The Beginning of a Love Story

This week marks week number eight of my journey in China. Six out of those eight weeks have been spent in Tianjin, my home for the next eight months. During these four weeks, Alex and I have explored much of our neighborhood. This post is about some of the gems (mostly restaurants) we have found during this time.

The first restaurant we visited in this beautiful city was Helen’s. The atmosphere of this wonderful gem is a balance between Bob Marley relaxed and upbeat lively. Moreover, this is the first place where we acquired foods such as hamburgers, spaghetti, pizza, etc. However, the best part about Helen’s has to be their daily specials. Most of these specials have something to do with discounted alcohol or hookah but on Mondays, one can get unlimited cups of freshly brewed coffee for free. Since I have a slight caffeine addiction, I usually have to settle for instant coffee during most mornings, but on Mondays, I get to throwback delicious black gold*. Who would have thought brewed coffee would be such a prized possession?

A few other gems we have found are similar in their offerings. There are three restaurants that are owned by Muslims and they have the best Chinese food we have found in Tianjin at very reasonable prices. Since we do not have cooking utilities, Alex and I have to venture out and find fairly cheap places to eat every night. These wonderful Muslim restaurants are perfect for that. We get great food for the equivalent of a few US dollars. Moreover, the owners of the restaurants love having the Mei Guos (Americans) return.

 

Orientation in the Shiz

After a whirlwind of trying to get to China, things since then have been great!

I landed in Beijing at around 6 p.m. local time. By the time I got through customs, got my luggage and found the others who were waiting to pick me up, it was 7 p.m. At this time, Katie, Emily and I loaded into a van with two very friendly Chinese men and began driving through the streets of Beijing to Shijiazhuang (henceforth known as the Shiz). Since it was night time and I was asleep for most of the ride, I failed to catch a glimpse of Beijing. Ma mooshkila. Just means I have to go back.

We arrived in the Shiz close to midnight and were greeted by our humble program director, Kirk, who is probably the only reason I actually made it to China. After such a long trip, taking a shower and sleep were the only things on my mind. I briefly greeted my roommate for the week and site mate, Alex, then hopped in the shower. With nothing but exhaustion beaming from my bones, I climbed into a bed that was about as comfortable as the box spring of my lovely pillowtop at home. Nevertheless, I slept like a bear in hibernation.

After missing breakfast the following morning, I was woken by Alex and trekked it up to my first Chinese lesson. Chinese is a language which is easy and difficult at the same time. There are four tones which can be used to say every sound, which may seem easy; however, a word is never pronounced the way it is written. For example, “xie xie” is pronounced as “shey shey” (and means, thank you). Here is where the difficult part comes in play. In addition to that, the characters are in a whole other playing field of their own. As beautiful as all the characters are, give me a Chinese menu and it looks like scribbles to me. However, in the recent days, we have made significant progress in learning the names and pronunciations of the foods. At least, it seems to be enough to order from the street food vendors.

Most of the group, including myself, went out roaming around the hotel neighborhood in the Shiz. We found a market area, which had many street food vendors but the boys wanted to acquire Western food (read: Pizza Hut). Alex, Emily, Jessica and I bought this delightful stuffed fried bread by attempting to read the words written on our Chinese packets. After noticing our packets, the vendor lady happily began reading the words all the while laughing. I’m not quite sure what she was laughing at but we were enjoying her company and were laughing along with her. Then she handed our papers back, told us a price, and gave us our food. Four people were fed on the equivalent of 80 cents. I’d say it was a successful venture.

One night of orientation was spent with a host family. I had to make sure my host family knew I didn’t eat pork before we left the hotel since they didn’t speak English. So Kirk told them and everything was settled. We visited a plant nursery as a whole group along with our host families. Ironically, the nursery was owned by Noah and Sam’s host family.*

After the nice outing, we all left to go home for the night. At home, I was greeted by the two cutest elders I have ever met (after my own grandparents, of course). I learned the elders were my host grandparents.* I also learned that they had spent the entire day making dumplings, specifically for my arrival, but they all had pork in them. I felt terrible for being the reason for a wasted effort by them to make my arrival as nice as possible. Nonetheless, I was presented with a variety of other delightful dishes, which has been a common theme during the meals here.

