Thursday, July 14, 2011

Entering China

The heavy warm air hit me like a blast from a steam furnace as we walked off the plane in Beijing. The skies were hazy and the familiar sounds of people chattering in Chinese welcomed me back to China. I exchanged my cash for a measly 5.5rmb to the dollar - a sign of the times and a reflection of the rising economic growth of China. Outside I joined the line of travelers in a fast paced process of transporting people out, among the dizzying mass of taxis and honking horns. My taxi driver mumbled bewilderment at where I wanted to go, asking me for directions and which highway he should take. I was clueless and tried to give an impression of knowing exactly where I needed to be, knowing full right that he could see beyond my "foreign Chinese". Either he was a master at trickery or he knew nothing about the area because he took me for what seemed like a long extended ride on the outskirts of the city, stopping twice for directions and finally depositing me at the entrance to a huge apartment complex. Feeling a bit like "country girl in a big city", I got out and went in the direction he pointed me to, the gatekeeper in a small white room. Section A, building 14 was written on my notes. The building before me was number 2. People pointed me down the interior drive that encircled the complex and so I made my way along the path, pulling my luggage behind me. It was a typical afternoon in Beijing. The complex was a city in itself with over 20 highrise buildings, every 4 or so buildings surrounded a small park like area with benches, swings and a few trees. End to end, the complex ran about 3 blocks covering about 1/2 mile. I passed areas with swings and jungle gyms, grandparents with young children, older men engrossed in their chess games, and clotheslines covered with drying towels and sheets, before reaching building 14.

Jen's home away from home consisted of a futon and couch in the living room area of a fairly modern 2 bedroom apartment. Earlier that morning, the power had stopped, leading to a full lesson in apartment-style utility purchase, consisting of a stop at the "utility desk" to purchase a power card. The challenge of the afternoon was to figure out where to insert this power card. It didn't work at the gas meter box, nor was it to be inserted in the water meter box. After 30 min, the AC kicked on, Jen had found all the power boxes for that floor sitting in the hallway power closet. Interestingly enough, cable tv, phone and internet, water, gas and power are all paid for in this way. No pay, no power.

I followed Jen to the bus stop where she attempted to give me a lesson in how to navigate the Beijing bus system, dependent on knowing and recognizing the Chinese characters for the name of your final destination or transfer stops, and following the connections on the posted schedules. It was a bit too much for my jet lagged brain and I mentally logged the information in for the following morning. The bus took us to her office - an impressively large and beautiful Zoological building, where we visited with her office mates. These 3 very friendly young women laughed at the similarity between Jen and her mom and pointed us in the direction of the nearest dumpling house. Between the limited reading literacy of the two of us, and Jen's phone as translator, we managed to order a huge meal of boiled and pan fried pot stickers that truly hit the spot.
I didn't last much longer than that and upon returning to her apartment, fell fast asleep.

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