Greetings From the Future (Twelve Hours to be Exact)| May 26, 2013
I realized that I left that last blog post as a sort of cliff hanger, so I thought I'd update you all. A couple things to note as I begin this post: (1) I don't speak Chinese and (2) I've never lived in a city with more than 200,000 people (give or take). Thus, being dropped in a city with millions of people without knowing the language has been intriguing and difficult. After surviving the plane trip -- which wasn't too bad considering the giant plane and the luck I had leg roomwise with a seat in the hub -- I got a taxi. The limited details I received from Xiuong Li (the contact from the Zhicheng) instructed me to go to the office first thing. Unfortunately, the taxi driver knew only the general area where the office is, so we spent a good 45 minutes asking locals if they knew where the building was. Obviously, I was of no help. When we finally located the building, at approximately 7:00 pm (meaning I'd been awake/traveling for over 20 hours), a kind man helped me locate the hotel -- which happened to be about a thirty second walk from the office. Unfortunately again, the man/hotel employees spoke no English, so there was a bit of confusion on the checking in front. But, it worked out, and I immediately began the business of getting straight to bed (the Chinese beds are super hard!). The following day, I spent a good 3-4 hours trying to get Internet access -- again, the language barrier/my American computer made it difficult. But, clearly I have access now (although many American websites are blocked here, so my Facebook/Netflix addiction withdrawals have begun). Since then, I've spent the last couple days exploring my work/hotel area, and it is definitely a less commercialized area of Beijing. Not many English words (other than road signs) are posted on store fronts, so I've mostly been peeking into the small shops to see what's available. So many things are different -- lots of people on bicycles, a crazy driving system full of drivers who lack patience and don't like to stop for pedestrians, food carts on every corner, and people wearing masks due to existence of a smog that lifts occasionally. Yesterday I wanted to wander into more of the heart of the city, so I decided to face the subway system (remember my small town roots? I've only ridden on a subway once, and that was led by a group of seasoned professionals). Fortunately, English words are clearly posted, so surprisingly, I navigated the system easily, never missing any of my stops/transfers. Even more surprisingly, the only difficulty I had was finding the subway itself and navigating the area when I arrived (for a point of reference, the subway system is about a ten minute walk from my hotel, but it took me over an hour to find it!). When I arrived at my destination (about an hour subway ride), I found the area to be a stark contrast to where I'm staying -- actually, it was very similar to a big American city -- malls, Starbucks, Walmart, etc. As I wandered around trying to find various locations, I finally gathered the nerve to stop people on the street and fumble to ask for directions. Some spoke English, but all were more than willing to help me. In fact, one young woman phoned a friend and had no problem with me sticking her earbud in my ear to talk to her English speaking friend. This helpfulness was a huge relief!
Oh, and a note on the food -- my hotel offers complimentary breakfast each day I'm here. Today, I ate a salad, rice, toast, and various other dishes that I'd describe as lunch/dinner items. There have been no scrambled eggs or bacon. I've been a bit nervous to try the street vendor food, as most of it is deep fried and I have no idea what it is. But, hopefully some of the other interns will be able to help when I meet them.
I start my internship tomorrow.