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Today we ventured into the heart of Beijing, to the Forbidden City. We first went to Tian’anmen Square, which is just south of the Forbidden City, and learned about Tian’anmen Tower, an important symbol of the Chinese Communist party. Then we ventured through the immense Forbidden City, which was built in 1420 and served as the emperor’s main residence.
After lunch, we learned about 5 main types of tea found in China: black, green, fruit, fujian, and jasmine tea. Each tea has a different purpose, for example, some tea is good for your skin, helps you sleep, or wakes you up. You drink them at different times of the day depending on the purpose. Tea has many different meanings to people depending on what they drink it for, and it is also very traditional and ties them back to their ancestors. It is all very natural, for example the black tea is ground up leaves that are compressed and stored away for many years, and the longer you store it the more bitter it tastes. The fruit tea was personally my favorite because it was so sweet and had a lot of sugary fruits. The black tea smelled really good because there were dried roses in it. And the Fujian tea was smooth and then sweet at the end, and had to be poured from a clay pot to absorb the essence of the tea.
Later, we went to the Temple of Heaven, a site that was very different from the temples we have visited in the past. The rain was very refreshing after a few hot days and drove away all the crowds, so we could focus on the scenery and artwork. We entered the temple on small walking paths through rectangular patches of trees. The temple was round and had similar artwork to past temples we’ve seen. The rectangular structures represented things on earth, and the circles represented the heavens. Emperors would come here to pray for a good harvest in the following year. Religion, spirituality, and worship are huge to the traditions in China. They have a deep spiritual connection with the history of China, and it guides them throughout their daily lives and shapes who they are. It bonds people together and is why many people return day after day to do exercise at the temple or to be surrounded by others.
Last, we went to a pearl market near the Temple of Heaven. Here are some lessons learned throughout the day in navigating a Beijing market:
- Bargaining: A new skill many of us had to learn over the last couple days. The men and women operating the stores put a lot of pressure on the consumers to negotiate the price, and often they wanted us to pay substantially more than the price the item was made for. This is very different from any experience in the United States because all the prices are usually set in advance. The bargaining allows us to practice the mission statement at Porter’s by being bold and resourceful. It says a lot about the economy of China, because they things were so cheaply made. The sellers did not seem like they enjoyed their job, because they were constantly fighting with people for their own income. Some of the things at the store included pearls, Gucci backpacks, Supreme sweatshirts, and jade. All things you would assume to be expensive were fake and they attempted to sell it at the same price. The sellers were aggressive and would corner you when you were trying on shoes, or grab your arm as you were walking by. We learned strategies as we went along and some of us were better than others about being stubborn and never overpaying. Overall, bargaining was an experience I am grateful to have had, as stressful as it was.
- Buying Jade: Jade, today I learned, is very traditional in Chinese jewelry. Many girls have the Chinese symbol for Jade in their name because it represents beauty and purity. The emerald green stone can be used in any type of jewelry and according to Confucianism the stone symbolizes virtue.
We are off tomorrow to the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, where we will learn about Traditional Chinese Medicine and its uses today. Stay tuned!