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.