Blog by Leah Baker - Posted
As I step off the plane in Beijing, China on Wednesday evening my insides were racing with excitement and uncertainty. I headed towards customs and to obtain my bags, a little worried about the language barrier. You see, I had taken a semester of Mandarin as an elective back in 2006 during undergrad, but failed to use it once I had completed the course. As we all know the saying that goes “If you don’t use it you will lose it!”, well I had lost all of it, everything, except how to say ‘Ni Hao’ which is ‘Hello.’ But to my surprise all the signs had Chinese characters and English words, a sigh of relief departed from my inner soul as I read the signs in English. Going through customs and obtaining my bags was a breeze; you handed the costumes agent your passport, you smiled for the camera (not really smiled), and you provided feedback on their service. In planning my travel to China I desired to have a whole day to adjust to Beijing prior to the induction day. So, I flew in the night before and slept at a hotel near the airport. The hotel was on the high end of even the American standard, thus it was convenient and close to comfort and at that time that was all that mattered. I was so eager to partake upon my adventure in Beijing that I only slept for a few hours and was up bright and early the next morning and back en route to the airport.
Upon arrival back to the airport I looked for the CRCC Asia sign to be on display in arrivals at Terminal 2 in the airport, but to my dismay there was no sign and I had no cell phone to call. Let me rewind this story back a little and tell you that during my layover in Tokyo, Japan I lost my brand new blackberry phone, in three measly hours I set it down and someone else picked it up. How was I going to make contact with the CRCC Asia to let them know I was in the terminal? I tried calling the number using the pay phone with my credit card but the crazy machine wouldn’t accept my card. So, now I was trying to figure out how I could contact them. I decided that I should be resourceful and try to use Skype, on my computer, to call, but wait I needed Internet to do that. I noticed a machine against the wall not too far from the payphone that appeared to read ‘Wireless Network’. Ahhh! It was a machine to register to use the Internet for free in the airport. I entered my name and scanned my passport and voila, a receipt printed out with a username and password to access the airport Internet. I spoke with Kathy at CRCC Asia and within 5 minutes I had made contact with Ottoline, who was greeting most of the 71 interns who were supposed to arrive that day. Nevertheless everything worked out and I was finally en route to my new home for the next two months.
Beijing was beautiful upon arrival the sky was a clear baby blue color with white cotton balls scattered throughout it. There was no smog on this day and the skies were without a blemish, however it was very, very, very, hot. We headed straight to our apartments, which consisted of either a two or three bedroom place. My apartment was a two bedroom and I was the first to arrive, so I had the opportunity to choose which room I wanted. I chose the larger room because it had a desk and balcony, and unfortunately on this trip I need a desk since I have to also work on my dissertation, which is due on September 1st. After settling in, I went to the market to pick up a few grocery items that I was partial to, with some of the other interns. I bought Cheerios, milk, OJ, grape juice, apple juice, peanut butter, strawberry jam, eggs, bread, and of course bottled water. The market is located so close; it is exactly across the street from the apartment along with a proper shopping mall with a movie theater, some European stores, and a Hagan Das ice cream parlor, yummy. My roommate arrived later that evening and we clicked right away- she’s a blast. The informal dinner was the first get together of the old and new interns, the food was good and getting to know one another was even better. There were people, like myself, from the US, as well as England, Ireland, Canada, India, the Caribbean, all over Europe, in addition to other great places. It was a lot of fun.
On day three for me and for most people, it was time for orientation or induction day. Everyone got up and dressed smart and to the part, well almost everyone, there were a few questionable attires, but hey you have that anywhere. We walked over to the Seafood and Dumpling Restaurant that was up the street, where they had an event hall set aside for us. There we had breakfast and lunch and several seminars covering Chinese culture, history, etiquette, business and economics, traveling options, and language. I think it was one of the best one-day seminars I had ever gone too. I learned new things, reviewed old things, and recalled existing things I had come across or researched. The language part of the seminar was at the end of the seminar; they broke us up into two language groups. There was group A and group B. Group A was for beginners and group B was for those who had previous knowledge, experience, or studies of Mandarin. As I told you earlier I took Mandarin for a semester in undergrad, and received a B+ from the class, so I assumed that I could handle group B. Accordingly, I so proudly raised my hand with the other six candidates and advised I had Mandarin experience. The seven of us left the main room and went to a smaller room to practice our Mandarin. Well to my dismay, I couldn’t follow the teacher, I was completely lost, I understood one word here and there, but that was it. Nevertheless, as I said earlier that I really could remember much of what I had learned I should have known better then to step up to that plate. It was back to beginners (the basics) for me.
Over the weekend a group of us visited Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Emperor’s Garden. The Emperor’s Garden was the most amazing experience, you climbed to the top of the stairs and you could see the city of Beijing for miles. It was so beautiful; there was a contrast of historic, traditional Chinese buildings surrounded by skyscrapers and modern day architect. On Sunday while exploring different parts of Beijing, my roommate and I also went to Qianhai Square and walked through the area of Houhai. The Qianhai Square consists of bars, restaurants and clubs that are located along the Qianhai River. This experience was very nice, people were on the River in paddleboats, canoes, and other types of boats, I had a good time walking the riverbanks and eating dumplings. Although, I believe the nightlife there is even better therefore I have to go back and experience it. Well for now I shall sign off and I will send you another line next week on my travels in China.
Until next time,