on Monday, when I finished up all my state-side work (music building,
webmastering), the last touches on my papers (which took a while), and
packing (which, it seems, I took care of on Sunday). All that lasted
me till half past three in the morning on Tuesday. I checked in the
internets and, just before the birds started chirping at four 'o
clock, decided my time was better spent watching movies than the
insides of my eyelids. Dr. Strangelove is finally struck from
my bucket list, but not Being John Malkovich, which ran through
my 8am wakeup call. Turns out it was a good thing I stayed up all
night, because I got an email about 7:30 to "OH NO YOU BROKE SOMETHING
GO FIX IT!"
The rest of my morning was mundane: showering; double-checking money,
passport, and packing; printing out my homework; grabbing clothes I
forget from my parents' house, eating a little cereal. Y'know, those
little things you do before you leave the country. Mom was nice and
schlepped me down to the pick-up point for our bus (although I did
have enough time to walk, come to think of it).
Meet me at the Field House
Time to start your big adventure, kids! Don't forget your ... parents? Yup.
For anyone south of New York, our professors arranged a Chinatown bus
(Double Happiness, if anyone wants to charter them) to run us from the
athletic buildings on UD's south campus straight to the JFK Airport in
New York. That's $80 we saved in gas and cost-of-ownership.
Nonetheless, our parents, who all dropped us off at the field house,
stuck around to commiserate (or to ensure we got out of their hair for
a month). Our professors showed up eventually, too, and made the
rounds like good
with everyone and (more pertinently) collecting money for the bus.
10am and time to go! We took a few photos with everyone, then just
the trip members, then neglected to take one with the busses because
they came a little bit late (but no matter). Everybody on the bus --
goodbye, parents! Thanks for sending us to another country :)
JFK -- J/K, guys!
JFK airport is the same ol', same ol'. We checked in at AirChina
pretty efficiently; I just handed them my e-ticket pass with my
confirmation numbers and my passport. They asked whether I wanted an
aisle or a window. An aisle, I said, and that turned out to be a good
Onwards and Upwards
On the plane, the seats were A-B (window, aisle), E-H (aisle, inner,
inner, aisle), and C-D (aisle, window). It was only a moderately
large plane, y'know, just a double-decker with eight across. AirChina
had sat singletons by aisles or windows and families in inner rows
(like the Chinese family with a few kids who spoke American English
the whole time). My row was two students at each window/aisle pair
and, in the center block, Quinn and ... me. She and I each claimed an
extra seat to strech out in.
I fell asleep about fifteen minutes in to the plane ride. Whoops.
They tell me I missed an hour of sitting on the tarmac, take-off, and
dinner. I couldn't really make up for the first two, but dinner was
still hot! A very stereotypical airline meal, it had an individually
wrapped roll with packets of powdered creamer and sugar; a tiny salad
(Syran-wrapped), a small piece of cake (very sweet, also
Syran-wrapped), a tea cup, and a single-serving dinner tray. Our
first taste of Asia: the entrée was chicken and rice in a sweet brown
sauce, almost teriyaki sauce. Om nom nom. Shrimp was also on the
The in-flight movies were a variety of popular Chinese cinema and some
American flicks with subtitles, such as 27 Dresses. I wasn't
impressed except with the map that showed us flying north and then
south, so I went back to sleep.
Wakefulness found me just in time for me to miss lunch, as well as
lunch (a small ham and cheese sandwich). The air stewardesses had
tucked the sandwich into my seat back pocket along with a customs
form, which was the typical Name-Nationality-Reason for
Travel-Address-Whooooo Are You, Who-Who, Who-Who dealie.
Dinner came soon after, around 4pm CST. The timing of all this was
quite odd, but I blame the twelve-hour time difference. My body
didn't know either way, though, as I hadn't properly slept since
8:30am on Monday.
Thirteen hours later (the shortest long flight we'd ever taken), we
touched down in Beijing at 6:30 CST. 你好中国！ (Hello, China!)
The first thing we all noticed, which we hadn't seen before because
all the windows were closed, was the smog. It really is that bad,
guys. The next thing we noticed were the busses queued up to schlep
us back to the terminal. A pleasant ride, we all hung on tight and
soon enough ended up in the airport structure. From there, it was a
tram ride down to arrivals / baggage claim. Their tram was pretty
sweet, the same kind of thing I've seen on TV shows and animes showing
East Asian mass transit. Smooth, clean, pretty quiet, looked like a
The Beijing airport is huge! Not just in scale, as it is quite wide
and accomodates some huge magnitude of people, but also that the
ceilings are a good 30-40 feet high. The architecture is a fusion of
industrial features and sweeping curves, with a ceiling of orange
slats hiding the architectural lighting and the proper ceiling, which
is grey. Customs had nigh on a dozen booths open, split between
Olympians (and related people), nationals, and foreigners (外国人). I
was personally surprised by the number of Chinese people in the
internationals line; I suppose they claimed residency in the U.S. and
were thus shunted to our line. I was also surprised when a Chinese
guy, who was right behind me, allowed two Delawareans in front of him
in line so we could three could be together.
