I’ve been in Beijing not even for a full two weeks, but it feels more like I’m approaching the two month mark. I have to say, the first week was the hardest adjustment I’ve ever had to face in a new place. I had this expectation that this is now the third time in a row where I’ve started over in a new culture and that I should be three times more efficient at immersing myself. I was so focused with competing against myself, I lost some of the enjoyment I found before from this process. It bothered me so much, I couldn’t even bear to write a blog post.
I overlooked the wonderful things I had already. For instance, I got to be a roommate with a Pakistan man named Iftikhar. He’s been very generous and concerned with making me comfortable at every aspect of our life. He’s also the only other English speaker on our research team, so our lives are intertwined in many ways. He’s said many times that anything in his room is mine and he doesn’t want anything in return except for my friendship. It’s been interesting to learn about his culture and his Muslim religion. He and his other Pakistani friends are passionate about defending the image of their religion, it’s sad to see they have to do that, but also a unique experience for me to see firsthand. I keep telling them that I lived with a Muslim woman in Ghana and understand the beauty of their religion, but we still have some great debates about why that’s true.
My daily routine hasn’t changed. I help with research from 8-12 and then spend the majority of the rest of my day practicing Chinese. The difficulty I faced with immersing myself in Chinese was really shocking at first. When I finally did get the rare opportunity, it was squandered at my terrible listening ability. I’ve joined a weekend study group and joined a few clubs on campus to see if I can try and change that soon.
People keep asking me about the tourist places I’ve visited already and they can barely believe me when I say I’m not interested. However, I’ve been interested in exploring the other college campuses. I’ve visited about five of the top ones in the area, but they all pale in comparison to Peking University. It’s consistently the highest ranked university in China and is probably along the lines of Hardvard or Oxford. The campus was mindbogglingly beautiful and still held onto some of the really complex and mysterious parts of the ancient Chinese culture. One part of campus I found was this still pond where the city sounds couldn’t reach and as I stood there with my eyes closed, all I could here was the chirping of the birds and breeze rustling the nearby leaves. It was amazing to have that experience being so close to the middle of this giant city.
Here are some pictures of the campus I found interesting.
I’ve been doing a lot of research about life here as well. There’s a US doctor who has a health blog about living in Beijing. He focuses a lot on the atmosphere and I’ve learned that if I’m going to be here I need to wear a mask most days and buy some special plants for the room to help process some of those particulates and fill the room with fresh oxygen at night. I guess it’s a comfort sacrifice to live here, but it’s reassuring to know that I can still be healthy while being here, even if it looks a bit strange.
Okay, maybe my face is the strange part.
I’ve also met some really good Chinese friends as well. My research partners are are really great people. I got to play ping pong with a few of the best and was able to hold my own and get some compliments. I’m not very good at hitting good shots, but I can return most of what comes at me. My strategy has just been to get them to go left and right until they get tired. Yes, they actually get tired playing ping pong, that doesn’t make sense to me. They’re not good enough to put enough spin on it anyway, although I’m sure some of the people at this school could make it so I wouldn’t even connect. The same group also played badminton and for my second time playing I still really love playing. It’s also closer to tennis and racquetball, so I can hold my own much better. Separate from my research team, I met this young woman who was the best ping pong player I’ve ever seen. She had to play down to me and I didn’t know if I was going to explode with laughter or shame. I’ve never met a woman, let alone an attractive one, who can beat me at any racket sport. She’s apparently just as good at badminton, so we’ll see how it goes when we play something a little more familiar to me. Apparently she also plays basketball against guys and is a dancer. Uh oh, I need to watch myself here. At the very least she will be a very good sports partner.
I’ve also had a chance to meet two Ghanaian men, one from Kumasi, which is the big city right next to where I lived. It was amazing to get to speak Twi with them again. My brain was a bit confused with Lao and Chinese getting in the way, but I was able to have the basic conversation. I still have the snap handshake down as well. The guy from Kumasi called to me as I was walking away with “me pacho”, which is an interjection, meaning something like please look here and I felt myself flash right back to the feeling of Ghanaian life. It’s fun, but that’s not why I’m here, so I’ll still be focusing on immersing myself in the Chinese life.
Even though I was against starting my Chinese experience like this, I’m finding that this is such a richer experience than I imagined. My next plans are to get back into some routines that I miss like a stable exercise routine and exploring different art forms. First, I’ll start to explore the Chinese character writing and maybe even find some people equally passionate about photography and music, so I can keep learning from experts. More updates soon.