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Beijing: fantastically out of my comfort zone (Post #2).

This post is about my first whole day in Beijing. Some entries after this one will begin to incorporate details from multiple days. Other posts may not even talk about where I visited or what I did. Rather, I’ll talk about insights and observations about the city, the culture, and the overall environment here.

I woke up at 9:30am on my first morning in Beijing. A group of us had agreed to meet up in the building lobby at 10am to venture out into the yonder. I ate a piece of Taiwanese bread out of the stash of snacks that my relatives had given me and headed downstairs. The group comprised of Elizabeth, Guadalupe, Zenia, and Chris who is a UCI student who rendezvoused with us on the elevator. Zenia brought her two roommates along who were going to show us around the school. Their names were Kate and Rim and both were 3rd year international students from Korea. Both were able to speak English, Mandarin, and Korean!

We crossed the sky bridge linking our housing units to campus. We entered from the eastern entrance called East Gate 東門。 The school looked like nothing I’d ever seen in person before. Many of the buildings had traditional architecture and they were loosely scattered around a giant campus. We passed by the Pagoda Tower 博雅塔 and headed towards the center of campus and into a giant lake called Unnamed Lake 未名湖。There was a large stone boat near the edge of the lake that, according to myths, would rock if an intelligent person stepped on it. During this time, Kate and Rim told us the significance of all the buildings and landmarks on campus to the best of their knowledge; they were great tour guides.

Chris and I are intelligent.

After we toured campus, Rim and Kate took us to the East Gate of Peking University 北京大學東門 subway station and helped us apply for a subway. Beijing’s subway complex, which puts the BART to shame, could take us anywhere for a one lump sum of 2¥ or about $0.30. The bus, on the other hand, costs 0.4¥ or $0.06. The two had to finish studying for finals and told us that the nearest department store to shop for phones, SIM cards, and adapters was one stop south. After we parted ways, we took the subway to the ZhongGuanCun 中關村 stop.

Rui and Kate explained to us how the subway works.

Upon exiting the subway, we were in the underground levels of the department store complex. The building was eight stories high with two underground levels. The first two levels contained small electronic stores, which made me ponder just how they could stay in business with so much competition. Due to my ability to speak Mandarin better than the rest of the group, I was designated as the translator and mediator of inquiring, bargaining, and purchasing the phones and SIM cards.

This process was incredibly hard and it took me over an hour and a half to purchase two SIM cards. I had great difficulty deciphering many words that the salesperson was telling me, while struggling to communicate specific words such as “text messaging” and “data packages.” Needless to say, it was a lot of fun. During the down time of having the equipment we were looking for get delivered from another store, the salesperson CaoBin and I made very friendly conversation and I ended up getting his number to hang out some time.

I got an adapter for my laptop afterward and we went to eat noodles in an upstairs restaurant. When we went back downstairs, we met Stephanie, Devante, and Steven for the first time. The three of them are from Berkeley and all arrived two days earlier. After some small talk, we parted ways as they had their own errands to run. We went back to get our electronic equipment, where I unsuccessfully haggled for Zenia’s Apple laptop charger. Following that, Chris and I got our phones and bought a 50¥ card: Every text message charges 0.12¥ while every minute on the phone is 0.15¥. The group then shopped for housing essentials at the Wu Mart (a blowoff of Walmart) two floors above.

Noodles that were expensive by Beijing standards, 22¥ or $3.50 in the YongHeKing 永和大王 restaurant.

My I’m-almost-sure-it’s-fake 218¥ or $34 Nokia phone. I now know that I was badly ripped off.

We finally got back to our rooms at 7pm… we had been out for 9 hours straight. I spent 25 minutes resting in my room, and Jackie Napalan, who is also studying in Beijing for the summer, called me at this time! Afterward, a group of 8 of us went out for dinner. Walking around during dusk was so… words cannot describe it.  Observing and absorbing the city was so unfamiliar; this city does not belong to a so-called “communist” state.  Unlike a typical large city with one central skyline, skyscrapers peppered the roads – they were scattered everywhere. The main streets are as large as the Vegas strip, and the skyscrapers like hotels. Except “main streets” aren’t far in between; they are EVERYWHERE.

I have excellent video footage of the skyscrapers… Pictures cannot capture it. Just know that skyscrapers are everywhere.

We reached a small underground food plaza after walking for 15 minutes. I ate 20 dumplings, while other people had different types of noodle soups and fried rice. Most of us were exhausted afterward and we walked back to sleep.

An unforgettable first day.

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