Beijing is a bustling city full of life and optional traffic signals where the sky is hazy and the sun is permanently a pink blot in the sky surrounded by a yellow-orange halo. In the two days I’ve been here, I’ve found it to be overwhelming even though I spend the majority of my time on campus and have left my district only once.
I arrived very late on Tuesday evening and was brought to my apartment. Ironically, it is the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in so far. Not only are the amenities fairly new and well-kept, but there is a weekly cleaning service! Housekeeping comes in once a week to sweep/mop the floors, change the sheets, and clean the sinks and tub. I’ve heard some horror stories about other housekeeping services (mops getting their water from the toilet bowl, mops on carpets, mostly mop horror stories, I guess), but our staff is generally pretty sanitary and reliable. (I will make a note here and say that I do plan on keeping up the apartment in addition to the cleaning services… so don’t worry, Mom.)
I’m so grateful for my new home! Dad’s really provided!
Two sisters, Alethea and Dana, have been amazingly helpful in getting me acquainted to campus and just getting some work done. I know I’d be completely lost about them and I hope you will keep them in your thoughts as well!
Last night, I went to a dinner at Alethea’s friend, Soltoni, from a Chinese language class. He is an Iranian physics teacher for the Iranian high school in Beijing (who knew there’s be an Iranian high school here, right?). He, his wife, and beautiful daughter invited us to their home in a different district of Beijing. Two of Alethea’s Indonesian friends (one is a brother), Daniel and Willy, from the same language class also came to the dinner. They were so friendly and a lot of fun to talk to.
Daniel and Willy told me a really funny (and somewhat disturbing story) about how the plumbing in their hometown in Indonesia just dumps all of the toilet waste into a pond or tank adjacent to the houses. In each tank or pond, there is an eel (I’m NOT kidding!!) who eats the toilet waste and helps to regulate it. I commented that it reminded me of Star Wars because there’s that giant eel-like monster in the Death Star trash compactor that Luke, Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca get stuck in.
I asked if they’d seen the movie, and they did not recognize the scene I was referencing, but they said, “Maybe it is like that, but a little different… and the eel is delicious.” AAAH!! I couldn’t believe it! They catch and eat the eel that had been swimming and eating on their human waste for who knows how long! When I asked if they were ever grossed out by it, they said, “Well, the eel is really, really good. And you must clean it very well, inside and outside. But if you think about it… well… maybe you think it’s not so good.”
This morning, my mom urged me over the phone to explore the campus and city on my own. So I mustered up a bit of courage and bought a cup of coffee at a small coffee stand on campus. I think my fear really altered my perception because the coffee stand was about a minute away and ordering was a piece of cake. Still, it’s these small victories that keep me going and while my iced Americano was completely overpriced (14 RMB!!! About $2.5 USD) and didn’t include milk, at least I know I can purchase coffee in Beijing. It may seem insignificant, but having access to coffee is vital to my survival here!
However, the most exciting part of my day was getting a bike! Alethea gave me a bike that was left by a family that went back to Canada. I took it to a bike repair shop and now it runs… well… it runs. It ain’t new, but I love its little idiosyncrasies—I think it gives it a lot of character. Plus, it was free AND it’s recycled! Riding a bike here can be very dangerous, but it’s the best way to get around and you know me—I love being eco-friendly!
After getting my bike and taking care of some other errands, we rode to a nearby restaurant and had some amazing food (darn, forgot to take pictures… will try to remember next time) and on the way home, Dana mentioned that she may stop for a foot massage. Alethea suggested that I go along since it only costs 24 RMB (less than $4 USD) and would be a fun cultural experience.
Unfortunately, the usual masseuse was out and it would be another hour wait for our turn, so we just rode our bikes around town a bit, then headed back home. Tomorrow, I go to the hospital for my physical exam… I’m sure that will be a different experience! ‘Til my next update, your thoughts have really transpired into amazing things here in Beijing and I am so grateful for all of you. Zai jien!