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I’m currently sitting here writing this back in the UK, having already spent a good 4 months in China (from late August, up until December) previous to Christmas. I’m at the end of a month’s break from classes and will be heading back to China to continue my studies this week. I really regret not having kept a blog (or any kind of record) up until now, so this is where things will hopefully change! When I have a period of few interesting things to write about in the future, I will try to rack my memory back to these previous trips, which included:
- Hohhot, Inner Mongolia (including a trip to the grasslands)
- Shanxi province (Datong, Taiyuan and Pingyao)
It’s been a jam-packed four months since I first arrived in China (the first time I had visited Asia, let alone China), so there’s no way that the following account can do it justice, however I’ll do an extremely brief run-through of my first experiences in China.
First came the trip to Hohhot. It was a fairly big mistake to go on this trip at that time – I had less than 24 hours to settle in Beijing before jumping straight onto a bus. I was not alone – there were two of my classmates from the UK with me – but together with my first experience of intense jet lag, having to haul a year’s worth of luggage around, doubts of whether I really wanted to continue studying Chinese, uncertainty about where we would be living for the following year, the inevitable impact of a foreign environment upon one’s immune system, the onslaught of 24/7 Chinese and culture shock, it is definitely an experience that I will learn from. The biggest lesson was that the latter of these factors is a force never to be under-estimated; I did not imagine that the change of surroundings would have such an impact upon my frame of mind. In retrospect, Hohhot is in fact not a bad place, and I dare say I wouldn’t say no to another trip there in the future. I might write another post in the future, detailing what we did in Hohhot.
Having safely returned to Beijing, I was reunited with the remaining six classmates with whom I would be living for the next year. It was a time of apprehension and excitement for all of us, and many among the group did not have the faintest idea of what to expect. We stayed for two weeks in accommodation on the campus of Peking University, whilst spending a few days house-hunting. There is a big difference between this process in the UK and in China: in the UK, it is not uncommon for months to pass before a buyer has chosen and finalised the purchase of a new house, yet in the China, the process happens in a day. It was admittedly a long day, but we had seen all potential houses and chosen where we would live. The process took place entirely in Chinese, which made the process ever the more tiring. It was at a time like this that I was extremely thankful to be with other classmates, whose collective vocabulary and comprehension of the infamous Beijing accent are the reason why we have a roof over our heads in Beijing! We left the campus accommodation and moved into or flat, and after a very thorough scrub of every surface in the flat and a handful of trips to IKEA, we had a permanent base in Beijing, and the city was starting to feel more like home. Here is a picture of our apartment block, situated within a compound of many other similar apartment blocks in Wudaokou.
Our apartment building, located in the vicinity of Wudaokou
Classes got going, workloads got piled on, bikes got bought, Internet (finally) got sorted out, and our McDonald’s got accustomed to the frequency of our visits. (Just so you know, Chinese food is great, and we’ve firmly established favourite haunts for dining out most evenings, but a portion of fries is a nice break from time to time!)
After a short while, we got down to the routine of life (or rather taking our lives in our hands) cycling along Chengfu Road to and from class, and explored many different corners of the city. We have found Beijing to be an immensely varied place, with narrow, scrubby alleyways (hutongs) shooting off wide motorways heaving with traffic, tiny, dilapidated restaurants nestled among complexes of gargantuan, modern skyscrapers, and low-income manual labourers brushing shoulders in the streets with high-earners from China’s new sector of twenty-first century global business. It is an incredibly interesting place to spend a lengthy period of time and I feel that the longer I spend there, the more I seem to understand the many faces of this huge metropolis.
But now, let’s look to the future! I’m really looking forward to embracing a little bit of insanity and plunging into the deep midwinter freeze of Harbin in early February (as soon as I’ve arrived back in China, after a quick night-stop at our apartment in Beijing). Of course, the world-famous Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival will be the reason for our timely visit to this city, located in the Heilongjiang province of China’s far northeast. Time and funds permitting, I also hope that later in the year I’ll visit:
- A variety of places in vast and mountainous Sichuan province, including Chongqing, Chengdu and Mount Emei.
Of course I’ll be spending the majority of my time in Beijing, so I’ll give lots of further updates on my impressions of life in the city and Chinese society from the viewpoint of a foreign student.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you stay tuned!