During our last full day in the Shiz, we visited a temple in Zhengdian. In the hustle of the Shiz and the pollution, which includes noise and air, the temple was such a calm area. The grounds were beautiful and the architecture rivals anything from modern times.*

The following morning, we were to depart for our placement sites so Alex, Amy, Danny, Seth, Katie and I (Guilin and Tianjin folks) made our way to the train station. Alex and I were first to leave. Settling into the train was quite an adventure. After departing the Shiz station, the guy who came to collect our tickets motioned that we couldn’t place our bags in the location they were in. After attempting to motion that there was no other place to put them, we placed them off to the side. Four hours and no sleep later, we arrived in Tianjin.

* — check the pictures tab at the top of the page for photos.

Chaos

The day before I was to depart my wonderful home in Des Moines, my time was frantically spent packing and saying my ‘see you later’s’. By the evening, I was checking to make sure my flight for the next day was departing on time. Lucky for me, the time was still the same as my itinerary.

After resting my eyes for close to an hour, I was wide-awake with a mix of excitement and anxiety since I still had no idea what I was going to be met with once arriving in China. In the wee hours of the night, I scurried about my home in order to make sure I was all packed and was not leaving anything important behind.

Since my flight was to depart at 7 in the morning, my family and I were planning to be at the airport by 6 a.m. Check-in went smoothly and I received my boarding passes from Des Moines to Chicago, Chicago to Toronto, and Toronto to Beijing. After some tearful see-you-later’s, I began my journey through airport security with tears streaming down my face and my heart in my stomach. Upon arriving at the gate, I found out the flight was going to be delayed by a few minutes due to mechanical difficulties. No worries, I had over two hours between landing in Chicago and departing for Toronto. An hour later, the staff continued to tell us our flight was delayed further due to the mechanical difficulties. At this point, I knew it would be a tight squeeze between my connections, but I could still make it. However, after four hours of waiting, I was put on a connecting flight in Chicago, which would take me straight to Beijing. Of course, with my amazing luck, I was unable to catch the flight to Beijing and was instead sent to Los Angeles in order to board a flight from there to Beijing. I was told to go see the United Customer Service desk upon arrival at LAX in order to pick up my boarding passes. With two hours in between the two flights, I thought there would be plenty of time to pick up the boarding passes and get to the gate. I was wrong again. After wasting an hour in line, I was told to go to the Air China check-in desk to get the boarding passes. This desk was in another terminal. The bus to get to that terminal took 20 minutes to arrive, so by the time we got to the counter, it was closed. So, I thought I would be able to go to the gate, but the TSA officers had other plans and did not let me do so. At this point, I was so frustrated, all I wanted to do was go home. However, after talking to Kirk (my program director) about the situation, I was calm enough to rethink my decision of going back home. Lucky for me, the floors of LAX are quite clean and my 20 minutes of sleep were utter bliss.

In the morning, I was put on yet another connection through San Francisco en route to Beijing. From the looks of it in the beginning, I was sure this flight was also going to be missed. But, Kirk called to let me know the flight in San Francisco had also been delayed by almost two hours, which meant I had time to relax, find food, and freshen up a bit. Finally, after over 24 hours of wandering across the west coast of the US, I was on a thirteen hour plane to Beijing, which is mostly a blur since I was asleep for close to twelve hours on that flight.

The moral of this story; never EVER fly with United Airlines. Not only does their ground staff consistently give you false information about the departure of their flights but their phone staff also fails to provide any service after you have been thrown around from airport to airport.

Nevertheless, I have made it to China and things are looking great! More updates soon!

Hello world!

Hello all!

As many of you may already know, I will be embarking upon a new adventure in mere days to the great land of China. Drake University has provided this once in a lifetime opportunity for 13 of us to spend a year teaching English in various cities across the country. I will be in Tianjin, which is southeast of Beijing. With me is my colleague, Alex. The two of us are the only ones with placements in Tianjin, making it one of two cities with only two placements.

This will most likely be the place where many of my pictures will be posted and I will attempt to regularly update this blog with happenings of my new life (more than I did while in Oman) but cannot promise to do so since the internet in China is heavily monitored. I hope many of you will follow me along my journey to discover life in China.