Jet Li Guest Lecture!! 李连杰

Tuesday, July 12

We were told on Monday that we would be having a guest lecture by a very famous person the next day. Prof Xie refused to tell us who it was in case we brought all our friends, and at the time we were all skeptical. Who could it be? Would we even know this person? At the time, no-one suspected that the special guest would be world-famous martial arts movie star JET LIIIIII asdfklasdflkjsalfjadlfkj!!!

Li is renowned for his wushu skills but the topic of his talk was about his work in charity and public welfare. After he and his daughters almost lost their lives while vacationing in the Maldives during the 2004 tsunami, he founded the One Foundation (which encourages the donation of one Chinese yuan), an NGO which funds disaster relief among other issues. His guiding principles are wisdom and compassion, the two core teachings of his Buddhist religion.

The man himself looked older than in the movies, and he seemed to be developing a bit of a belly. But you could tell from the energy and agility of his movements that he was highly skilled physically, and his shiny eyes darted around the room with a speed uncharacteristic of his age. His English wasn’t fantastic but his charisma and sincerity were clearly conveyed. His message was that everyone can do something, because collectively we can be strong given a platform through which we can help others with donations of any quantity. He believes that young people can use technology to spread love and support to anyone who needs it, and is highly optimistic about the future.


Still can’t get over the fact that we got to see Jet Li and his daughter Jane!

Simatai Great Wall 司马台

Friday, July 15

Simatai is a less touristy section of the Great Wall known for its beauty and steepness. Located approximately 120 km north of Beijing, we had to get up at 5:30 a.m. to get there on time. Much mist-ery was experienced up on the Wall:


After much sweating and legwork plus a constant drizzle of light rain, we arrived at our destination, the tenth watchtower. For some of us, a fraction of the journey involved crawling up the stairs on our hands. The view at the top was amazing but the thought of going back down on the slippery stones was not.



The Wall had strategic holes for defense during wartime:


What was upsetting though was the amount of waste that tourists had accumulated near the watchtowers. A splattering of plastic bottles lines the greenery nearby, ruining the efforts to preserve this World Cultural Heritage Site.

Of course we had to take a few selfies along the way. Princeton represent! Credits to the long-armed Oliver Hsu:




Week 3: In which we take a trip down South…

… and I take over Princeton’s Instagram account for the journey to Saigon where we:


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explore the vibrant night life

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forge valuable bonds of friendship

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stare at pictures of Uncle Ho

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strike a pose

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and most importantly: open our eyes, listen and remember.

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I pray for those who are long gone, who have suffered, and those who continue to suffer from the consequences of the Vietnam War. 




Yuanmingyuan 圆明园

Sunday, July 10

Yuanmingyuan, also known as the Old Summer Palace, is a site filled with palaces and gardens used by emperors in the Qing dynasty, China’s last dynasty. The complex contains both Chinese and western architecture, and still retains much of its bygone glory through reconstruction following its destruction by French and British troops during the Second Opium War in 1860.


Fuhai Lake



Huanghuazhen, which is surrounded by a maze



Scale model of Yuanmingyuan



It was a really hot day. Popsicles were an absolute necessity.

Week 2: In which we meet Melanie Ho…

… a rising junior at Princeton University, aspiring director and American born Vietnamese, looking to understand the American War in Vietnam.



—> “I like dogs.”  <—

Tạm Biệt!



(P.S. Click on the link above!)

Καλώς ήρθες

Athens is a city of extremes. Vital pieces of ancient Greek history—the centric site of the Acropolis, exhibits of ancient artifacts along metro platforms, or the hill of the Areopagus—exist boldly alongside Athens’ fast-paced modernity. The modern city is a sea of white apartment buildings with lush plants spilling off of balconies and small tavernas, whose patrons sprawl out across sidewalks and into the narrow streets, which are populated by impatient motorcyclists, colorful graffiti, and erudite Athenians, for whom the city constant state of flux has become routine.

