Finally! The day had arrived that we would finally be in China. The excitement of landing in China was so extremely real that the entire time on the flight all I could think about were the adventures that were yet to come and the crazy journey that had somehow led me here. It was such a whirlwind of emotions-excited, anticipated, nervous, that I did not sleep much on the flight. Since I go to India often and thus have to travel on extremely long flights in order to get there, I was not nervous about the long 15 hour travel that we had embarked upon, but instead enjoyed the journey. There is something so thrilling and surreal about being so high up in the air and being so far removed from society, yet heading back into a completely different place in a matter of just a few hours. I had also made a new friend on the plane-shoutout to Alana-who I was very excited about getting to know more and exploring China with that the feeling of excitement overtook everything else.
As soon as we landed in China, all I could notice was how similar, yet different everything in Asia is. It was all so automated, from the ticket checkout counter to the immigration line to the intricate metro system to get us to the next terminal, that the feeling of not having slept for a day had not taken a toll on me yet. As soon as we got all of our luggage and stepped out of the airport, we were greeted by Liliana and Jane, who were to be our guides and confidantes throughout our visit in China. I realized how quickly we needed to depend on Liliana and Jane for our day to day needs in China, as well as how quickly we all formed a friendship with them. As we drove to our hotel, I was in awe of China. It was so beautiful, so clean-unlike what I had expected. There were so many cars and so many people, and we quickly learned that they had an alternate day driving system in China were car owners were only allowed to drive every alternate day of the week as to reduce car traffic and harmful emissions, which cause pollution. I did not realize this yet, but pollution was extremely bad in China and specifically in Beijing where we had landed, and the seemingly cloudy skies that I had seen once we landed would be a constant backdrop. In spite of all this, I was struck by the beautiful landscape in China already. I loved the hustle and bustle that Beijing provided, and it was beautiful and interesting to see how a country with a comparable population with Indias’ handled it. Once we checked into the hotel (which was so cool!!), we had some time to freshen up and unpack. I had been allotted a single room throughout my stay in Beijing, so I settled right in but was a little bit sad at the lack of a roommate to talk to.
After a quick change, we all went to dinner out into the city, and this was really the first time we saw Beijing. We took a bus through some of the famous Beijing streets where food was prevalent, and did I love it! I love cities with lots of character, and it was evident that Beijing had a rich history mixed with modern elements. For our first dinner together (or technically second if we count the one in Pittsburgh), we went into a fancy restaurant where they had tables waiting for us beautifully decorated. I loved the family style aspect of Chinese dinners, for you are really able to bond over food there, and it was interesting to say the least. I am vegetarian, so this was to be my first taste of trying to figure out what was in the food prior to eating it. Since the main dishes of the night were duck and a lot of different meat options, I ate more salad and tried to experiment as much as I can by making my own version of “vegetarian tacos” that others had filled with duck. All in all, Liliana and Jane were extremely sweet in making sure that I had enough to eat despite the menu, and I had a great time getting to know my fellow peers over a nice Chinese meal! The most fun part of the meal was learning how to use chopsticks though, and I was super excited to see how my chopstick skills improved over the upcoming weeks. After dinner, we all returned to the hotel extremely tired but excited and anticipated over the adventures yet to come. That night, I listened to some music and promptly fell asleep, excited that I would be seeing one of the 7 wonders of the world the following day.