Recently, I decided that it’s time to start creating my network with professionals in Beijing.
(I don’t know why someone made the city name one word. Bei means “North” and Jing means “capital”, so it should be Bei Jing. We wouldn’t write it in English as Northcapital. And…while I’m at it, don’t even get me started on my rant about it being spelt and pronounced as Peking either. I ran into similar issues when I was in Laos and also in Ghana. At first I thought the name differences might only frustrate admin people, but I think it’s a much bigger problem than that. It shows that no one, on either side, really listens well enough to the other side, even to get something as basic as this correct. I’ve been here for two months, can barely hold a conversation in Chinese, and I’m already picking this apart. So what’s to say about all the years that have been spent with these countries mixing in the international stage?)
I’ll cut the rant short here because I want to get onto the adventures I had today. It’s amazing how much energy I’ve been feeling lately. I’ve created a base of some really good friends, I found a woman that blows me away more and more every time I meet with her (taking that one very slowly), I’ve finally got a good workout routine again, and I feel like I’m finally able to have the time and resources to chase my dreams. Every day for the past few weeks, I’ve been waking up multiple times in the morning, wondering why my alarm hasn’t gone off yet. Then, when it’s time to get up, it’s like I hit the ejection seat to the day.
Okay, deep breath… I’m returning to Earth here… So, back to the “creating this network” thing. I decided to go to the big business district of Beijing and see what I bump into and if I could turn that into something. It sounds really crazy, but also wouldn’t be too different from what I’ve been doing and probably not as difficult as it sounds because there aren’t too many foreigners roaming around here. After all, how could walking around the business hub of the capital city in a country with 1.3 billion people be any different from hitchhiking on a desolate road near the bitterly cold Mongolia!? Oh, maybe it can because I just found out that there are actually 44,000 foreigners living in this business district area… Okay, new plan!
My Aunt Janis (Auntie Jannie) gave me a contact she had through her business career that I haven’t capitalized on yet. After my routines, I head out to Beijing University (called Peking University, but I warned you, don’t get me started on that!), the Harvard of Beijing, to speak with the former chemistry professor and president of the University, no big deal. I go up to the front gate and talk to a guard to ask if I can enter the gate. They’re checking IDs and only letting students through. He responds with saying that I can’t enter and then some reason that I don’t understand. Well, I was expecting the difficulty to happen a bit later, but I guess that’s it, no entry, story over…
Okay, maybe not. (What kind of story would that be?) I’m too stubborn for that to stop me, so I decide to follow the gate to the left of campus, down the road. I turn the corner and after a few minutes of walking I come up to a much smaller gate. I approach the guard with a big smile on my face, mostly thinking that if this guy doesn’t let me through then I’m going to go Kung Fu on his ass. Sorry, that was insensitive. I’ve actually learned that Kung Fu in ancient China was more like yoga, meant to help you with bodily awareness, rather than about fighting people. Nevertheless, if I struck a Downward Dog he might laugh himself into a state of helplessness.
I greet him with a very polite address to strangers and then ask him about entering the gate. He asks for my school ID and then I tell him that I don’t have one. I make sure to hold eye contact with him the whole time and of course I continue to smile, thinking that if he rejects me that I’ll just keep walking down the gate until I find another gate. He looks down at his feet for a few seconds and then, without looking at me, ushers me through the gate with a hurried hand. I thank him and skip my way onto campus.
I ask a few students where the Chemistry department is and each time I get a blank stare and an “I have no idea what the hell this foreigner is trying to say” look. Finally, I meet a guy who speaks great English, you’d think I would’ve found one sooner considering these students are so damn smart. He tells me that the Chemistry department is actually just outside of campus across the street, literally feet from where I got off the bus. Maybe I should’ve looked into that before I decided to harass their guards. I go out the same way I came in and get the guards contact information, just because I have a funny feeling that I might need his help sometime in the future. I’m also interested in meeting people who aren’t glued to their rule book.
