Sunday, July 25, 2010

China: First Impressions of Beijing -- 8 July 2008


**This is a never-before-published journal entry from July 2008.


I've just updated my email list, so for those of you who are getting
an email from me for the first time:  I've returned from China last
week and have sorted through some of my pictures.  Now I can share
them!

I decided I better just start at the beginning.  This may take several
weeks to tell the stories and share the pictures, but I want to do it
for myself as much as for you- even though I tried to keep a daily
journal, sometimes sleep was more important than journaling.  This way
I'll have all the stories and pictures together in one spot.

So....

I arrived in Beijing at 6:30am on June 7th, after 2 long flights and a
layover in Kuala Lumpur (that's in Malaysia).  There were supposed to
be some affiliates of the Global Youth Leadership Summit (GYLS) there
to meet incoming students, but after strolling the length of the
suspiciously small terminal it was clear that I had no welcome party.
In fact, there wasn't an English speaking person to be found anywhere.
 Even worse, I didn't know the code to dial out of the country, so my
trendy (aka expensive) BlackBerry Global Phone was technically
useless.  I turned my luggage cart around and headed back towards a
bench, not knowing what I was going to do.  Within a few steps, a
familiar voice caught my ear.  Well, I thought it was familiar-- it
turns out ANYTHING I could understand sounded familiar.  There was a
western couple standing in front of the arrival board, arguing in
French.  It turns out she's from France but is working for a Chinese
company and speaks Mandarin.  Her boyfriend is from Seattle but lived
in France and now teaches English in a Chinese High School.  I was
saved!!!
Aimee showed me how to dial out of the country (all the GYLS people
had US cell numbers)- but unfortunately, upon dialing the Emergency
Travel Number, I got a answering machine.  To this day, no one has
returned my call.
Anyways, I left a message and since I didn't know what else to do,
hung around and talked with my new friends while they waited for a
friend's flight.
When we started talking about Australia, and how I had gotten to
China, Aimee said, "Oh that's funny.  Your flight landed at the
Domestic Terminal."  Now that I thought of it, I didn't go through
customs.  I decided the group must be waiting at the International
Terminal so after saying goodbye to Aimee and her boyfriend I caught a
trolley to the other terminal.  Thanks to them I found my group.

I never did figure out why my international flight disembarked at the
wrong terminal, or why I never went through customs-- which makes me
wonder how I got out.  Besides the boarding attendant in Kuala Lumpur,
no one even had any record of me entering China!  Oh well.



 A strange Chinese ice cream ad in the domestic airport in Beijing

Aimee and her boyfriend, to whom I am eternally grateful

The following photo was taken in our hotel complex in Beijing.  It was
called the Beijing Friendship Hotel and has quite the history.  The
complex boasts a huge campus of around 20 buildings and back before
the 70's and 80's it was the only place foreigners could lodge while
they were in Beijing.  China wasn't very open then, and most
foreigners only entered for business.  The Chinese govt. required all
foreigners to be registered with the city and were only allowed to
stay in the special hotels for foreigners.




This picture was taken the same day I arrived, and you can see a bit
of haze everywhere.  As my plane landed that morning, the pilot came
on and gave us the weather update.  He said, "33 degrees (105 F) and
clear skies."  After landing I thought, hmm...those skies don't look
very clear to me, but I assumed it was just morning fog that would
burn off.  It didn't hit me until around 4pm that the morning fog
never burned off.  Oh the horror when I realized it was SMOG--
pollution that I was seeing.  I remember thinking that night, 'this
must be what it feels like to smoke a pack of cigarettes.'  Ick.



The next photos are from my first excursion out of the safety of the
hotel and into the city -- and I went completely alone :)







My only goal was to visit the large mall across the street.  As I left
the hotel, a Faculty Advisor told me just to watch out while crossing
the street in front of the hotel, "You kind of have to play frogger."
KIND OF was an understatement.   The "street" turned out to be an 8
lane highway with frontage roads on both sides.  I gave up looking for
a crosswalk after watching all the locals jaywalking.  Even in rush
hour traffic they made it look safe and easy.  A little bit timid, I
sidled up to a group and prepared to step out--just as a city bus
changed lanes and almost creamed me.  I was scared now, to say the
least, but wasn't going to return to the hotel defeated.  The only
person now on my side of the road was an elderly Chinese gentleman,
looking to be around 85.  "Surely everybody would stop for this guy,"
I thought, and linked arms with him, begging him to help me get
across.  I don't think he understood, but regardless, we ventured out.
 I was mistaken.  The cars didn't stop.  I could have sworn they
actually sped up, recklessly changing lanes in an attempt to avoid
pedestrians.

I lived to see another day, and even explored the mall across the
street.  After a month I actually got used to the traffic customs in
China-- only to be chided by my aunt during my stopover in San
Francisco on the way home.  Every time we got out of the car I'd kind
of glance both ways while stepping out, prepared to dodge one or more
vehicles.  She'd always have to pull me back, "Shirah, there's a
light."  haha

The next pictures are from one of our many group meals at restaurants
around the cities.  You can see Coca Cola, which we called "OJO OJA"
as is so clearly written on the bottle in Chinese.



The last bunch of pictures is from our first outing-- the 800 yr old
Summer Palace in Beijing, just across the lake from The Forbidden City
(the Emperor's home and head offices of the ancient govt.)

I know this is long, but, if nothing else, enjoy the photos!



























A very, very, very old rock....over 4,000 yrs old if I remember correctly



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