September 11 – Orientation

I woke up at about 5am, a result of the jet lag and going to bed early I suppose. At around 7 am I got up, and checked email / updated status until we were supposed to begin our day at 8:30. Joe got up early as well, also due to jet lag, and turned on the water for tea, which was a great idea. We met in the lobby of the hotel at 8:30 with the resident assistant, who was going to show us to a class room to go over basic logistics. The class rooms were also on the far side of the campus from us, and takes a good 15 minutes to walk. the building was new, and appears to be a classroom building purely for international classes.

The head of the program appeared to be a lady named wang xiao mei. She went over the packets we had been given yesterday and explained what the program entailed. I has correctly assumed that it would be quite different from whatever orientation had dictated, and so was not disappointed by the changes. We were to take, as they had suggested at the pitzer orientation a total of 4 classes. A language class, a core class, and two DISPs, or independent studies. The core class consisted of one afternoon lecture a week, along with cultural activities. The Chinese class meets for 2 hours 5 days a week, the same as my class before in shanghai, but has an additional two hours of one-on-one time each week with a tutor. The DISPs are either a research project which results in a final paper, a film project (that is, the old media studies form I assume), an internship which none of us qualified for since we hadn’t expressed interest earlier so they could set it up, or an apprenticeship in the arts (taichi, opera, etc.).

The rest of the orientation was pretty standard, telling us not to do anything dangerous, and laying out what was expected. There were only a couple of surprises from what I was expecting. First, the language classes are taught specifically for the pitzer program, not with all of the foreign students at beijing daxue. They were saying they were expecting to have 3-4 classes for the 11 of us. Secondly, we will be moving into on-campus dorms after the olympics finish. We will be getting two room suites for each pair of students, which seems quite reasonable. Finally, they gave us all paralympic tickets for saturday in the birds nest. I’ll be watching some of the finals for track and field with half the class, the other half got morning tickets which involves other events. That’ll be fun, given the circumstances.

Afterwards, they took us across the street to show us the main pitzer office, which is where we will ask questions and do various administrative tasks. It’s a small 2 room affair in a large run-down building. The building appears to be partially dorm rooms for foreign students, partially an international student cafeteria, and partially offices.

They had various tasks for us to preform one-on-one, but I went with three other students and one of the assistants to lunch first. We walked through a portion of the campus I hadn’t been to before, further exemplifying the true size of the place. We walked past a large cafeteria that the assistant dismissed as too expensive, past a tent full of soup heaters for incoming students, to a long line of specialized cafeterias. Each cafeteria specialized in one type of food, and we went for dumplings, passing the noodle and hamburger buildings on the way. The dumplings were decent, and only 3.6 yuan for 二两 (which filled a bowl).

After finishing, we went back to the office, and the other group had finished being processed. We got our first meal stipend, $300 us (another $300 given at the half way point.) We can choose to either load the money onto our meal cards, which will be way more than we could ever expect to spend at 3 yuan / meal or use it at restaurants. We hung around and chatted with the director until one thirty when the afternoon activities started. (we here being me and sergio, who has studied in college for two years.) I asked if I could use one of my independent studies to take the equivalent of mudd’s analysis class. She said that would work fine, and asked me to forward the curriculum from the mudd course to her.

After lunch we got the campus tour in two parts. First from two of the helpers, our RA who is also one of the Chinese instructors (a research student) yu miao and a nice lady whose name alludes me at the moment, and then from the director. In the first part we walked a similar path as that for lunch, but continued past the dumpling building to the steamed bun building, the cheap fast food building, and then swung around past rows of new bikes for sale to the incoming freshmen. It turns our that the Chinese students will be arriving this Saturday, no wonder that it didn’t seem to be quite the mob I was expecting. (by that I mean that there are still huge numbers of people there all the time, and the streets were all packed, but you didn’t seem to be seeing period changes throughout the day.) We were shown the supermarket for the campus, which was located underground, and seemed to have a basic selection of most things. I asked what I should do about my iPhone, and was told that tomorrow we would go to one of the tech districts and I could ask about it there. We ended the engagement at the bank, where we exchanged our 300 us meal stipends for Chinese cash (a slight bit over 2000 rmb).

