Well just in time for the coldest day in Beijing this year, our first full day was mostly orienting ourselves to Beijing Institute of Education (BEI – 北京教育學院) campus. It’s a small facility that seems to work real well for the program with plenty of dorms and classrooms to go around.
I should mention that last night, upon my arrival here, I met my only relative (second uncle?) in Beijing. He’s a cool guy. Very Chinese-y, I might add. He speaks quickly with a nice Beijing accent. That said, I still am impressed he found me within ten minutes of my arrival. He came up to my room and we chatted for awhile (I understood him and he understood me sorta). Hopefully we’ll meet up in a week or so once I’m settled in.
Leaving behind the placement exams this morning, this afternoon was everyone’s first venture into the city. Most just checked out the immediate neighborhood: the local department store, convenience store, banks, markets, etc.
I went out with some newbies to China but not necessarily travel newbies. First, the bank. We managed to stumble upon a China Construction Bank which has a partnership with Bank of America, my bank. So no fees for ATM withdrawals will make this a frequent stop in the future. Second, the department store was a fun time. I got into a good conversation about cell phone purchases as I helped a friend buy a SIM card and number. I didn’t buy because I didn’t bring my phone to test but that purchase will be forthcoming. Third, the convenience store did the job for basic items like shampoo, electric adapters, etc. We spent far too long debating whether certain bottles were shampoo, conditioner, or body wash (since we didn’t know the exact words of any of those).
Later in the afternoon, I ventured out on my own to browse the other side of the neighborhood. I’m a big fan of trying things out on your own — much more efficient in learning about a place. One thing about traveling in larger groups in these first few days is that we tend to speak English while we still can (the language pledge should take effect within the next day or two).
Overall, I’m enjoying the fact that I can at least try to communicate with people here, so far with moderate success. It’s reliving to know that the language study means you can talk to more than just your immediate classmates. All of that makes for a fantastic city experience. The pollution is indeed bad (lots of particulate matter that gets in your eyes and throat) but you make do….