I would be remiss to start a travel blog without writing a piece about Study China, a programme that gave me the opportunity to study Mandarin and Chinese culture at Beijing Normal University in 2016. The programme offers free study and accommodation at different locations in China, and is funded by the British government. It’s available to full time students, and as a PhD student in my final year, I thought I would apply, on the off chance. I never actually believed that I would be accepted onto the course.
Long story short, I was lucky enough to have my application approved, and after a few months, found myself on the plane to Beijing. What did I know about China? Only a little. My partner (Daniel, you guys know him by now) lived in Hong Kong for a year, and so had limited knowledge of speaking Cantonese. Obviously, that wasn’t going to help me now, but his enthusiasm for Hong Kong gave me shivers of excitement. I couldn’t wait.
I spent a month in Beijing, three weeks of those studying at Beijing Normal University. Here are three of my highlights.
· The food. The food! I say again, the food. I love Chinese food. Now more than ever. Despite being vegetarian and struggling in the university canteen, everything I tasted was amazing. I had never tried jiaozi before, but now I have them at least once a week. There was a real excitement to buying something without knowing what it was – and discovering bean curd and its many different forms was a delight.
· The coffee. It’s fair to say that good coffee has hit Beijing. I visited many speciality coffee shops who delivered a perfect flat white to me, and showed me a passion that I love to see. My favourite was by the exit of the Forbidden City and was called Oasis café. The owner was warm and personable and roasted his own beans in the small shop, and had won awards for his great coffee. I was about to say go visit it if you’re nearby, but I just looked it up on Trip Advisor and it’s now closed. That’s a real shame. I even made a special visit to buy beans to bring home with me. However, there are other speciality coffee shops that’ll do the trick – one such is Guell Speciality Coffee. They’re off a busy hutong and really care about what they do, taking you through each stage of the drink they’re preparing for you. Go and search it out!
· The people. The general public in Beijing were delightful. My favourite memory is finding a small restaurant and doing my best to order vegetarian jiaozi. The owner was wonderful, and we shared a lovely ten minutes exchanging our attempts at each other’s language, each counting to ten and showing off our skills. She then made me jiaozi from scratch, gave me a huge beer, and I was completely happy. If you’re there, have a go at talking to people in their language. They really appreciate it, and they’ll help you too.
There is much more to say about China, and much more we will say, for Daniel visited also (albeit, not through Study China). I just wanted to give a shout out to Study China specifically, from a previous student who is incredibly grateful for such a life changing opportunity. If you are a full time student, take a look here to see if you’re eligible to apply. Work hard on your application, the experience will repay you. https://www.studychina.org.uk/