Our first week in China

Posted by on Jan 26, 2015 in China, Travel | 0 comments

Our first week in China

Our first time ever going to China was after already signing up to live in Beijing for two years.  Wayne had applied to schools all around the world, we had never been to most of the places.  It wasn’t about finding the most amazing place to live (we’d already found that – Bondi, duh!), it was about change, growth, discovery.

Learning more about the world and ourselves than we ever could staying at home.

I remember our first week in Beijing quite vividly – it was intense.  The first morning Wayne managed to order both a coffee and a large beer for breakfast (although full credit to them there was no judgement at all!)

We wandered around several shopping centres trying to find where we could buy towels so we could have a shower, but the directories were in Chinese characters so we had no idea, and we didn’t speak a word of Mandarin so couldn’t ask anyone.  The language barrier was proving difficult.

We had an awkward stand off at the dry cleaners with them refusing to take our clothes and us refusing to leave until they did.  We found a wifi cafe, but their wifi wasn’t working and we couldn’t explain, or ask why.  We had no phones or internet and were trying to organise our life, like get phones and internet, which ironically you needed phones and internet to do!

 

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Breakfast in Beijing

 

Moving to Beijing meant total immersion.  We were confronted with people spitting in the streets or from their car window, babies with gaps in the bottom of their pants in case they needed to go to the toilet and men walking in the summer heat with their shirts pulled up over their bellies or completely unbuttoned.  We went to the Wangfujing markets which was an assault on the senses, there were scorpions alive on sticks and other unidentified foods, a sea of people moving us helplessly along.

Most of the public toilets are squat toilets, which actually makes sense because surely it’s more hygienic not to touch any part of the toilet, but did make me realise that as a westerner who was always sitting down at my desk / on the lounge / to eat / on western toilets, that I needed to work on my squat mobility.  This is pretty embarrassing when you see 80 year old Chinese able to comfortably sit in a low squat for long periods of time.

During the first week our landlord came over, initially just one woman walked in, then another, and eventually we had a family of three, the agent and a builder all crammed into our apartment speaking in rapid fire mandarin as they moved through our rooms – we had no idea what was going on.

Another night we entered the gate to our compound and a man dressed in all black carrying a briefcase followed us in through the security gate, followed us to our building, in the door to our part of the building and got in the lift with us.  We pressed our floor, and he just nodded.  He got out of the lift and followed us down the hall to our apartment… turns out it was Charlie the internet guy we had contacted (and not an assassin as we had assumed!)

From those early days we coined an acronym “TIC” meaning ‘this is china’, so now whenever anything classic China happens we just look at each and say “TIC!

 

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Various unidentifiable skewers

 

For the first few weeks I was constantly nearly getting hit on the roads as I would always look right and go to cross, as a speeding car or bike would come from the left.  This is particularly scary when it’s one of the electric scooters that are virtually silent, so you don’t hear them approaching.  There are pedestrian crossings, but often there are no lights, and even if there are this does not mean it is safe to cross!

We had moved to a city where the entire population of Australia was living, and it showed.  People were spilling off the platforms and onto the subway like a river of humans, and they pack themselves in extremely tightly – if you’re not being pressed up against on all sides the subway isn’t busy.  At first I thought I’d wait for a subway that wasn’t quite so packed, but after six subways had gone past I realised that if you didn’t push your way on you would never get where you wanted to go.

There were also things we immediately noticed that we liked as well.  The evening time (especially in the warmer months) is very social, people live their lives on the street with each other, eating meals together, children out playing or having kung fu lessons, retired women doing tai chi or group dances, it was so nice to see this rather people just going home to watch tv.  Although we couldn’t communicate with them initially, the Chinese people were lovely and kind, and generally wanted to help the poor ‘laowais’ (foreigners, literally meaning old and outside).

It was what we wanted, we didn’t want to move halfway around the world to somewhere that could be any generic western city, we wanted to experience a unique culture, history, language, and Beijing has all of that.  Every day I see something that is so different to home, and I think wow, some people will never get to see this, or never get to experience this.

Our daily sights include kung fu lessons in parks, sword practice, kite flying, the burning of (fake) money, karaoke on the street (one performer was even hired to come and sing at our friend’s birthday), street vendors selling fruit and hot breakfasts, and men huddled around intense games of mahjong.

The city is full of wonders, and never ceases to amaze me.

 

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A game of Mahjong

 

My top tips and tricks for living in Beijing are listed here.

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