceremonies at our graduation from Beijing No. 80's Language Learning Department on June 12th. She also informed me that there would soon be another competition for international students in Beijing. I soon got to work preparing a speech, practicing my lines for our graduation play, and finished choreographing a group dance for my friends and I to perform at the competition.
Around this time I also emailed the director of our program to ask for permission to be excused from class immediately following graduation in order to do a group project instead of continuing language classes for two more weeks before our flight home. My reasoning was that many of the first semester students had already reached and surpassed their language learning peak and both first and second semester students wanted to see more of Beijing before returning home. After receiving approval for my proposal, the plan was soon set in place for our group of seven (three students elected to stay in classes) to visit the Summer Palace, 798 Art District, Happy Valley Amusement Park, the Science and Industry Museum, A Snack Street in Dongsi, The Military Museum, and the Temple of Heaven in addition to seeing an acrobatics show and movie screening at an international bookstore, all of which was kindly funded by the NSLI-Y program. Finally, as a group, we each wrote up entries on our adventures, which culminated in the first ever Beijing Guidebook made by NSLI-Y students (lower quality PDF attached).
I am glad to announce that the international contest, graduation, and guidebook all went fantastically. I was awarded class valedictorian at graduation, and was very happy to have Amy Yang's family there rooting me on. (My family hosted Amy as an exchange student for two years in Minnesota.) The final revision of the guidebook was 80 pages long and filled with wonderful photos taken by our group photographer. The dance was also lots of fun to perform; we all wore matching outfits and performed it in 798 Art District just for fun with boom-box speakers borrowed from my dance school.
I feel very fortunate to have been awarded this scholarship to live in China for the year. I would like to think that I took advantage of the opportunity to the best of my ability. I look forward to a summer of relaxation, unwinding, and preparing myself for college in the fall. Thank you for being there supporting while I have been away. I could not have been happier to share all of my wondrous adventures with you.
Best of wishes for the summer!
Sage (In China from August 31, 2011 to June 23, 2012)