Even though I've been doing so much here in Beijing, most nights I get good rest. On an ordinary weeknight, I sleep from about 11pm and wake up naturally around 7am each morning. I'm usually ready for sleep at night before my brain has been working overtime trying to do my best to keep up in another language and culture. I don't like to miss much.
Work doesn't start until 8:30 and I live about 75 meters away from work-- if that. My roommate normally showers first, but somehow I'm usually out the door first. My dad has taught me to be early whenever I can be and I find that I prefer to be early so I can have time to settle in. As I leave my room, I brush past the front desk person of the day who has usually worked the night shift and say a quick "Zao" (morning) before I trail down the stairs. Sometimes, you can tell the person is especially tired because they are blasting a television show or playing a game as a means to stay awake. There are three young women that regularly work at the desk and a couple alternates.
As I walk out the door of the hotel, I walk past the guard at the gate on my left who always looks at me but rarely cracks a smile. Most times, I still smile because I'm a little amused that this scenario happens daily. I look both ways several times, like I'm a young child learning caution, as I begin to cross the street. Drivers here don't like to slow down if they don't have to; rather, they like to maintain their speed, honk and warn you that they don't intend to slow down-- unless they absolutely must. Don't let there be more than one car because it could be a recipe for confusion even though there is room for two cars to pass. I'm always reminded of a time where a lawyer from our center tried to park in a small spot, but all the drivers around her started to honk at her and yell at her (some trying to help her, others chastising her) and tell her that she couldn't make it and that she needed to stop blocking the street so people could go through. I was reminded that a woman came from nowhere to help her squeeze her car between a large truck and a parked car. I'm also reminded of a conversation I had about the amount of cars that are on the streets daily-- how there are so many that there is usually only one car per household (if a family is able to have a car) and that there is one day per week in which they can't drive it. This rule is in place so that the streets are less crowded. I'm reminded of all of this as I look from left to right in order to cross the street.
As I look to my left, the gray-haired older man who cuts hair on the street and who always seems to have a customer smiles, waves to me and says "Ni hao." He's been greeting me for a couple of weeks now. I hear his haircuts are 4 kuai which is the equivalent of 63 cents. Amazingly cheap. I cross the street safely and I see the man on the next corner who has begun saying "Ni hao" to me as well, though I still haven't quite confirmed what he does. He might be a locksmith since he usually has sets of keys on display. Maybe one day, I'll ask him. I walk just a few more paces and notice some people staring at me. Lately, sometimes I don't notice. Or maybe they stare less these days? I know some wonder about my braids because, when I go to stores and someone helps me, they always ask me in Chinese, "Are those braids? Did you do them yourself? How long did it take you?" Some even ask to touch them. I don't mind. There aren't many foreigners in this part of Beijing.
I walk a little further and I see the guy who fixes shoes. I'm just waiting for the day when I'll need him, because he looks like he's good at what he does. When he's not working, he's laid out on something that reminds me of a hammock. Or maybe I think it's a hammock because he looks so comfortable with his sunglasses on and big umbrella that creates his own shade. If it's already hot, I like to purposely walk through the shade because he doesn't seem to care. He doesn't usually talk, but he nods to me as I turn the corner and see my office building. This is my short morning walk, nearly every morning, and I look forward to it each day.