Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Beginning

大家好 from Beijing! This blog was created to try to efficiently keep in touch with anyone who wants while I am overseas. Exciting! So, please treat this like an email and write me back if you so desire! Email= Right now it is 5pm Beijing time, 13 hours ahead of the east coast US (China doesn’t do daylight savings time) and 16 hours ahead of the west coast US. So you guys are all sleeping soundly in your beds. I don’t have internet though, so this post won’t go up for a couple of days. It’s only my third day here, and right now is about the time of day the jetlag hits hard. Sooo I am writing this mainly to try to stay awake! Anyway, Beijing. I flew out from LA, after spending about a week visiting my sista and seeing San Francisco and Santa Barbara. Cali was sweeeet (shout out Sarah!!), and after spending time in southern California I wasn’t too happy about re-entering winter, but I was counting on Beijing being worth it. So my flight was flying from LA to San Fran, where I would connect to a flight going directly to Beijing.
The SF flight was late, and after we landed we spent another 20 minutes just hanging out waiting for a gate to be open. So I was stressing out a little, though there were a lot of Chinese peeps on my flight so I assumed there would be enough going to Beijing that they would hold it. And I was right! So during the 12 hour flight I watched a movie and popped some benadryl after which I conked out big time, and there was a Chinese guy sitting in my row and he would save me food when I was sleeping which was really nice. I also got to practice speaking a little bit, which ended up just freaking me out when I realized how much I couldn’t say. Though the flight was 12 hours it really didn’t feel that bad. I talked to some expats who were on their way back to Beijing after the New Year vacation and they gave me some helpful hints and email addresses.
When I got off the plane I immediately ran in to some other kids from my program who had been on my flight, and we all stuck together for moral support while we got our bags and tried to find our bus. It was a huge relief when one girl said “anyone else thinking what the hell they’re doing here?” and everyone immediately replied “YEA!” While it was amazingly cool knowing I would be spending the next 4 months plus in China, when the plane was descending to land it was totally daunting. I just kept thinking what if I don’t like my roommate, people in my program, if no one wants to be my friend! etc etc. I had learned that no matter where you are, if you don’t find people you enjoy spending time with, you can end up feeling like you’re missing out. But once off the plane I was chatting with some of the people I met and they were all quite friendly. I also realized that there are more people than I thought in my program; I thought it was about 40 but it’s actually around 80 (though only 30 or 40 people met at the airport at the same time as I did). So once everyone got together we made our way, with allll of our luggage, to the bus that was waiting to take us to Beida (short for Beijing Daxue= 北京大学=Peking University).
Just dealing with our bags alone was such a pain. Most everyone had two heavy suitcases that they had checked, plus carry on luggage, so with the 30some people that met in the airport we had a looot of baggage. All of it on to the bus, off of the bus, through one building, outside, into another, up to our floor…needless to say once we finally got to our rooms I was very relieved. My roommate was at the airport too but we didn’t figure out we were roommates till we got to our room. Her name is Hana and she’s nice, she’s actually from Serbia and Croatia which was pretty cool, though she’s gone to boarding school and college in the US since 9th grade. I’ve met a good number of people in my program by now, though not all cause there are a lot, and there a bunch of fun people so everything looks promising.
So the first night I went to dinner with some program people, unpacked, and went to bed. Before I came here I got mixed reports about the food. Some people said it was delicious and some said it was inedible. My experiences so far with it have been quite positive, and there actually is also a lot of western food available, though I’m going to try to rock the local cuisine as much as possible. Anyway, the next morning we had to meet up at 8:30, and the schedule said they were providing breakfast so we were all stoked. Apparently China doesn’t really do breakfast, at least not the same way we do, so everyone was looking forward to taking advantage of a rare meal. So fast forward next day, when we’re going up to get the food, and we discover that the breakfast they had gotten for us consisted of packaged mini donuts, oreos, and chocolate bars. I guess that’s what they think Americans have for our first meal of the day, but needless to say I was very happy about all the power bars I had brought.
