Monday, August 29, 2016

The first week - living in Beijing

The first word that comes to mind as I reflect on this past week is wowsers. It has truly been quite a week. One week ago right this moment I was awake and getting ready to depart for the airport. In the week that has gone by I have done so much I can hardly believe it.
So close - if only I could have somehow jumped
up into the plane
First, I flew east to Seattle (and south) and then I flew west (and north and then south) from Seattle to Beijing. The flights to and from China always frustrate me because I spent 3 hours flying from Anchorage to Seattle and then the first 3 hours of my flight to Beijing were flying right back the way I came. According to the in-flight map, we flew within 3 miles of Anchorage. Since that is based upon whatever arbitrary point is defined as the city, I would say we flew right over Anchorage. I arrived and made through passport control quite quickly. It took a little bit longer for my suitcases to come out and then as I was putting them on the x-ray belt to go through customs a man stopped me and asked me I was transferring (catching a connecting flight). When I wasn't he wanted to know where I was going and how I was getting there. He even asked me if I was sure someone was meeting me. Well, I didn't know any details, but I also didn't have the address of the hotel I was going to so I was definitely dependent on someone picking me up.
Unfortunately, when I came out, there was no one waiting for me. I looked around. I tried to connect to the airport wifi and check my email. Everything was unsuccessful. I decided my best bet was to turn the data on my phone off, bit the bullet and make a phone call. I called the HR director and she told me she was stuck in traffic. I haven't seen the bill yet to know how much that 17-second phone call is going to cost me. C picked me up at the airport, but while she was finding me the driver left and so we tried to take a taxi. None of them were willing to take all of my luggage and so we needed a minivan. There were these men near this minivan who tried to act like it was there. C left me standing near there with my luggage to go and actually hire a minivan and one of the guys hid my luggage and was generally teasing me (I think he was enjoying the fact that because I spoke Chinese he could tease a foreigner, but I was exhausted and was not enjoying it AT ALL).
Wednesday and Thursday were filled with things like getting a SIM card, a metro card, going to the hospital and doing all of the things required for a medical check (that was a dehumanizing experience) and beginning the search for an apartment. During this time, I also went out with a number of the foreign teachers at my school.
Then came Friday. Friday was my first day at my new job. I really enjoyed it and really think this will be an interesting first day. The morning was filled with speeches. While I usually find speeches very boring, I enjoyed these because they explained the structure and history of the school. After the morning speeches, I finally felt like I had a grasp on who/what Tsinghua High School International (funny that the name includes high school when it is a grade 1-12 school). Friday afternoon was a blast! The director of "everything else" (he has an official title that includes extracurricular activities and a bunch of other stuff) had organized the Tsinghua High School International 2016 Olympics. The entire staff (except those who were judging or in some other way facilitating) were divided into 10 teams. The teams were comprised of both Chinese faculty and staff and International Faculty and staff (they really emphasize that we are one staff, something I appreciate). Each group went to each of 10 stations for 5 minutes at a time. At these stations, you had to work together to complete a task. The tasks varied greatly. We had to do things like create a cheer, perform a song, solve riddles and build a tower out of our shoes (and only our shoes). We also had to duct tape one group member to the wall (using only 1 roll of tape) and get them to stay there for at least 10 seconds. I really enjoyed it. I think my group had it a bit tougher, though. The Chinese teachers are all bilingual and the International teachers, for the most part, don't speak Chinese (I appear to have the best Chinese, possibly by far). The Chinese staff speaks widely varying levels of English. Our particular group had a number of members who did not speak English at all, one who spoke about the same level as my Chinese, and two who were fluent. Add to this three American women where I have the best Chinese, one speaks a decent amount and the third doesn't know Chinese at all and you have a very interesting combination. Each task assignment was written in both languages which helped, but our conversations reminded me of the tower of babble. I had a blast. I hope everyone else did too.

After the "Olympics" we had dinner and then I went with one of my coworkers to meet his wife (who's Chinese) and an agent to look at apartments. The apartments were really nice (and 2 bedrooms), but I felt they were a little too far removed from this. Thus, on Saturday I continued my apartment search. It took all day and the first hour and a half or so were just the agent and myself, thus requiring me to use Chinese exclusively. My co-worker C came later and actually, we still kept most of the conversation in Chinese (except when I wanted to talk to her without the agent or others understanding) unless I couldn't follow even with an explanation (in Chinese). By the afternoon when we were signing the contracts I was so worn out! Not only was the search itself difficult, but then doing it all in a foreign language too.
My apartment is a one bedroom located about 3.5 miles from school. I plan to get an electric scooter so that I can get there quickly. With the walking and the metro it takes right at an hour to get to school with 35 minutes of that being on the metro/ in metro stations and 25 minutes being walking to and from the stations. I'd like to shorten my walk.
We negotiated a new couch (and boy is it nice and comfortable) and new chairs. I got my Internet installed and today I learned how to deal with the gas, electricity, fresh water and toilet water (2 different water connections). All of this was done using only Chinese (and a few translations). While I must say I'm proud of how much I've been able to communicate, I am also frustrated that it is so hard. Setting up an apartment has shown me a whole set of vocabulary words.
Today at work involved more typical school meetings, getting my teacher's edition of the textbook and discussing lab set-up (they are still assembling the labs, remember the school is brand new). I also got my school email address, a brand new Macbook Pro (it belongs to the school of course), and my meal card (we get breakfast, lunch and I think it we are there dinner). I believe this is also the card that I will use to access the building, the classrooms, etc.
As I write this, even I'm amazed at everything I've done in a week and I only mentioned Wednesday's dinner out in passing and didn't even mention Sunday's dinner. I still have a crazy amount of things to do including registering at the police station, applying for my residence permit, buying sheets and a pillow (last night I slept on my winter coat and used a hoodie as a pillow, tonight I plan to sleep on the brand new couch and use a cushion as a pillow. Tomorrow, I will hopefully find time to buy pillows and sheets), and of course get ready to teach. School starts on Monday.
I will try to write individual posts on subjects like my apartment (once I'm more settled) and my school (once the lab is assembled) and include pictures as I can. I sometimes can't believe I lived in China for three years because there are so many things I'm having to learn how to do that I've never done before, but there will also be some opportunities for Chinese experiences too. One of those will be tomorrow. Throughout the week at different times, people are assigned to what the school calls an opera workshop. What it is is a time where a Peking Opera make-up artist makes you up like you're in the Peking opera and then you have some sort of photo shoot. I'm excited. They did something like this on the Amazing Race and not only do I get to do it, but I get to have time to enjoy it. And with that, I bid everyone adieu. Until my next post.

The school building is very large and confusing...

But somebody with quite a sense of humor...

Left these messages...

Posted on the floor...

Along the way to the library...

Where the first day's meetings were held

The view from my apartment this morning

Sunrise in Beijing - the view from my bedroom window

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