Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The First Five Days in Beijing

A dazzling five days have passed since my arrival here. Haidian district, the place where I now live, is the place where most universities are, including the university I attend. A lot of ‘liu xuesheng’ (foreign students) are to be found here. Before turning to the city life a brief description of what happened to me the last six days.

Day 1
Arrival at Beijing Airport. Feeling okay. Essentially, this was a telephone day. Because I had to meet some of my colleagues who already traveled to China two weeks earlier, I tried to phone them. Which seems very convenient at first, I have my own telephone at my apartment, turned out to be a nuisance. Every 1 I dialed was interpreted as a 2, so that didn’t work. Thus, I went to a public telephone and tried to use my IP card, I just got from the WorldLink Education Office. I didn’t work. No problem, for I have some experience in China, I knew that virtually every shop in town has a telephone. I visited several shops but in vain. The phones only could dial numbers within Beijing and I needed to call a mobile phone number. It was already getting late in the afternoon, so I went to do some essential shopping. After that I tried to call the Education Office but the staff already got home. Next day, after sleeping less then four hours (because of the jetlag), I instantly went to the office to use the phone over there. Finally, I was able to call Tom. Unfortunately, and to my surprise, my colleagues of the Empowerment Foundation where about to leave for the airport. I thought they would travel back a day later.

My Chinese Mobile 

Day 2: Orientation Day
At 11 am we were welcomed by the staff of WorldLink Education and took a tour at the BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University). After lunch I met Tom. It was great to see Tom. We had dinner together and ordered the famous Peking duck with Er Guo Tou (56-65% liquor).

Day 3: To Get to Know the Area
I desperately needed to do some shopping and get my internet connection. Without speaking the language properly, this can be quite a complex thing to do. It took me almost a day to find a supermarket where I tried to buy some noodles but returned with spaghetti instead. Because this area has so many universities, there is a rather big foreign community as well. When walking on the street, you probably wouldn’t notice because most of the foreigners are either Koreans, Japanese and overseas Chinese. The amount of Westerners is much smaller but (of course) easy to recognize. It was snowing and the city looked beautiful. Prior to the shopping I had a placement test. I know some two hundred characters of which I am rather proud, but the test proved to be a disaster for my ego. Out of the 200 words I had to translate I was able to translate only four of them. I recognized many characters, but because they were accompanied by another character I only was able to translate them half. For those who are not into the Chinese language (which constitutes a bigger part of our world population), for example, the word ‘xuesheng’. ‘Xue’ has to do something with learning. ‘Sheng’ has to do something with the word new. Literally translated you could say the word means ‘new learning’ but that is entirely not right. Xuesheng means student. And there were many of this kind of words. Moreover, because of another night with little sleep, jetlag related again, my brains weren’t function properly. Really frustrating but it also motivates me to do much better during the actual classes.

Day 4: Recovery Day
The first good night rest!! With new energy I continued to search for a supermarket and found one. I may sound stupid but I was really happy! Did a lot of shopping, basis needs and bought shoes (I’ve taken too little cloths with me and my shoes turned out to be leaking when walking in the snow the other day). At night I had dinner with my German neighbor and his doll-like Chinese girlfriend in a Japanese restaurant. After that we had (too many) shots of the Er Guo Tou liquor to end up in a Western like bar-dancing stuffed with classy looking Chinese dressed by the latest fashion, dancing on Afro-American hip hop and consuming Heineken and Bacardi breezers. Funny… this is a China I’ve never seen before. Of course, I knew of its existence but it stroke me al together.

Er Guo Tou in my kitchen 

Day 5: The Hangover
Not really have had the time to fully recover from my jetlag and going out, drinking a little too much, the next day I really felt bad. We were about to meet our foreign-language-exchange-partners at the foreign-language-exchange-partner-meeting (the Chinese like these long names). I suffered from noisiness and didn’t eat in the morning. When arriving at the place where we were going to meet our partners I felt a little better. My partner is a shy 20 year old girl, named Huang Guo Ying, studying History of Arts, and barely speaking English. I could have been her father! In China, 20 year old students are much more childlike then, for example, in the Netherlands. During prior visits I’ve met hundreds of these shy childlike boys and girls trying to have a conversation in English. Sometimes very tiring, a situation that has to be encountered with patience. But well, I like these kind of situations. It’s the innocence that I like. Thus, I’m not expecting to have philosophical discussion with her (especially not with our poor levels of consequently English and Mandarin). The great thing, however, was that she is from the Shandong province. The same province all my Chinese friends come from. Another great thing was that we had lunch together and I got really hungry.

I got a really nice night sleep. I slept in till 10.30 am and am writing this story. Outside the Chinese enjoy their only day off (Sunday) and another friend (from Shandong province) of mine just sent me an e-mail. I probably meet him today as he works at the Beijing Daxue (University of Beijing) and lives in the same district as I do.


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