Another surprise: a breeze in the airport. They kept the place around
80'F (which is about ... 25'C, I believe?), but it was still
comfortable. That's a lot of air. A lotta lotta. I noticed HVAC
systems once I started looking, but they were pretty subtle and just
mounted here and there in the walls or hiding behind glass walls.
In sum, the airport was grand, large, high-tech, efficient, and very
open and welcoming. I wouldn't mind going back there -- but not for a
month, mind you!
Our tour guide hailed us. He looks around 21, cute guy, trendy for a
Chinese kid (kinda tight emo pants, square emo kid glasses, shirt with
some print on it, kinda messy hair, Nike sports bag). A real
vivacious type, he really did say hi to all us Delaware folks coming
out into the lobby and waved a little red flag with his company's name
on it. "Follow the red flag," said my professor, Dr. Barlow. In
turn, I told him, "That's rather ambiguous advice around here."
Incidentally, our third program director, Master Kevin Sun, and his
wife joined us in the lobby.
All forty-five of us (plus some hangers-on, maybe) and our luggage fit
in the bus -- barely. We all enjoyed watching out the windows to see
Beijing: lots of signs in red; towering office, commercial, and
residential buildings; an awful lot of people just walking the streets
or biking. Another surprise: fewer people than we expected. Beijing,
our tour guide told us, is home to an awful lot of people -- on the
order of 8 million, I think? -- but the roads felt pretty empty coming
to the hotel.
The further we drove, the less development we saw, and we eventually
came into a bit of a shanty neighborhood that reminded me of South
America. Many small grocery shops and some restaurants dotted the
streets, as did a variety of people (including men walking around
shirtless or in wife-beaters). We turned in at a taller building with
four stories which had a nice red sign welcoming the "University of
Delaware faculties and students" for our stay -- quite precious!
Key distribution was a bit unorganized. We have most of the third
floor, which made life easy, but didn't know which rooms were whose.
Apparently Dr. Barlow wanted to assign us rooms in Delaware, but Dr.
Goodwin vetoed that in favor of a more laissez-faire system: get a key
(one per room), find a roommate. Unfortunately, they neglected to
tell us that and simply started handing out keys (which were really
RFID cards). Mild confusion ensued for about half an hour, where our
TA was with a student, Linda LaRue had a double to herself, and I also
lacked a roommate. We decided to call it quits and just sort it out
at dinner. Although we theoretically started with an even number of
men and ladies, we ended up just making one mixed room (two good
friends) and everything shook out okay.
The banquet room downstairs is pretty standard; a glass-walled area
with some fifty round tables set with saucers, bowls, and forks. They
soon brought us out toppings for dinner, which included cooked
mushrooms (which we figured out eventually), cucumbers, tomatoes, and
sprouts. Next came a huge bowl of noodles (面? mian4), with a serving
spoon and large chopsticks (筷子, kuai4 zi). Although the learning
curve for serving was a little steep, we were hungry... and kept
eating ... and kept eating. Darn Chinese food. ^_^ We also asked for
some water, as the airplane ride dried us out, but instead got pots of
tea. Nice thought, something to drink, but still not water.
Our room accomodations are pretty swell. The beds are short twins
with a small bedside table between them. The beds are a bit firm, but
I'm fine with a mat on the floor. Also, by the window is a nice table
to sit at (or put your things on) and two brown wicker chairs. The
counter holds a nice 21" TV, a water dispenser with a tank (yay, safe
water), A/C wall unit, overhead lights, light sconces above the beds,
and an economy bathroom.
I'm serious when I say "economy bathroom" -- it has a sink, a toilet
with maybe a liter of water in it, and a showerhead mounted on the
wall fed by a hot/cold water unit mounted on next wall. No shower
stall, nor any toilet paper. Ah well, it's been worse (see: electric
water heater over a tub in a cottage in Costa Rica). On the plus
side, the hotel gifted us two sets of shower shoes and supplied a full
set of linens.
I think I have more living space here than at my house in Newark. Fate, it seems, has a sense of irony.
Open Doors, Closing Thoughts
These health science kids are a pretty social bunch. Room doors were
open till late -- we didn't lock up until we went to bed at 11pm CST.
I'm on Verizon international roaming, so my new global phone obviously
works. I also ran up $1.15 in text message charges, so tomorrow will
be a good day to buy a new SIM card and switch to a Chinese provider.
My roommate, Rich, is a pretty chill guy -- social, easy-going,
polite. He likes to keep a neat room -- it's relaxing, y'know? -- and
just got back from an Israel birthright trip, so he knows the deal
when it comes to travelling. Looks like a good guy to live with.
All our Chinese staff is quite polite, though most of them don't speak
English. I regret not practicing my Chinese more over the summer, as
my pronunciation is apparently horrid. (I tried to talk to the
waitstaff, but to no avail -- the girl knew enough English to say she
didn't and I knew enough Chinese to not ask for a cup of water.)
As for internet access, our program directors talked to the hotel and
swung a great deal: 110 RMB (~$15 USD) for all of us for the month!
Our rooms have ethernet ports, so we'll see how well that works soon
enough. (I forgot that my laptop's ethernet is broken, so I may end
up buying a wireless router today when I get a card reader for my
camera; I forgot my USB cable!) Additionally, it's a big city, so I
expect to find netcafes here and there.