A First Taste of China

You would think that a total of 17 hours traveling to Beijing China by plane would be exhausting afterward, but surprisingly … yes, yes it is, ha.

However, with fair ticket prices, dinner, breakfast, movies and free beverages being consistently offered, I must say that as a frequent traveler, Asiana Airlines is by far the best I’ve ever had. I recommend it to anyone interested in traveling to Asia.

The idea of traveling to another country can be a bit intimidating for some, but my advice is is to just acknowledge the awesome journey that you’re going on and remember that whatever happens – good or bad – is all just part of the adventure. That was my mindset when I was backpacking through Europe by myself for 6 weeks, and it served me well.

After finally landing in China, I was pleasantly greeted by my new Chinese colleague, Ann. I always tell whoever is picking me up from the airport what shirt I am wearing, that way they can pick me out of the large crowds of people moving out of the airport, so make sure to wear something bright that stands out.

Works like a charm.

As soon as we began to move from the airport to the train station in order to travel to Tsinghua University, I began to notice the immediate language barrier. Everything is written in Chinese with very little traces of English from time to time, unlike European countries that almost without exception have English provided on all signs.

It took roughly two hours to reach Tsinghua from Beijing Capital International Airport, so make sure to have plenty of water, especially because the weather is incredibly humid during this time of year.

Registration went simply, but only because of Ann. Learning a handfull of sentences, or words will help you immensely because throughout the rest of my time in Beijing, hearing English was a rare delicacy as I attempted conversations with other Chinese students. It was only when other Americans and Europeans arrived that I finally heard my native tongue. Many of the Chinese students that are part of the program speak sufficient English, but everyone else at the school will only speak one or two words at best.

Jet lag affects people differently, so read a person’s body language before approaching them. I rarely suffer from jet lag, but I certainly realized after an angry encounter with my new roommate that I needed to let people become settled before I introduced myself. There are two beds, desks and people for each dorm room with an air-conditioner to keep the humidity outside, so be prepared to have a roommate.

Learning the currency difference is absolutely essential for your trip. If you’re coming from the U.S, then you simply divide the item you would like to purchase by 7. The program provides you with a food card in order to purchase food from the cafeteria and restaurant on campus for the first week that you are there, however, it will not work for the store. If you didn’t bring any with you, I would secure a solid supply of tissues, hand soap and toilet paper because these items are not provided for you at the dorms.

Ah, yes…the toilets in China. For those who are used to the sacred privilege of sitting on a toilet, prepare yourself for a culture shock, as there is nothing to sit on. To describe it best, it is essentially a urinal on the ground with a basket for used toilet paper inside the stall with you.

The smell in these bathrooms is honestly my only serious complaint because the aroma of urine can be smelled periodically from down the hall. Personally, I am a frequent long trail hiker, so squatting to go number two while traveling outdoors is nothing new for me. But this was a major culture shock for many students who experienced a panic attack after realizing that this was his new bathroom accommodation.

This is your bathroom situation for one month if you come here, but keep in mind that it’s honestly not difficult to get used to and it’s all part of the adventure.

Pollution was my fear about China, and now that I’m here, I can vouch and say that it is actually quite bad. Not at the point where it’s impossible to see down the street, however, with this new thickness in the air that I’m not used to combined with the hot humidity, it causes me to cough often. I wouldn’t recommend this journey for those with strong asthma.

WeChat is an app that you will need in order to stay in contact with your teammates, especially because many networks such as Google, Yahoo and Facebook are banned in China. There is a VPN that you can purchase to make these websites accessible, but I decided to put social media aside for a while and use what all the other Chinese students use.

The opening ceremony itself was quite simple, and most of it was spoken in Chinese, so I felt a bit disconnected as I sat there throughout the speeches. The large group photo was something that I was quite excited about because it gave me an opportunity to finally meet everyone who is part of the program.

Despite the fact that the only people you will get to know during this trip are those assigned with you to the rural areas that you will be traveling to, it’s still very fascinating to learn why someone else decided to travel to China. After the ceremony, a walking tour of The Great Wall of China was offered for 300 RBM.

China only does business in cash, so make sure to stock up on plenty of Yuan at the ATM on campus because you will never use your debit or credit card to pay.

I was ecstatic to go see the Great Wall, but I soon learned the limitations of this field trip. We were only allowed two hours to explore the wall, and seeing as how this magnificent world wonder stretches over 13,000 miles, it’s simply not enough time. Also due to the high pollution, I wasn’t able to get any clear photos of views of the landscape that surrounded these great walls.

Regardless, I refused to let these factors detract from my adventure and I covered as much ground as possible. Instead of “The Great Wall of China,” they should have called it “The Incredibly Steep Staircase of Uneven Steps.”I’m quite an experienced hiker, but I was out out of breath within the first 15 minutes of climbing these massive stairs. Humid and lightly polluted air combined with steps that have no rhyme or reason to their height at a ninety degree angle incline will make anyone reconsider their attempt to go up this ancient path.

As I ascended this mighty trail, I would be stopped by other travelers requesting a photo with me. This was a common trend throughout my journey, so if you’re anything else than Asian, you will be asked for many photos. Upon my descent of the stairs, I ran into a group of Russian students on a school trip and shared many lovely conversations about traveling. I even learned a few Russian words too!

While I was still in Beijing, I made the excellent decision to explore the city around our large university. Beijing is a very safe area, I never once felt like I was going to be mugged or threatened – however, I did notice many people stare at me as I stood out like a sore thumb.

Many of my colleagues tried to persuade me not to, but I indulged in the street food that could be found on every street corner. Beef, peppers, potatoes and a sweet aroma of mixed sauces all cooked together on a small grill and stuffed into what I can only describe as an egg-filled pancake.

I tried street food all throughout Europe while traveling, and this street corner pancake was one of the most delicious things I had ever tasted, and for only 2 RBM – you just cant beat that.

I’m traveling to the Dingyuan County tomorrow and finally learning the details as to what my teaching itinerary will be. All that I know is that I will be teaching a total of 14 classes by myself, and two with another classmate.

The adventure continues!

Robby Sanders Good is majoring in communication with a minor in international studies. He is travelling to China for a month this summer to teach English.

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