The modern meets the ancient both daringly and seamlessly, prompting numerous interactions between the historical and the contemporary. The dialogue between Athens as the birthplace of democracy and Greece’s modern form of democracy exists in the sharp distinction between the ruins of the Parthenon and the image of the imposing Parliament House beside Syntagma Square. The dialogue between Athens’ past and present exists in the strange juxtaposition between the remnants of the Ancient Agora, the social trading center of ancient Athens and Varvakios Agora, an energetic, colorful market crowded with open fish and meat displays and bins stuffed with greens and vegetables. The dialogue exists between the preserved ruins of Athens’ 5th century BC fortifications around the Piraeus peninsula and the unseen distant borderlines where the refugee crisis festers and develops along chain link fences.

Athens has been my home for three weeks now. In these weeks, I have seen and touched and moved through Athens as a stranger, a student, and a visitor. Since it is a new city to me, I have encountered the modern and the ancient through the same eyes. The Athens that I have met and explored is incredibly multi-layered and complex—not to be defined by its immense historical value, but simultaneously not to be denied its budding global existence.

Sights and Tastes of Greece

Hello, Everyone! It’s officially been three weeks since I left the U.S. and arrived in Athens, Greece for my Global Seminar, and I’ve been enjoying every moment. We’ve had a lot of opportunity to explore the city (as well as a few other areas in Greece) and experience what Greece has to offer. Some things I’m quickly learning to appreciate are the magnificent sights to be seen in Greece. Whether it’s the early morning or late at night, in the middle of a busy city or on the coast, here are a few views from my time here thus far:



The view from the balcony of my apartment! We live alongside local Greek citizens while in Athens, so we’ve been fortunate to authentically experience our district in Athens as well as life in a foreign country. In fact, interacting with citizens in this district has been one of the best parts of living here, as people have helped in every thing from grocery shopping to commanding a dog to sit in Greek. I love eating out on the balcony at night and seeing the city begin to light up.



A photo of the Acropolis at night. Seeing the Acropolis was one of the first things we got to do while here (on day 2 we had a massive exploration of the city) and this view absolutely took my breath away. Not only could we see the Acropolis lit up from our position but also the entire city of Athens and the mountains surrounding it. Not a place to miss!


Above is a photo of the Corinth canal, which we needed to cross on the way to the city of Nafplio. Now, I’m a person who’s normally afraid of heights, but standing atop this canal was too breath-taking of an opportunity to miss. It was incredible to hear about the history of this canal (apparently, the canal saw some World War II action that you can find photos of online).




Still, although the Corinth canal was a beautiful stop, the destination was even more magnificent. Captured above is a photo of the Aegean Sea in Nafplio, and I think the photo and clear blue water speaks for itself. Directly underneath it is another view with a few other students and me on our way to the beach.

Now, we are going to move onto tastes, which of course means FOOD! Greek food is absolutely delicious, and every meal I’ve ordered here has left me completely satisfied (and not-so-secretly wanting to come back for more). Here are a few of my favorite dishes and some memories to go along with them:




Communal dinners have been some of my favorite meals to have in Greece. Everyone in the Global Seminar gathers to eat some fabulous food and talk together. Fun facts about meals in Greece: locals here eat dinner a lot later in the day, around 9:30 to 10 p.m., so it was a bit of an adjustment at first. Above are photos of the delicious seafood linguini and mussels I had at our first communal dinner.


Trying traditional Greek dishes has been really interesting, and souvlaki has become a quick favorite. On our first day of exploration I also tried my first plate of souvlaki, and whether in a restaurant or from a street stand it tastes delicious. While here, I’ve also sampled tzatziki (if you don’t know what it is, look it up because it is fantastic) as well as domaldes, stuffed grape leaves. If you ever come to Greece, look forward to the food!


While at Nafplio, we got to visit what is supposedly the absolute BEST gelato in all of Greece, and let me say that I think it’s a title well-deserved. This banana gelato was delicious and refreshing on a 90-degree day.



Despite my goal to experience as many Greek dishes as possible, I was happy to find a vegetarian restaurant named ‘Avocado’ while in Athens. The food was superb (I love avocados!) and it was comforting to know that Greece has a little something for everyone. In fact, across the street was a sushi restaurant and noodle bar, which I may be tempted to try in the future.

