I’ve been in Beijing less than 48 hours, but it feels like a week. My problems began at the Reno airport, where I managed to arrive in time for my flight to be delayed for 2 hours. With only a 3 hour layover, this was a little nerve wracking. The flight itself was pleasant enough, with complimentary wine and a nice view of Portland before we landed in Seattle. I found a buddy who was also flying to China and we navigated the Seattle airport together, arriving at the gate just fine. However, I took off my ring (the butterfly one that matches Jo’s) to braid my hair, and heard an announcement that I needed to see the flight attendants for a new boarding pass, and, forgetting that I had just set my ring in my lap instead of in my bag, I stood up. I forgot about it until the plane had just taken off, and, despite the help of a flight attendant contacting the airport to see if it had been found, I’m afraid it’s gone for good. This distressed me throughout the flight, as I loved that ring, so I was very unhappy, despite the fact that the flight itself was fine and I was able to watch several movies that I’d been hoping to see.
My next mistake was not changing my money at the airport, because everyone tells you not to, meaning that I had no RMB by the time I found Amy, the woman from my program who came to pick me up. I felt rushed and pressed for time as we found the other students who had flown in at about the same time, and missed my opportunity to change my money. As soon as we found the other students we loaded up on a bus to go first to the apartments, where most of the immersion students live, and then to Shaoyuan, the on-campus dorm where most of the other students live. There Amy took me to get a taxi to take me to my host family, which, due to the number of students leaving campus for winter/spring break, took 20 minutes. My host parents don’t speak English, but they were very welcoming, and I gave them the calendar and photo book with pictures that my dad took. This prompted a thorough examination of the photos and a discussion of my hometown, which, while I enjoyed telling them about where I live and the kind of place I’m from, also turned out to be a mistake, as I didn’t get to bed until midnight. After no sleep on the plane, I needed my rest, and I was not going to get it.
I woke up at 6:30 the next morning, and my host mom took me by bus to the CSI office. There I was able to connect to the internet and I chatted with Jo and my mom until the rest of the group arrived, and we started off our tour of BeiDa (the nickname everyone gives to Peking University, where I am studying for the term). We returned for listening and written placement exams, and then we were set free for lunch. Still needing cash, I teamed up with 3 other girls in order to first find a bank and then food. One, Heather, had been on a summer program with CSI and thus had some knowledge of campus, so we followed her. After finally finding a bank (and finding it closed), we decided to just go find food. This is when we really got lost. We walked for a long time, finally finding a place that Heather wasn’t interested in, so she left. We soon found out that this place only took student IDs as payment, and of course none of us had had time to put money on our cards, so we had to search for somewhere else. We finally found a small convenience store and bought baozi through lots of pointing, and one of the other girls spotted me for lunch as I still had no money. With only 20 minutes left of our 1 hour and 30 minute lunch break, we decided to walk and eat, and, of course, got lost again. 40 minutes later we finally made it back to the CSI office for our oral placement exams.
Luckily there was no penalty for being so late, and we weren’t even the last ones back. The exams were individual, and seemed to take a while for each student, so while we waited in the hallway we got to know each other a little. I made friends with a girl named Zoe. When everyone was done with the oral exam, we walked 40 minutes to a pizza place for dinner (New York style pizza, fries, beer and warm water). Unsure of how to get home, or even where I was, I decided to go with the group back to campus, where I could get wifi (because I still didn’t have a Chinese sim card) and hopefully figure out how to get back home. Zoe stayed with me in the Shaoyuan lobby as I texted my host mom and got more and more stressed with my inability to figure out where my apartment was, let alone how to get there (believe it or not, when Google is blocked, it’s hard to use the handy location sharing feature of WeChat, because it always wants to open Google Maps on my phone). Zoe finally flagged down her roommate, who has better Chinese than both of us and who called my host parents to come back and get me home. once home, my host parents told me that the pizza place is only 2 subway stops away from where I live, and my 40 minute walk plus over and hour of stress (and tears) could have been a 10 minute subway ride. Venting to Jo (and crying more) made me feel better emotionally, but after walking 10+ miles (according to one of the girls I got lost with at lunch), it didn’t do much for my aching feet and knees.
This morning my host parents took me to talk to the police, and then to Wudaoko (the area with the apartments and also the pizza place we’d eaten dinner at), where I would meet up with the rest of the group as our tour guides showed us the area around the apartments. A teacher loaned me 200 kuai, 100 for a bus/subway card and 100 for shopping. We ate lunch at a restaurant and had Peking duck, along with other tasty dishes, and then we returned to campus to sign the language pledge. With CSI, immersion students sign a pledge to speak only Chinese from midnight on Monday until classes end on Friday, even to each other and even at home in the apartments. On the way I discussed classical music with the student guide for our group, and was interviewed for a small web video about Chinese food (which ended up only featuring my face, and none of my input – oh well). After getting my books and signing the language pledge, I decided to go with Zoe to WuMart, an on-campus store not far from the one I’d eaten lunch at, to get a dry erase marker so I could practice writing characters without using up tons of paper. There was a woman with a cash register right in the aisle, which was really cool, and afterwards I decided to try and make it back to my apartment alone. I had a slight hitch when returning to the office (where I could then locate my bus stop), but a quick glance at the map of BeiDa put me back on course. From there, I easily found my way to the bus stop and made my way home – with minimal stress! I feel really proud of myself for this, and, as a reward, I’ve put off studying to rest and write this journal. This has been a hectic start, but hopefully things will smooth out soon.
Update: that wasn’t a dry erase marker ><
My host mom and I in front of the CSI office