In lieu of our farewell to Beijing, we had a feast featuring the renowned Peking duck 北京烤鸭bei jing kao ya. The meat itself was tender, falling apart in our mouths between the 饼bing, the thin pancake wrapping also holding the crunchy, refreshing cucumber slices and the sweet onion slivers. What I think we all loved the most though was the golden roasted skin of the duck, glistening with fat, and crispy to the touch yet it practically melted the instant it touched our tongues. After eating three whole entire ducks, we rushed our full bellies to the Beijing Railway Station where our eyes and mind were thrown into a whirlwind.
The Beijing Railway Station is beautifully decorated with Big Ben-esque clocks, outlined with white bulbs, and a big red lighted sign “北京站 Beijing Railway Station,” announcing the official end of our Beijing tour. While the building itself was grandiose and glamorous, once our eyes averted from the skyline view, we were greeted with chaos and hordes of people. The scene was incredibly hectic, lacking any organization. Hundreds of Chinese citizens were pushing and jostling each other, concerned only with making it to their own destination. Grand Central Station and Penn Station in New York seem like a walk in the park compared to the mess we were in. We miraculously made it into the station and boarded our train all together and with a bit of time to spare—a relief off everyone’s shoulders.
Our train car was set up with compartments containing six beds, three stacked beds parallel to another stack of three bunk beds. Across the tiny walkway from the beds were two foldable seats next to a small desk, not even big enough for our laptops. It was an exciting experience: we were aboard an overnight train with each other in a foreign country! Most of us have never even travelled on an overnight train in the U.S., much less with friends. We were giddy with excitement as we explored the train and became accustomed to our new environment. The small, cramped space almost seemed to add to the novelty of being on a train. As 10:30PM neared, we simmered down and sat on the beds in small groups, pleasantly chatting. The lights were turned off and we clamored into bed, falling asleep to the rhythmic motion and lull of the train.
In the morning, the train pulled into the station around 8:15AM. We left the station and boarded the bus that took us to Nanjing University 南京大学 nan jing da xue, or 南大 for short. We had a few hours to explore Nanjing. Unlike Beijing, this city is more of a college town, with numerous stores, markets, and adorable cafes. Beijing seems comparable to DC, while Nanjing is like Boston. At 1PM, we met our Chinese language partners, Chinese university undergraduate and graduate students who will be helping instill in us the Chinese we learn in class. The Chinese university students gave us an informal walking tour of Nanjing University. The University is gorgeous, featuring Chinese traditional motifs on buildings and foliage everywhere you look. Sports facilities are numerous. There are badminton courts, tennis courts, basketball courts, a pool, a soccer field and a track. We returned to our classroom to hold an educational discussion after saying good-bye to our language partners. The discussion covered issues we have learned about since our stay in China through guest speakers and reading articles, like the conflict between “old” and “new” China, migrant workers, organic farming and waste management. Discussion ended, and we dispersed, some retiring to their bedrooms, some going out to explore more, but each of us anxiously and eagerly awaiting tomorrow’s first official Chinese class.