Well, that’s all for now! Hopefully, I’ll be posting back soon with some more detail on the experiences we’ve had outside of Athens, but in the meantime check out the PIIRS Instagram page to see a few more photos of our Global Seminar! Thank you, of course, to PIIRS for allowing me to be a part of this amazing trip.

Week 1: In which we discover the delights of Hanoi’s street food…

… and the true value of the VND

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A basic ode to street food:

I profess my professor said to not

Eat ice, or fruit, or anything not hot

But with price so low and a wallet thin

How could I resist a lime with Phố Tình?


With pointed gestures and smiles I try

To communicate with shopkeepers even as they lie

To foreigners like me who don’t speak Vietnamese:

‘That will be 90,000 VND, please.’


I’ve tried Bánh Mì, Chè and Bánh cuốn

And there’s even more food I want ‘fore I’m gone

With only five short weeks left, how the time will fly

Soon I will miss you, Vietnam, tạm biệt , goodbye



Hẹn gặp lại!



A Religious Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter

Walking down Hanoi’s Lý Quốc Sư Street of Hanoi’s Old Quarter, I, the inquisitive tourist, came across, in close proximity, two Vietnamese landmarks of seeming peaceful but curious coexistence. At the head of the street stands the grand St. Joseph’s Cathedral with a rusted metal statue of the Queen of Peace (Regina Pacis) outside.


The church immediately stands out in the region not only for its great height and clearly Western style architecture, but also because of the open space it is afforded in a region of the city where most streets are as narrow as a single car. As I passed by St Josephs, congregants streamed out of the Sunday morning service, and later, as I was returning in the opposite direction, a young Vietnamese bride in a traditionally Western white dress was taking wedding photographs with her groom, the two effortlessly smiling in the 97-degree heat. A man at a coffee shop across the street tells me I am welcome inside the church, if I want to enter.

Only a few doors down the street, tucked away from the bustle of motorcycle traffic, stands a Buddhist shrine Chùa Lý Triều Quốc Sư (Choo-ah Lee Chee-oo Qu-ohk Soo-er). A young woman sits outside the gate of the temple, selling firecrackers and Vietnamese cone hats. I ask her if I can enter, and after receiving no answer, I step in. A classmate says the Buddhist monks waved her in after she hesitated outside.


Within the shrine monks sit at tables, peeling and eating small fruits, while western dressed Vietnamese men and women kneel shoeless at various altars with their hands together praying. I slip my sandals off and walk towards one of the shrines, noticing a stack of fake American 100 dollar bills in a pile next to a gold Buddhist figure, a pile of curiously shaped green fruits and a poster with about fifty photographs of whom I assumed were former or current congregants in the Buddhist community. One of the formerly praying women smiles at me as she exits.


I learned in my course reading that Vietnam is a predominately homogenous population of ethnically Vietnamese people who have long practiced Buddhism. However, the country has nevertheless struggled throughout its history with how to deal politically and socially with its minority religious and ethnic sects, including its Catholic population which arrived in Vietnam with French missionaries in the seventeenth century. Lý Quốc Sư Street, which itself is named after an 11th Century Buddhist monk (as is the shrine), demonstrated not the struggle between, but rather the peaceful coexistence of different peoples, as well as their welcoming attitude to outsiders such as myself. The two landmarks also showed to me the preservation of the old and historical Vietnamese tradition in the modern world. The church shows wear from pollution with its grey stone now blackened with soot, but happy Vietnamese teens take selfies on iPhones outside. I discover the Buddhist community has an active Facebook page, featuring photographs of boys and girls my age in the standard blue robes praying. A girl comments on one photo about how funny her expression is in the image.



Chao, Hanoi!

Chao, everybody, and welcome to my first blog post for Princeton’s Global Seminar in Hanoi! My name is Vanessa and I’m a sophomore (excuse me, a rising junior) at Princeton University.

This is somewhat belated, since I’ve already been in Hanoi for exactly a week and a day now, but for my part, I’m going to be blogging on my experience in Hanoi for all of you to see on this website.

Follow me to see the transition from gross airport food…


to being united with friends…


to having our first dinner together as a class and so much more during our time in Hanoi!


Shout-out to Princeton and the Office of International Programmes for making all of this possible, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experience with you!