One formidable fourteen-hour plane ride stood between my Plus3 group and the beginning of our adventure in China. To pass the time, I watched two movies, drank many ounces of water, and stared, exhausted, at people and the plane’s features. Despite the glooms of confinement to one plane seat on a crowded plane, I met a mechanical engineering graduate student who was flying home to China for a summer internship. She chatted with me, offered me advice and insights, and taught me how to say “How much does it cost?” in Mandarin. I found her to be very friendly and also willing to share information and answer my questions.
At the end of twelve hours, instead of fourteen, wheels hit the tarmac of the Beijing Peking Airport. After being funneled through immigration, baggage claim, and customs, we met our program coordinators and manager from the Asia Institute: William, Frances, and Hilary. They gave us a warm welcome and some guidance to find the bus to our hotel and to check in.
Tonight also marked our first meal in China. In the spirit of adventure and exploration checked by fatigue, aches, and ills, Chloe, Angeline, Sophie, and I visited a restaurant in a nearby commercial center. Attempting to order dinner was quite the event. Only Angeline knew any Chinese, so she ordered our food for us based on what she knows and what we could construe from the pictures in the menu. However, the server did not speak any English at all, and we struggled a little bit to communicate on certain points. As a result, he grabbed his smartphone and used a translator to try to convey what he was saying. To figure out how and when we should eat and how to pay the bill, we watched the locals dining at the restaurant and followed suit with what they did.
I noticed that, at the mall where we ate, it didn’t seem as though a lot of the people that we came into contact with knew much, if any, English, which made it harder to communicate verbally since many of us know very little Mandarin outside of “hello” and “thank you.” The mall itself seemed to be very organized; each floor had some predominating theme, such as the women’s clothing floor, the men’s clothing floor, and the cosmetics floor.
The city of Beijing itself is large and sprawling, with many tall, but not skyscraping, buildings. There are certainly a lot of people, but it doesn’t appear to be nearly as crowded as I expected, at least not in the small area around the hotel that I visited; I expected bustling sidewalks and roads on the level of New York City. The streets, however, are fairly congested and a bit chaotic. I’ve been told by provided materials and by the girl on the plane that crossing streets is essentially a free-for-all.
As for the style of the city spaces, I was surprised by the amount of green space strewn throughout the city; shaded park-like areas popped up at the sides of busy roads, and the road medians and sidewalks had nicely planted and maintained flowers, shrubs, and even trees. The buildings are a mix of old and new, from the more ancient city gate ruins to the modern Galaxy Soho building.
I know that the language barrier will frustrate me quickly, but I’m excited to learn more Mandarin, get to know my group better, and embark on our journey through China!
The lyric in the title is from the TV show “Little Einsteins.”