September 10th – Arrival

I was dropped off at SeaTak at 7 am for my 9 am flight. The Air Canada check in was lumped with united, meaning that there was a long, unorganized or coordinated line to check bags. After reaching the front of the queue I was forced to scan my passport to login, the confirmation number was no longer enough. Security was the same, with the exception that they now require all ‘electronics’ to be taken out of your bag and placed separately. I took my camera out as well as my laptop. I don’t think the TSA lady would have cared either way.

The Jazz flight up to Vancouver was uneventful, I read the next several chapters of the China Candid required reading while onboard. The Vancouver airport is as strangely laid out as ever, you walk across the entire airport to get from international arrivals to international transfers, and then all the way back to get to the departure gate. They only had one lady processing international transfers, and quite a line had queued up, but in the spirit of the Olympics the queue was setup to wind through an elaborate mountain panorama of lakes, waterfalls, and a log bridge.

While waiting for the main flight, I ran into two other kids in the same program: Matt from pitzer who hasn’t had any chinese, and Joe from Oberlin who’s had a year. We were seated in vaguely the same area of the plane, but didn’t feel much need to converse during the flight. Air canada has upgraded the plane in the last four years. The first class cabin was turned into individual pods that were capable of being either work stations or almost beds. For the rest of us there were on-demand seat-back movies, and us power outlets on the back of most of the headrests. I took the opportunity to listen to music off of my computer for the entire flight, while finishing the chinese book, and getting a fair way through hitch hikers guide. They brought us 3 means, which was a lot of food, but overall a very pleasant trip.

Getting off the plane, beijing hits you with it’s muggy air. Even on the way down I was glancing despairingly at the smog out the windows, and it didn’t disappoint. Customs was a joke compared to four years ago. Maybe it was because they separated chinese natives from foreigners, and maybe it’s because the para-Olympics are still in full swing but we arrived at a scene of desolation. There was a vast line of customs counters, each with a staffer, and no line to speak of. The entrance was a formality, they stamped the visa, and then asked you to press a button in front of their desk for how good their service was.

At the baggage claim we met a girl from swarthmore who was also on the pitzer program. We waited for bags together, and then the four of us left baggage claim into the waiting area of the airport. A lady was there to meet us, I’m not quite sure of her official function, as I’m not sure of the official posts of many of the people we met this evening, but she was our escort to our dorms. She was somewhat flustered by the new airport, taking us first to the taxi loading area, and then attempting to take us to the as-of-yet nonexistent level two of parking when the driver found us and took us to his van.

Driving in china can never be done justice to, and this trip was no exception. we were in one of the standard issue vans, and drove from the airport to our temporary dorm while the Olympics are running (for the next week). One of the immediate effects that is seen is that the left lane on all major roads has been painted with the Olympic circles, and only official cars are allowed to use it. that means the highways are narrowed in many cases to two lanes, which made for a fairly slow entry to the city. Once in beijing proper the customary negligence of traffic laws was followed to full effect, although almost the whole drive in was through an area clearly developed in the last year in preparation for the Olympics.

Our “dorm” is a actually a hotel, about a block away from the east gate (东门) of Beijing university. It appears to have been built specifically for the Olympics and to have been some sort of government made place for the foreign competitors (a mini Olympic village if you will.) The rooms are hotel rooms, not a typical dorm room, with a small desk and a coffee table and are not great for unpacking or the like. However, they do have some nifty features, the doors unlock by waving your key at them, and to use the power in the room you must leave your key in a holder by the door.

I’m sharing my room with Joe, he’s a nice guy.

Checking was confusing, probably more so to our hosts than to us. We were greeted by two additional members of our teaching staff, the assistant director, who’s name escapes me at the moment, and our RA / English assistant who’s name is Yu Miao. They checked us in at the hotel, asking me to pay a 200 yuan security deposit, which I refused on the basis that they had just driven me from the airport and I didn’t have any money yet. They gave us info packets, student ID, meal ID, room IDs, and then had janitors escort us to our rooms.

After additional chatting with Yu Miao, he doesn’t seem like a bad guy. A bit vague in his directions, but otherwise alright. We were told to gather at 6 for dinner.

At 6 a bunch of people I hadn’t met appeared as well as those I had previously met, for 8 in total (5 guys 3 girls, the other two guys had been in beijing for the last two weeks, and the two girls had gotten in on earlier flights.) So far only three of people went to pitzer.

We walked over to the main cafeteria, Yu was right in that it was about five minutes “that way”, and then a left and then another 5 minute walk. I got a small dish of eggs with pork and mushrooms which was quite pleasant. we get what appears to be a 40$ / day food subsidy, and must enter a password if we spend more than 15$ at a time. The cafeteria we went to didn’t seem to have anything more expensive than 10$

After dinner, Yu headed back to the dorm to meet a late comer, and the rest of us decided to go for a walk. One of the guys who had been in beijing for a couple weeks wanted to walk to a pagoda on the northern edge of the campus and proceeded to lead us straight west. After a fairly long traversal of the campus, and navigation of a small lake we arrived at the pagoda which conveniently was not illuminated at night. I wanted to stop somewhere to pick up a towel and a toothbrush, and so we headed back towards our dorm, and past them with a few folks heading to bed (it was 8pm, but a long travel day). A few blocks beyond was a market that the other early arrival recommended to me. He seems like a good guy, although again his name escapes my memory. The mall was much different from much of what I’ve seen in the past. The full floor was owned by one company, and worked very much like a department store in america. Baskets, checkout counters, fixed prices, even credit cards were accepted. I got a towel, soap, shampoo, toothbrush, and toothpaste for about $10 us, and we headed back to the dorm. I took a quick shower and checked the web before bed.

Tomorrow looks like another orientation day, I forgot to get a razor, so I’ll try and do that. I also need to get my phone working, I’m sure somewhere around here sells sim cards and can help me.

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