This trip I suppose deserves a special mention. An automatic teller at the door to the bank let us pick our service so that we could wait for a teller, we chose exchange of money. The first girl in got picked pretty quickly, and it quickly became clear that the process was not quite as quick as we had hoped. the helper went over and mediated, but it took a good 15 minutes and two forms, one for exchange of currency and another for foreign transactions to finish. The rest of us decided that in the interest of change we’d have the second girl, sarah, deal with all of the rest of our money and then split the rmb, so she changed $1200, and then we split the result.

We then went with the director, who showed us the dorm we will be moving into. It’s next to the program office, and looks to be in much the same state, but has been there longer with Ivy growing all over it. It has air conditioning, but not heating. On the other side of it there turned out the be a huge garden, along with a pond. the pond was full of wonderful green lily pads, and Ms. Wang explained to us the history of the college. The location was originally just south of the emperors summer palace, and was used as the gardens of diplomats that were of high rank. Many of the ponds and landscaping features are still remnants of those gardens. The college buildings were first developed in the 1920s as an english christian university. It was eventually turned into beijing daxue which had previously been located near the center of the city. she pointed out remnants of the summer palace, as we walked around a nice lake to the pagoda we had walked to last night. We then walked past the library, which is quite majestic, on our way back to the dorm.

The final academic part of the day was language placement tests. I waited with joe and sarah, since our time slots were next to each other, and Sarah had brought the index to the integrated chinese textbook, so we quickly went over the various grammar patterns from last year.

The test didn’t go badly, I was able to answer pretty much all of the questions they asked me, and they seemed happy with my reading comprehension. Afterward I went back to the dorm to take a quick shower. Christine, the room next to mine couldn’t get her internet to work, which seemed strange since it had worked for me that morning, but my initial fiddling didn’t reveal anything wrong with her computer. There wasn’t a ton of time though and the group headed back to the academic building to meet with our professors for dinner.

We were slightly late, but it wasn’t a problem because it was just the pitzer group going, and not all of the international students as I had initially interpreted their meaning. We were all there except for steven, a pitzer student, he showed up a minute later on the back of a bike peddled by a guy in an Olympic volunteer shirt. I’m still not entirely sure how he managed to convince the guy to bike him over to us. On the way over Ms. Wang told me that I seemed much more confident in my speaking and quite above the other students at the second year. She wanted me to start out attending both the second year, and the third year classes to see if I could do ok at the third year. I agreed readily, the third year class consisted entirely of sergio at this point, so it might end up just being the two of us, and even if we’re at somewhat different levels, I’m guessing they can be fairly flexible and make it work. I made a mental note to email pomona, figure out their curriculum for this semester, and email that to Ms. wang as my goal for the semester.

We went to yet another building on campus, this one an upscale restaurant. the meal had probably 15 courses. Notably was jelly fish, which was quite good, and I don’t think I’ve had before, also short ribs which is apparently a Mongolian specialty.

The price was 400 for a table of about 8 of us (there were 2 tables), which really wasn’t that bad at all, considering the amount of food we were given.

On the way back to our dorm, joe and one of the pitzer guys whose name alludes me wanted to get some beer, and I offered to take them to the market down the road, since I wanted to take a walk after the large meal. The walk was quite nice, since it had finally cooled down after another warm day. The supermarket, the same one as I went to yesterday, had a second level. They sold normal beer, along with baijiu, the white wine, but any other forms of alcohol were sold only in gift boxes to be used as presents. The two guys were somewhat disappointed, but rallied well.

Back in the dorm, two of the pitzer girls joined us and we chatted for a while in one of the rooms. Pitzer’s stereotypes were mostly confirmed in my mind, but that’s another matter. I excused myself after one drink to deal with the various emails I had accumulated throughout the day. I came back to my room and plugged into the network only to find that the internet was down.

It turned out that the router was using the default password, and so after logging in and restarting it, things started working again. (and boosted my confidence in my self sufficiency.) I sent emails to pomona and to the director with my intended math curriculum, and then dealt with photos and with this. We meet at 9am tomorrow to tour the city, and apparently go to a tech area that can deal with my iphone.

There have been plenty of opportunities to buy sims, but I want to stop and spend some time talking and figuring out what plan makes sense to get before I just buy a random sim for phone use.