Look Out China… Here I am!

                China is by far one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The culture has proven to be rich, and unique, yet somehow similar to that of home. My trip is planned for four and a half months with one down and three and a half to go from the date of this blog post. While here, I am staying in Beijing, attending the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU).

                Getting off the plane my first night was an interesting experience. I arrived in Beijing at 1:30 am, had no idea where I was going, only a little exchanged currency, and could speak very minimal Chinese (which has improved greatly in the past month). Walking out of the airport I saw a taxi stand, and found a taxi and stretched my limited knowledge of the Chinese language as far as it would go to get to the University. After about ten minutes of trying to communicate with the taxi driver, we finally negotiated price of transportation, and away we went. After a 45minute, awkward taxi ride, we finally arrived to the university. The driver dropped me off, and drove away. So there I was, alone in the middle of the night, at the front gate of an unfamiliar university unable to speak the common language. I pulled my map out of my folder and asked a night guard if he could help me… He couldn’t speak any English… So again I stretched my very limited Chinese and pointing at the map learned I was at the wrong side of campus, meaning I had to cross an eight lane road with all of my luggage. Luckily, there was little traffic at 2:30 in the morning, so crossing was not too bad. After walking for about 20 minutes I finally found my dorm… The next 45 minutes were spent talking to the receptionist trying to get my room. By about 4 in the morning I found myself sleeping in my dorm, which was to be my home for the next 4 and a half months.

                Since that first stressful night my experience has been amazing! I have made some great friends and been completely engulfed in the fast pace life style and culture.  The people here seem so much friendlier here than back home (perhaps it’s because I am white?) and very willing to help. Also, everyone you meet, either through class or friends or in a line in the cafeteria, are very willing to become your friend. My first day here, I did not know anyone and ate my lunch alone in the cafeteria, and had a guy sit next to me, we traded phone numbers and that night we ate dinner together. Such connections are almost unheard of back home and it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is to make friends here.

                Chinese hospitality is another aspect of life that I still struggle to get used to.  For the first few days, with friends, I had to fight to pay for my own meal… And even still the people I am eating with will cover me before I can reach for my wallet. This custom is gender neutral and goes beyond food. Drink and taxi rides are also usually covered and everyone deemed “guest” does not typically need to worry about it. A few days ago, I surprised the people I was eating with, by asking for the check (though they may have been surprised I was able to ask for it) and paying for the meal. This was followed by several assurances that they would take care of the next couple of meals.  And now they all watch me extra carefully to make sure I at least let them pay for their part of the meal.

                Another one of the more shocking aspects of China is how cheap everything is. I can literally eat 3 meals for under $5 (USD) and that is when I pay for all my food. Bottle water is less than $.30 and high brand clothing about a fourth the price of back home.  This of course means (since I am posting this on a public site) that I will be bringing back gifts for friends and family.

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