famous gate at Tsinghua
Well, we finally made it! As much fun as I had in Singapore, I feel like the trip has been leading up to this point. Now I really feel like I am studying abroad. I've only been in China for less than a week, but I'm already beginning to experience the challenges and excitement of cross cultural communication and not knowing what's goin on around me. I do find myself much more adept than most of my other white firends at picking up the language; maybe this is becase I actually try, but I noticed this in Europe last year too. I think I'm good at imitating sounds and inflections. I'm getting pretty good at basic phrases, although I still have trouble understanding the quick pace of Chinese conversation. Although class has not yet started, this week has been extrememly busy settling into the new environment.
Hopefully, things will slow down and life will become a little bit more comfortable.
Upon arrival at the Beijing
airport, I noticed right off the bat one of the major features of this city: the smog! in my five days here, I have yet to see the sky. There is a perpetual white/gray mist over the city. Part of this is due to the fact that it has been rainy this week, so hopefully when it clears up, the high pressure system will move some of the air out. Since the city is surrounded by mountains on three sides, the air has nowhere to go unless blown out, so that's why pollution tends to linger in the air. It makes the daytime a little dreary, but it's very nice at night.
had to go through a maze to get there
I also appreciate how much cooler it it here than in Singapore. Maybe I'll see some blue sky this week!
The first day in Beijing was a little hectic. Thankfully, I made it here with all of my luggage this time. The whole process of checking into our rooms at the Zijing complex (foreign student dorms) was pretty complicated and time-consuming, but it was nice that Professor Zhou (the program director and teacher of our first class here) bought all of us dinner, which surprisingly added up to about maybe a dollar per person. That brings me to my next point: I love the prices here! The Chinese yuan runs at about 6.8 to one dollar. An expensive meal may run you a whopping 4 or 5 bucks, but you can usually eat really good food for about 1 or 2 dollars and get beer for under a buck.
You can save a lot of money here by being frugal, but I like to live it up every once and a while. Most going-out places such as clubs and bars are comparable to American prices (although not as high as Altanta). Anyway, once I got checked in I was able to unpack my stuff and evaluatemy room situation. It's fairly comparable to the one in Singapore, although not quite as nice. The shower just goes into a drain on the floor and there's only hot water from 7-9am, 3-5pm, and 8pm-12am. I do have a TV although it only has one channel in English. And the internet is a bit more restricted. But other than that, its a relatively comfortable living situation. There is a soccer field with a track around it right nearby, as well as a small supermarket, food court, and a pizza place.
Chris, me, & David
I do, however, need to check out the Walmart Supercenter to find such needed items as shaving cream and mouthwash (which I can't seem to find anywhere else!). I wonder what kind of people shop there...it's funny that some things which are run-of-the-mill in America seem to be quite fancy in China, such as Pizza Hut (a very nice restaurant, haha).
The next morning, we went on a tour of campus, helped out by our guides from Tsinghua who had done this program with Georgia Tech before. The campus is rather large, and therefore necessitated most of us buying a bicycle that day. Some people rented bikes, but I just bought one for the equivalent of around $25. It ain't much, tends to break down easily, but it gets me around. I'll probably go the taxi route anytime I go into the city or the nearby Wudaokou district.
me at the Egg
Wudaoku is a cool Korean area with may cool restaurants and the nearest subway station. After getting to see most of the campus (pictures courtesy of David Scwartz), which is very nice, we headed to Yuan Ming Yuan, the old imperial summer palace with beautiful gardens. It was a lot of walking, but we were able to see a lot of cool stuff. That night, a lot of us went to go eat some Chinese hotpot in Wudaokou, which is a fun, family-style meal where they bring you out raw ingredients and you boil them in flavored broth right at the table. Troy, who lived in China until he was 12, has been our saving grace. I stick to that kid like glue, and have learned a lot of Mandarin from him. He basically interpreted for about 20 of us at the restaurant. Without that guy, we'd probably starve here.
But generally we can point to things on the menu and hope for the best. Some of us also went to go check out some nearby bars later, and found that there are a lot of cool places to hang out, even some that cater specifically to Westerners.
The next day we had a plant tour of the Mercedes and Chrysler manufacturing facilities. Seeing the cars was pretty cool, but overall the day was BORING. I refuse to ever be a factory engineer. The day after was a little more fun, as the whole class travelled by subway to the famous Tiananmen Square. We also went in to go see Mao's memorial; his preserved body looked totally fake by the way. Still no sun to be had, but at least it was cool outside. Many of us then went to the Silk Market, which is basically an indoor mall combined with the street-vendor style.
Our Singaporean friend Peng
Each stall sold different fake items, but there were many which sold the exact same things. I got some good deals on some fake Polos, a nice pair of jeans (which needs to be hemmed a little on the length...might have to wait until I get back), and a wallet. I want to go back sometime to get more cool stuff, but I'm apt to keep spending if I do. I was very impressed with the quality of the fake items though. Definitely the best fakes in the world!
Saturday was nothing short of awesome. The whole group chartered a bus to go see the Great Wall. It was a little early getting up, especially after a late night at a club, but I got to sleep on the bus. We decided to take the longer trip to a more remote part of the wall which would not be crowded with tourists.
me on the Wall
Great call! the place was beautiful, and we soon found out why it wasn't such a popular spot. This section was in a more mountainous area and the climbs up and down were pretty steep with hundreds of steps connecting each tower. It was the most exercise I have had this whole trip, but becoming worn out was definitely worth it. I climbed as far as we were allowed to go in one direction, after climbing thousands of steps and walking who probably a few kilometers. After walking back down near where we started, there was a zip line which flew across a lake down to the main entrace area! So a few of us got strapped in and zipped down from the side of a mountain over a lake back to the beginning. It only lasted about 30 seconds, but what thrill! The Great Wall of China and one of the Seven wonders of the World: Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
near the top
My first few days in Beijing have been awesome! I'm enjoying the night life so far, and last night some of us even got a traditional massage (which felt great after climbing the Great Wall all day). We will see how things go once class starts. At least it should settle down a little bit. And maybe I'll see the sky at some point. I'll make sure to keep Troy around as much as I can, not only to talk to people for us, but to learn from as well. I am definitely looking forward to settling in and attempting to immerse myself in the culture. More from China later!