What they brought back from abroad: Part Four

Discovering China in crowded markets

Our "What They Brought Back" series will look at eight students and the mementos they keep as reminders of the people, places, and experiences from their study abroad programs all over the world.

Name: Melissa Chanthalangsy
Class of: 2014
Major: Political Science and Environmental Studies
Location: Beijing, China
Program: East Asian Civilizations
Best part of your trip in five words: 50-cent jiang bing lunches.

Chanthalangsy found much to enjoy in Chinese street food, especially jiang bing, a crêpe-like snack filled with eggs, sesame seeds, green onions, and cilantro. In fact, she felt that the life and energy of Beijing was often found in its crowded streets, as they were regularly packed with restaurants, shoppers, markets, and vendors. She practiced her Chinese with locals at the “English Corner,” a unique and eclectic assembly of Chinese citizens who gather in a plaza on Friday nights to practice their English.

She also observed older women performing traditional dances in a public square as the buildings behind them were being transformed into newer, more modern spaces. “Creative destruction is what we call it, where the new is taking over the old,” she said.

Likewise, a new feeling of belonging began to supersede Chanthalangsy’s earlier feelings of “otherness,” as a French-born citizen living in America with parents from Laos. “I’ve lived here [in America] for 10-12 years. And then I went abroad, and I was like, ‘Wow, I’ve become American.’ Although [in Asia] I physically fit in the Asian phenotype, on the inside, I [felt] like an other. I [felt] American.”

What she brought back:

  • Earrings from Beijing’s Pearl Market, one of the largest and most comprehensive indoor markets. Chanthalangsy employed skillful bargaining tactics to cut prices more than 75 percent. “I loved it; there’s an adrenaline rush when you bargain,” she said.
  • A panda trinket, also purchased from the Pearl Market during last-minute gift shopping.
  • “I Love BJ” t-shirt, bought with friends as a gag souvenir. Although its meaning goes without saying in Beijing (I love Beijing), it did prompt strange looks from a security guard at the O’Hare Airport.
  • Wall decoration reflecting the refreshing natural landscapes of Kyoto. Chanthalangsy bought this piece of decor from the Kiyomizu Buddhist Temple during a UChicago-funded sightseeing trip to Japan. Other cities they visited include Tokyo, Osaka, and Nara where they averaged four hours of sleep per night. They only survived thanks to the half-hour naps on the bus trips from site to site.

Posted on Monday, April 22, 2013

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