My New Life As A Study Abroad Student In Beijing, China
I landed in Beijing on Wednesday, and after being here for 4 days, the jet lag is slowly subsiding. If anyone was wondering, I can legit say that a 14 hour flight to Beijing isn’t nearly as bad as you’d think. Everything has been great so far, but it’s definitely been a bit of an adjustment (kind of expected when you go half way around the world). I was ready for some parts, and not so ready for others. Either way, here’s a look at some of the things that influence my daily routine here in China.
I can’t drink tap water
Between the chemicals used to treat the water and the minerals leaching into the water from the old pipes of Beijing, water straight out of the tap is out of the question. If I do want drinking water, I have two choices: Boil it in the kai shui machine on our floor, or buy it bottled. The general rule is that if it didn’t come in a bottle or it’s not a hot drink (i.e. tea or coffee), don’t drink it.
I can’t flush toilet paper down the toilet in my dorm
The CET sewage system can’t handle any amount of toilet paper. After taking care of your business, you throw the used toilet paper into a little trash can in your stall. On a somewhat similar note, some public places don’t provide toilet paper at all, meaning you have to bring your own. I now carry a pocket pack of tissues everywhere I go just in case.
If I’m not in my dorm, there’s a possibility I won’t have access to a Western toilet
There are Western toilets in Beijing, but they’re not exactly prevalent. An Eastern toilet is essentially a urinal inserted into the floor (see picture to the left for visual). You squat over the hole, make sure you protect your pants, and then throw your toilet paper into the trash can. My quads should be beastly after this experience.
I check the air quality on a regular basis
There’s an instrument on top of the U.S. Embassy here in Beijing that measures the air quality every day. It has an index of 0 to 500 with 500 being the worst possible quality the developers of the instrument could conceive of. Last year, Beijing hit 562 – take that L.A. Basically if it’s over a certain point, I’ll only go outside if necessary.
I use chopsticks at every meal
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all eaten with chopsticks. Luckily I’m pretty good with chopsticks, but I’d still rather eat a chicken wing with my hands.
I can feast at most restaurants for only a couple $US
I can get an entire plate of 15 – 20 dumplings and a few beers for 30 kuai, or about $5. And as an added bonus, there’s no tipping here. Yeah, I do have to buy my own breakfast and dinner every day, but with prices that low (and that’s for quality food), it’s not a huge concern of mine.
I can take a girl to Pizza Hut and it would be considered a good date
While KFC has a massive cult following over here in Beijing, Pizza Hut is the one that got reinvented. Pizza Hut actually resembles a high class restaurant in the U.S., and while it’s all under the exact same company, I’d be willing to bet they’re doing much better over here.
I’m definitely a minority
It’s no secret, I’m white and stick out like a sore thumb. Apparently it’s semi common for Chinese girls to befriend young, male (good looking) students like me, bring us to a bar for a drink, then bail on us while the owner brings over a check that would make you think you bought the whole bar. Haven’t heard any direct stories about that one, but apparently it’s true.
When I walk out the school gate, I’m usually taking my life in my own hands
Traffic lights mean nothing, and crosswalks might as well be invisible. Cars, motorcycles, bicycles, and every other motor vehicle contraption all believe they have the right of way. Traffic jams and gridlock are an everyday occurrence, and the funny thing is that they’re just as likely to happen on the streets of Beijing as they are in a supermarket aisle. Pretty exhilarating.
Facebook and Youtube are blocked
When you Google Facebook or Youtube, an error message just pops up. Of course everyone and their mother knows how to get around it (thanks to the magic of a VPN) so I can still keep track of everyone back home.
The most important thing is that I’m loving it all. There are no real negatives here (although I’m still in the euphoria stage), there are just cultural nuances that take a little while to get used to.
Once you come to grips with going to the bathroom in a hole, you don’t ask why people do it or complain about how gross it is…you just do it. And it’s not like toilet paper doesn’t exist, you just have to bring it yourself. I’m always amazed at what people, including myself, are capable of doing when we get rid of preconceived notions about what’s normal and/or acceptable.
As far as school goes, this week has been packed full of orientation fun. It’s one of those necessary evils when you go to a new school, and while orientation isn’t always the most upbeat activity, everybody here has made it very bearable. The staff here even took us to get some Beijing kaoya (Beijing roast duck – one of their most famous dishes) for lunch yesterday. I was stuffed.
I’m still as happy as ever that I made the decision to come here. I was at this awesome rooftop party in the middle of Beijing a few nights back (we belonged on an Adidas or Corona commercial) and I had one of those moments where the magnitude of what I was doing hit me.
At 22 years old, I could be back in Manchester scouring the classifieds for a job I’m not sure I really want so I can start making money, or I could be in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, partying on a rooftop decorated with Chinese lanterns, drinking beer that cost me about 75 cents, and learning one of the most popular/useful languages in the world that will probably help me get that job when I’m actually ready.
I take my language pledge (i.e. I can’t speak a word of English, watch English movies, or leave my door open while Skype-ing my mom in English) bright and early Monday morning, and start classes that same day. No question it’s going to be hard, but I already speak to most people in stores and restaurants in Chinese anyway (without getting a look of disgust) so I can only go up from here. And as a little bonus, starting to actually learn more Chinese should definitely help my game with members of the opposite sex. My current pickup line is “Ni hui shuo Yingwen ma?” – “Do you speak English” – and it doesn’t usually go over to well.
The rooftop parties will come to a halt for about a month while I get used to the workload, but CET has a million other great things planned (Great Wall, the city of Xi’an, a kung fu show) and I’m pretty pumped for all of them (with the exception of maybe the Opera). Internet’s spotty so my post frequency is going to be somewhat sporadic, but I’m going to try and keep up a regular schedule.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!