So, do you guys come from large families?
Beijing Travel Blog› entry 15 of 17 › view all entries
Flying into Beijing from Singapore was mostly uneventful, save the extreme struggle we had at the luggage counter when everyone's bags were overweight. The luggage allowance when flying into China from anywhere but North America is only 25 kg (50 pounds), which is about half of the allowance when flying Internationally from the U.S (2 Bags at about 50 pounds). Eventually, the Air China staff became more understanding and the we made it to Tsinghua exhausted and in one piece...we left Singapore at 6:30 a.m. and got here at around 6-7 p.m. Professor Zhou had arranged for a campus tour led by the Tsinghua University members of our classes and they pretty much met us at the bus.
After mentioning to our new Chinese friends that we were hungry they immediately started talking about some pizza place. Pretty much the whole group ended up there (except for Katie, who is allergic to milk which is a whole other story in itself) and we soon discovered that it was pretty much like Pizza Hut. The Chinese call it Qing-Qing Pizza (Qing-Qing = fast food) and our Tsinghua friends seemed very excited about it. Our waitress (like most other people we had encountered in China) did not speak much English and it was nice to have our new friends (Dong-Dong, Leon and James) there to help us order so we didn't have to resort to the pointing method like some of the rest of the group.
The food was so cheap. The exchange rate is about 8 yuan (pronounced U.N. and also called RMB) to 1 U.S. dollar. Our entire meal (there were 7 of us eating together) was about 100 RMB (12 dollars). We had pizza, beer, soda and bottled water. I can't get over the pricing. Or how friendly the Tsinghua students were. Apparently, they had to apply to take classes with us and they seemed very excited that we were here. They always made sure we got drinks first and loved to practice their very good English. Most of them had been studying for about 10 years and were fluent. Some of our conversations were interesting, but I want to preface this with some notes about Tsinghua.
Tsinghua University is the top engineering school in China. It was built with money from the U.S. from a war indemnity in one of those unequal treaties (I am glad all of the stuff I learned in class is staying with me...). There are about 30,000 students enrolled and the ratio of guys to girls is very similar to Tech (70% guys to 30% girls). The only way that you are allowed to go to Tsinghua is if you make high enough scores on the country-wide exam taken in China. There are around 8,000 in each class at Tsinghua. The population of China is over a billion. The students that go here are the best of the best of the best. And as we discovered at dinner, they take school seriously.
Anyway, we talked a lot about school and where the three Tsinghua students were from at dinner, their year, the size of ISyE at Tsinghua, etc.
After dinner we walked through the center of campus. We saw Tsinghua Tower (their version of Tech Tower) and some of the main walkways. Everyone rides bikes here. It is ridiculous. It was also ridiculous how crowded campus was on a Friday night at 10 p.m. People were in the library, studying, in the market. Tech is dead on the weekends. Especially on Friday or Saturday night. Tsinghua has a gorgeous campus. It is very big but well-landscaped and well-kept. We definitely stick out like sore thumbs though. Singapore is a melting pot, there are people from all over the world at NUS; Tsinghua is a public Chinese university, so there are no Indians, Malays, etc.
Exhasuted, we all went back to our very comfortable rooms to sleep.
The next morning, we met the Professor downstairs for what would be an 8 hour bike search and expedition. We headed towards the West Gate of campus where the majority of bike shops are located. It was quite a walk and we made a stop at a cell phone store and a market on the way. I got a hair dryer to replace mine that got blown out on the first day in Singapore! Exciting.
We finally got to the bike area and negotiated around for awhile before finding a shop that could get bikes for all of us for 140 RMB (close to 20 USD). They had to order and assemble them so we walked down to an electronics market and shopped around for an hour. The smog in Beijing is overwhleming. I almost feel like covering my mouth everytime I go outside. I have no idea how the city is going to host the Olympics in 2008, especially with the Airport as it is now (you have to ride a bus from the actual plan to the terminal which is quite time-consuming). There is an effort in the works to clean it up so we will see how that goes. The smog also makes it hard to tell what time of day it is. There always seems to be a gloom set over the entire city and then with all of the people, the crowding, the bikes, the honking it seems to be a lot more city-like than Singapore, which was actually more of a tropical paradise.
When we taxied it back to the bike shop the bikes still weren't there or assembled. We settled down to wait for awhile and they were finally done around 5 p.m. My bike is light blue and extremely unsturdy. However, it does work for transportation and got me back to the dorm in a torrential downpour effectively, which is all you can really ask for from a bike. The seat has fallen down already though, which makes for an interesting sight, my knees are practically hitting my chin when I pedal. Because of the rain last night (Saturday), we ate at the pizza place by the dorm again and then again turned in, exhausted. All of the travelling, walking and biking can wear you out!
Today we went to Yuan Ming Yuan (the old Summer Palace) where the Empress Dowager and the Last Emperor lived until the palace was burned to ruins by Britain and some others after the Second Opium War.
We found another cafeteria for lunch today which was a little easier to navigate because you just picked up trays of food rather than verbally ordering. Again, cheap. My entire meal (rice, bread, vegetables, some kind of sweet green tea) was under 1 USD. It is a little confusing as we saw a 8000 RMB phone at the cell phone store yesterday (1000 USD) and yet the food is so cheap. Different culture, I guess.
The first class starts tomorrow. 3103 or 3104, I am not sure. And soon we will be back in the routine of class from 9-11, 2-4 with a break in between. We are planning to stay in Beijing again next weekend as we have a Tienamen Square tour and want to get to the Great Wall. Hopefully, we will figure out the other weekend trips shortly.