First Impression of Beijing

June 23rd, 2008 § 1 comment

Dizzyfyingly huge new terminal at the airport.

I fill out my arrival card in red ink — only pen I had on the plane — but the immigration official reprimands me, “You should use black pen next time.” I’m flattered by the possibility of a next time, and maybe this accounts for my reply that the red ink’s in honor of China.

On the ride to our hotel at the Institute of Mining Technology, it’s hard to make out anything country specific. Everything is new. Airport terminal, new. Cars, new. Big highways, new. New trees. New grass. Shiny electrical infrastructure. The whole scene is assembled from fresh pieces. We drive by the Olympics stadium, the birds nest and the water bubble, and within 10 minutes arrive with our bags in the lobby.

Now we’re back on the channel I thought I was watching. It’s a grey cement slabbed building with a fruit shack on the side and lots of parked/piled bikes. Students are making merry and loitering since it’s the last day of exams. A young girl asks me to sign my name and hands me a wad of cash wrapped in brown paper — supposed to last for the next two months, but doesn’t — and then asks for 10 RMB back as a deposit on the keys to my room. Says to meet in the lobby at 7:40AM.

My single room has THREE beds but no internet. Each bed is one third the size of my lofted nook in SF however. I push them together to make a master bed by the window. As I move the beds, I uncover mounds of sunflower, pumpkin and roasted watermelon seed shells — the work of previous occupants. I hide my wad of cash behind the radiator. (It’s no longer there as it is spent.)

Note about energy efficiency of hotel — after opening the door, the key is placed into a slot by the door to complete the electrical circuit. When you leave the room and take the key, the circuit is broken. So you can’t leave the AC blaring while you are gone. This also renders your refrigerator useless. All of us (fellow fellows on the hall) independently come up with a strategy to permanently close the circuit so that we can leave anything on while we are gone, such as chargers, rather than be constrained by the key nanny.

Hearing Chinese everywhere feels unusual. Feeling big eyed, confident and timid. Some of us trickle to the lobby or to the steps outside. Others are still trickling in from delayed flights. Jonah, a paleontologist, hands around a bottle of duty-free scotch. Sleep finds us soon and Ambian helps overcome jetlag.

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