I’ve had like five entrepreneurial impulses since arriving. The first was after enjoying this absurdly delicious hot-candied sweet potato dish that you have to eat very quickly before the liquid sugar coating it cools and it becomes impossible to separate. It’s the Chinese equivalent of sweet potato casserole, I guess. Pigged out on it completely shamelessly last night. I’m going to get fat here…But as long as I survive, I can take that dish back to Detroit and Alabama and make a fortune. The same for taking hotpot back to all those big state schools in the north–Michigan State would kill for it. Oh, I’m gaining weight here…
Especially since I’m eating meat again! A lot! Pork is completely unavoidable; I don’t know how Muslims manage in China, but it certainly explains all the civil wars between the two.
So far I’ve actually been really insular and surrounded by a very English-based view of Beijing. In a day I’ll say less than fifty Chinese sentences, most of them asking for directions. If it wasn’t for cute girls on the bus and $.45 drinks I probably wouldn’t speak any Chinese at all. Mostly kidding here. I need to stay single a while and get some perspective, no matter how badly I need a language partner. That said, I give myself three weeks, tops.
Anyway, I should probably vaguely attempt some chronological order here. The flight was fine. Kind of luxurious, really. Individual touch screen televisions, hundreds of movies and tv shows and thousands of songs. More than makes up for the long, boring views of Labrador and Siberia.
My host family is Prof. Gao’s, or Gao Laoshi, the head of the Dickinson program. Her and her husband are great people. She lives in Xicheng, so it’s a bit out of the way for doing student stuff or getting to class, but it’s fairly well-situated for exploring the city, which is what I’m all about. I’m housemates with Phillipa, the New Zealander wannabe-politico. I give her three weeks before she cracks because 90% of her English conversations are people making fun of her accent.
My room is extremely nice–I’ll have photos as soon as I figure out how to integrate them–it’s much larger than any space I’ve ever had to myself, at home or at Dickinson, although I have less than ever to fill it with. Ironic, I guess. I feel absurdly wealthy but with a vacuous life. A stipend and a big house and nothing to put in it. A good metaphor for China’s new bourgeois, I guess.
My Chinese is much worse than I expected to be. I have a good foundation for small talk and basic necessities but it runs out quickly and listening comprehension, without elaborate games of charades, is fairly limited. Fortunately the country is densely populated with helpful people and people who become considerably more helpful after they rip you off for some produce or beer.
Spent most of this evening/late afternoon wandering in the wrong direction down major streets. It’s funny, in Pittsburgh you get tired before your feet start hurting, but it’s so flat here that it’s the other way around. I wish biking was more convenient, but Beijing is not actually that dense of a city compared to what I am used to. Population is much denser, and shops/public toilets/transportation are all much more convenient than what I’m used to, but actual landmarks that I need to visit are much farther away.
I had actually been thinking, “Wow, it’s really not that polluted here” but then I took my sweaty pants off when I got home and my calves and arms were covered in black grimy dust. Bloody desert. 17 million people and no natural rivers! If you want a capital, why not put it in Jinan or Qingdao? Or even Shenyang? Some rivers, some hills, some greenery…some actual basis for human life beyond nomadic horse herding, maybe. Crazy idea.
Got a part-time job teaching English to preteens through a Dickinson host parent. Great lady. She runs this English school with these adorable scribbled mottos written on the wall. “Mommy, I have a dream–I want excellent English!” Asia is such an adorable place.
Allright, off to buy some mantou and shower. Peace!