That first day we had some orientation stuff, then we spent the last half of the day in Wudaokou, which is a district right next to Beida, about a 5-10 min cab ride. We ate lunch at a “typical Chinese restaurant,” more good food, then split up into groups and did a scavenger hunt type thing where we had to go around Wudaokou and sort of observe things and answer some questions, after which we had to report our answers to a teacher (laoshi). So we got to know the area a bit, then lots of us went to get cell phones and SIM cards at a China Mobile in Wudaokou. The rest of the day we had free, so after a power nap some program people and I went to a café in Wudaokou where there was free wireless since we don’t have internet in our dorms yet.
Part 2: 2/16
The next morning was the placement test, which was awful. It was like taking the SATs all over again, but in Chinese. It put everyone in a bad mood until a 1 year student who had been here in the fall said it wasn’t really that important. Afterwards we took a group photo (say 茄子! qie zi=eggplant), ate lunch, then got a campus tour by a 1 year student. That was helpful for the campus tour, but also mainly for the info we got afterwards about different bars and clubs and places to hang out, things to do, etc. It got me really excited to explore the city. We had more free time then, so more (unsuccessful) power naps and hot showers (the water pressure is lovely!) before I went with some program people to dinner and then out. But! On the way to lunch, me and two friends were heading to find a restaurant when we heard some animal sounds, looked up, and there was a kitten stuck in a tree! I know, it was straight out of a cartoon. Since there were no fire trucks around, me and Ali (from DC actually, went to Holton Arms) lifted up this girl LA (from Williamsburg! I know, crazy) who rescued the kitten. It was adooorable, we played with it a little afterwards, it was orange and really nice and wonderful. If I lived in an apartment I would definitely have taken it home. But yea anyway later that night after dinner we ended up at this club with a friend of one of the people in my program, up in a room on the third floor since one of her friends worked at the club or something along those lines. By then it was only 10:30-11 but me and some others were still sooo tired from jet lag, and the music was pretty terrible, so we ended up leaving and getting to bed by midnight. The next day we had to be going to get our books at 8 so it was a wise choice. Well, so we thought. We all got ourselves out of bed and to the Russian Building by 8, when they told us that it actually didn’t start till 9. So we got some breakfast and went back around 9, when the games began.
So the whole getting your books process is pretty interesting. From the placement test they give you a general idea of what book you should get, which then corresponds to which class you end up taking. So you wait in line and when you get to the front a Chinese teacher shows you the book you’re assigned and you look through it and decide whether you think it is right for you. If you decide it’s too easy, you have to negotiate with the teacher in Chinese to see if they’ll let you move up. Depending on who you get, whether your person is lenient or strict, it can be somewhat difficult. This year it was extra complicated because you can only take electives if you get intermediate or higher, but the definition of what intermediate was had changed. So my and some other people’s book was newly titled “pre-intermediate II,” which last year had been called intermediate, and last year had allowed electives. But since the system changed, this year it was only 50-50 whether electives would be allowed with that book, and no one knew for sure, not even the Chinese teachers. The problem was that there was no way to know until classes had already started, and by that time it is very difficult to switch, especially if you are switching to a harder class than you had been in before. So once I found that out I got nervous, because to get the credits I need for my Chinese major I need to take electives! So there was a big hubbub about switching up books, and the lady was a bit strict, but I weaseled my way in to the Intermediate I book (drop), which definitely allows electives.
A couple hours later I went to lunch with some friends, after which it was time to meet our tutors. I got a note that my tutor was out of town, so instead I read through my Lonely Planet Beijing guide and tried unsuccessfully to take a nap. Jet lag blows. It makes you tired enough to not have energy and want to sleep, but I can never actually sleep. So here I am now, afternoon again, writing to stay awake. I’m making plans with some friends for dinner tonight; we’re going to have some of the finest Peking duck in Beijing! Very exciting. Till later!


Sarah said...

Wow MollWoll!! Looks like you are having a great time already! I am so happy! I am also so happy that you are doing this blog thing - it def. keeps me updated! :) xoxoxo miss you

Sagal said...

whoa!, i like the way you write. You are far more accomplished than the average posh chav. But seriously mate, you sound like you're having a blast. Keep the blogs coming. Ps. We lost the semi-finals cup!