Incidentally, Jane Austen’s working title for Pride and Prejudice was First Impressions. A little more apt, a little less catchy. In any case, if it was good enough for the rough draft of a masterpiece, I suppose it’s good enough for my blog post.
It is somehow August 10th. I am living twelve hours in the future (you all eat cake for breakfast) and I am in Beijing, China. Travel on the 1st-2nd was intense and took an entire day. I cried steadily during the flight from Detroit Metro to Chicago O’Hare. I had expected my mother to cry, but not myself! During the thirteen hour flight from Chicago to Seoul, South Korea, I watched 5 movies, ate airplane food for the first time, peed on an airplane for the first time, and was super uncomfortable for way too long.
As we flew into Seoul, I looked out the window and saw the city. Just like that, I’d seen Korea! Just from the air, true, but it was the first time it sunk in that I was on an actual adventure.
There are a hundred of us in the CTLC program this year. We all left the Beijing airport at close to 10pm, exhausted, dirty, and wide-eyed. The air tasted ashy. The bus ride to the hotel was dreamy–the buildings are huge, all the signs are neon Chinese characters and completely indecipherable to me. We drove past the Bird’s Nest, where the 2008 Olympics were held, on the way to our hotel, the Xin Hua Sports Club. The mattresses are hard as rocks everywhere you go in China, apparently–literally like lying on a slab of concrete covered in a sheet. I do not know how to say this convincingly, but they are incredibly comfortable. I love them. It helps that the pillows are very plush. Our hotel is also equipped with Western-style toilets, which is a luxury that I do not take lightly or for granted, since I am slowly becoming a pro at using the squat toilets. Tips: wear a skirt, wear shoes with decent coverage, and don’t forget to carry toilet paper with you at all times.
The next day was orientation. And the day after that I was teaching. On my own (many others had co-teachers), in front of a classroom of seventeen 12-13 year old, whip-smart, irrepressible, and entirely intimidating Chinese students. More on them later. They are a topic unto themselves, as is teaching. Suffice it to say that I made more mistakes than I thought possible; I am just as bad at this job as I had feared, and I am trying my best to get better. On the fourth day, a few teachers were reassigned to different classrooms, and so now I have a co-teacher, and it has been really helpful and inspiring to see the way he deals with the kids and handles classroom management.
Beijing is a very cheap city, especially compared to Shenzhen, so I’ve been told. Lunch can range anywhere from 4 kuai ($0.67) if you’re eating from a street vendor to 30 kuai ($5.00) if you go to a sit-down restaurant. The food is amazing. Unfortunately, Shenzhen doesn’t have street vendors the way Beijing does. This is probably for the best, as street vendor food has been invariably fried and oily–and hence, delicious. A 24oz beer costs 4 kuai, and 2L of water (the tap water is not potable) is 3.30 kuai. Tourist souvenirs are far more expensive, naturally.
Peking University campus is beautiful. I need to find the library–it’s the oldest one in Asia with some very rare materials. However, we’re kept hopping day in and day out. I teach first thing in the morning at 8:30am, and then it’s off to TEFL activities, lesson planning, lunch, then two hours of Chinese language classes, and then back to TEFL lecture. Peking University’s campus is very widespread. It’s a lot of walking, a lot of high-energy, demanding work, on not a lot of sleep and with, in my case, a sore throat and congestion type of cold that kept me pretty fatigued. Half the time I feel like I’m running on fumes, and the rest of the time I’m running on sheer adrenaline because I’m in Beijing. I’m in China. CHINA!
Today we went to the Great Wall, and because we didn’t have to teach in the morning, most of the group went out last night to a club called Banana (apparently there are mafia-owned clubs in Shenzhen called Chocolate and Ice Cream. I’m not sure what to do with this information except revel in it). The floor supposedly bounced up and down, but there were too many people dancing for me to notice anything more than a slight wave that could have just been my own uncoordinated movements.
The Great Wall today. I was on it. I climbed up it, and then I climbed down it (bad idea, by the way; there are other ways down like a luge or a cable car, and the endless stairs downward destroyed my knees, but somehow it seems kind of…off…to get down from the Great Wall–which spans 3,100 miles and was first constructed in 700 BC–by jumping in what amounts to an amusement park ride). The Wall was unbelievable. It just goes on and on. I’d love to hike through the unrestored parts someday. In China, ruins look shameful rather than something to be revered, so much of the Great Wall has been rebuilt over the years. But it’d be something to walk over the actual crumbling rock of one of man’s earliest and loftiest architectural endeavors.
I could write forever, but instead I’m going to go find something to eat, look over my homework and lesson plan, and enjoy the rest of the day “off” (if that’s what you call an early morning and intense hike accompanied by a mild hangover) before jumping back into the grind tomorrow.