Something I hold dear to my heart is skating on the lake of the Summer Palace in Beijing. I’ll never forget it. I had been to the Summer Palace twice, heard all about the Empress Dowager Cixi and walked under the gorgeous corridor. It was one of my favorite places to have visited and so I was excited to go back. When we arrived I didn’t expect to see that the lake had frozen over and that people were ice skating using sleds and ice bikes. Immediately my friends and I hopped over, paid around $10AUD and jumped on the ice for the next few hours, seeing the beauty of the Summer Palace from a completely different perspective. Just when I was looking forward to experiencing the beautiful Summer Palace again I was surprised to find more depth to it.
In my two weeks in Beijing as part of the intensive language and culture short course at the Beijing Institute of Technology I was constantly reminded of the utter complexity and depth of culture and history that exists in China.
We were there during the lead up to the Lunar New Year, and were lucky enough to gain an insight into how language is often tied to culture and history whilst being transformed again for a contemporary era. During our lesson on the Chinese tradition of paper cutting we learned about why fish are often used as symbols of good fortune, as they sound similar to the character for more. Similarly, we found out that Pepper Pig was the modern poster child for the year of the pig, which was often reaffirmed through her constant presence around Beijing.
When studying calligraphy, we looked at how characters had been simplified from their more complex and more pictorial beginnings. I found it particularly interesting to look at how the freestyle way of writing a character changed it and highlighted calligraphy as more of an art form and the experience as meditative.
Language is intertwined with culture, and although two short weeks wasn’t enough time to take it all in, I was reminded of how the traditions of eras past in combination with a new modern age make Beijing, let alone the rest of China, a place with incredible diversity.