As I climbed the stairs to the 3rd floor of Peter Hall where I’m staying for the next 6 weeks, I came inside my room after dropping off my cleaned dinner plate back to the cafeteria for washing. Since I sometimes crave something sweet after I eat, I grabbed a chocolate covered almond, one of the few snacks I brought from home. I was wondering how I was going to keep myself occupied for the rest of the evening, in the attempt to keep myself awake to further adjust to the current time zone. As I finished chewing the home comfort sweets I heard a knock on my door.
When I opened it, Kim our program administrator was standing there with a few students from campus that are associated with the World Academy program. I invited her in along with the students who seemed to just keep coming. There were 7 in total, 5 of whom are in the program and the other two will be applying to get into the program for next year. As they all shook my hand and gave me their names, I did my best to repeat them as I know these are just a few of the 100 or so names I will be getting familiar with during my stay. They were Alice, Anne, Crystal, Louise, and Ashley.
The other two angels, Echo and Cathy have already been instrumental in my first two days. Echo was one of the students who greeted me at the airport with handshakes and hugs, and Cathy took a trip with me in a cab today escorting me to the bank where I exchanged American dollars for RMB. There are little interesting cultural differences I am noticing, some of which I am asking about or receiving an explanation for and others I’m just going with it since it’s probably best not to ask.
Like today at the bank, at first I said I wanted to exchange $100 and when I tried for $150 they said I would have to fill out paperwork being that it’s a much bigger deal. I also found it interesting that the teller at the bank wanted Cathy to sign the receipt, not me. She just said it was better for her to do it, so I didn’t question it and suggested that I can exchange the additional dollars another time.
Meals are scheduled at 7am, 12noon and 6pm of which I am getting my fair share of authentic Chinese food. There are other meals provided but being a veggie and gluten intolerant, well it limits my intake to the sautéed veggies, fried potatoes, olives, steamed rice, tofu of different textures and salads.
It’s surprisingly cold here right now. It rained today and was about 53 degrees F. I am so happy I had a Skype call with Kim the day before I came, I almost came with a coat that wasn’t as warm as the one I brought. I wonder how long I will be using it for. I also found out today that China controls all heating in homes and buildings, turning it off every year on March 15th. Luckily my room has two double beds so I am using the one from the other bed as a second blanket to keep me warm at night.
Speaking of the beds, imagine sleeping on a very hard futon. I am have been extremely fortunate with the feedback and suggestions I’ve gotten from the previous facilitators and friends regarding travel. My friend Melanie who conducted Module III suggested I get a sleeping pad of some sort so I purchased a Thermarest typically used for camping. After allowing it to inflate itself and contributing a few breaths of my own oxygen, I inflated just enough to allow myself a comfortable sleep that lasted about 10 hours.
Last night I crawled into bed around 8:30pm and woke up to my first full day in China around 6:30am shortly before my alarm was supposed to go off at 7am, just in time for breakfast. Breakfast had all the typical American pleasures-fried eggs, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, pancakes, toast, fruit and made to order omelet. There was even cheese which here is a luxury being that it’s not a usual part of the Chinese diet and is expensive to import. In case you were wondering what I ate…I enjoyed potatoes, watermelon, and an omelet with cheese, tomato and broccoli.
My trip here so far has been a nice slow transition with meeting people, eating, settling into my room, getting some work done, running some errands and seeing my surroundings. I will have plenty of time to get used to where I’m going but right now the campus seems a bit confusing. I’m sure not for long, but I’m being reminded not to worry and that if I need anything, all I have to do is call one of the many students who are willing to be my guides and assistants to whatever I need or want.
Knowing Kim who has been here teaching English since last semester in September in addition to being our program Administrator is a blessing. She knows people who can do things for you when you need them. Today I met Alpha who is a tech person here at the school. He came to my room to help me to get into my Facebook profile which is not usually accessible here in China. By downloading an application on my computer that connects me to another computer somewhere in the world who can access Facebook, I am now connected! It just makes you realize how powerful the Internet really is. I was also worried that I couldn’t access my website and update my blog. With this application, that problem is solved too. Sadly though I still haven’t figured out how the general person can access my website here. Still working on that one.
Overall I’ve experienced a nice welcome arriving in a country where I don’t speak the language at all and have never ventured to before. This trip will be a lot of firsts for me too-the longest distance away from home, the longest airplane trip, longest layovers, and the longest stay. My flight here from LAX to Beijing was 12 hours, arriving at the Los Angeles Int’l airport at around 10:45pm to go through security, check my bags and wait for my flight to take off at 1:40am on Saturday, April 10th.
I realized in coming that after arriving at the Beijing airport around 5:20am and waiting for my flight to Zhengzhou that departed at 12:15pm on Sunday the 11th about a 7 hour layover), that Saturday April 10th barely existed for me. It did for about an hour and 40 minutes and was immediately lost once I was on the flight to Beijing, which has to be the cleanest airport I have ever been in! Everywhere I turned, walked to or went to the ladies’ room, I noticed there was a very diligent worker wiping down something at every given moment.
I did my best to occupy myself to kill the 6 hours I had as a layover before getting on a flight to Zhengzhou. I must have walked around the entire airport, all three floors, went through every shop, gawked at the well packaged Chinese snacks of cookies, crackers, candies, nuts, and dried meats and fish, with some items being totally unrecognizable. I have finished half of a brand new book I’m reading and managed to fall asleep for a little while after finding some empty seats with no arm rests in between them.
At first I was a bit worried about carrying so many bags but at the Beijing airport and the Zhengzhou airport the carts are free, no coins necessary. So I was able to save my back and shoulders the burden of carrying my purse, carryon with change of clothes and toiletries in case of lost luggage, and backpack to include my computer, cameras, snacks, DVD’s for showing in classes, books to read and other materials to use for curriculum. Oh, and electrical chords for everything. At the Beijing airport I also occupied my time by eat at a fast food Chinese place, literally titled Chinese fast food where I ate vegetable dumplings, rice and pumpkin soup and some sautéed spinach.
All of this was just my first almost 48 hours here in China. It all started with some good friends, John and Deena, taking me to the airport on a Friday night with some of the best travel tips that I luckily listened to. They suggested I buy a neck pillow which I have always resisted but experienced the ability to actually sleep in a plane for the first time which I also used to sleep on in the Beijing airport during my layover.
They also saved me a lot of money when I checked in my luggage. I tried to keep things simple by bringing just one large suitcase but was worried being that the suitcase was really heavy even just empty. As we got into the car to leave they suggested I grab an extra duffel bag just in case my suitcase is over the required weight and might get charged an extra fee. I hastily agreed and was extremely grateful I complied once I got there. We weighed my bag before I checked in and discovered that once I did, that I would have to pay $330 to keep everything packed as it was!
So John and I opened my suitcase and starting taking out all the heavy items that could be packed in a soft duffel bag, lightening up the load of the larger suitcase so I incurred no charge at all. Lesson learned. Invest in new lightweight luggage, and next time, be okay with bringing 2 suitcases instead of one large one. At that point I wasn’t even at my official destination yet and was already planning ways on how I would do things differently next time.