I get to the correct building, only to find out that it has a gate protected by keyed entry. Trying not to be too obvious I look around for another entrance. Then, I see a young student come out and open the gate… I quickly glide to the gate and make sure to look as natural as a glidey blonde-headed mop can look. I get in the building and go to the elevator. There, I ask a student where to find, uhh, oh god, how do I explain this one in simple English. Luckily he’s so concerned with helping me that he pulls me onto the elevator and explains to me that the whole building is the Chemistry department and I should know where I need to go. Good thing I wrote the Professor’s name down in Chinese in my phone. Looking at my phone, a third student comes over to help us.
The first guy gets off and tells me that the guy who just joined will show me where to go. We march down the hall and talk a little bit about the professor. He says that he has labs here with students and other professors, but my guy has already given his duties off to his apprentice. Wait, he already has an apprentice!? So much for my flowery daydreams about continuing this guy’s legacy. Good thing, I think I’d be a lousy president anyway. We get to his lab and after I give his apprentice a dirty look, I realize that he’s actually helping us to find my guy.
First, we’re told he’s in America, then it turns out that he’s just down the hall. Well, you know, they were close. I know, I’m just as confused as you are. However, this is helping me add humor to the situation and relax, which will be essential in the case that I actually do get to meet this guy today. My student-guide brings me to another professor and then takes his leave. This other professor also has great English and pulls out his phone to call directly to my guy. Now this is what I’m talking about! He tells me that my guy is busy, but we exchange information so I can set up the appointment on my own.
With a spring in my step I leave the building to head to talk to the second contact on my list, who happens to also be an old Chemistry professor, but I couldn’t find her on the internet, so I’m not sure at which level. My springiness abruptly turns into an arthritic joint when I get outside and realize that the only way I can get out is with a key card. I walk down the side of the building to see if there’s another way out and then on my way back to the gate I see some students, in the building, walking in step with me in the direction of the gate. They exit the building and then, without missing a beat, I fall in behind them as we all leave the gate together. That was almost too well planned, is this real? Or am I waiting for my alarm to go off again?
I know the next place is close and after asking for some directions find the big sign telling me I found the right place. Of course this place is also gated and guarded. I go up to the guard and go through the same routine as the last guard. This guy is asking more questions and I make sure to be as absolutely honest as possible. Maybe I got through to him or I was just talking long enough to melt the part of his brain that follows the rules because he stops me in mid-sentence and lets me go through the gate.
I find the building and from a distance I can see that this is another one with a keyed entry. I slow my pace down to make sure that I’m not waiting by the gate for someone to come to my rescue. Okay, someone is coming, but wait, I’m too far from the door! So, I pick up my pace in much less of a glidey way and more of an “I’ve really got to pee” kind of way. In the building, I find a directory and go immediately up to the admin floor of the building. I run into a guy in the hallway there who is one of the few people who probably could speak English, but insists we speak Chinese. After some stumbling and bumbling he tells me that he’ll take me somewhere he points and seeing the confusion on my face he manages to squeak out “human resources”. I excitedly tell him that’s perfect and follow him to be passed off to the HR guy. He looks at the name of my contact and tells me that it’s actually Yan, not Yuan. This is the problem with getting people’s name with their English equivalent, even though the Pinyin system in China is masterfully done, we foreigners will still find a way to screw it up. They tell me she was professor about 10 or 15 years ago and that matches perfectly with the person I know nothing about and probably didn’t just find. I tell them that’s exactly who I want and after they finish spitting out their laughter, the only form of contact they can find is the woman’s Wechat, which is the equivalent to Facebook. Great, I’m going to contact an old professor about being serious and explaining my future over a platform that has more types of emoticons than it has words in a language.
After that, I head back with more than enough to work with now. I even get a message from the first professor about using the Professor and Ex-President’s email. Okay, hard part over. Now, I just need to sit and talk with them in-person to explain who I am and my deepest dreams about the future in China.
Before the end of the night I also remember my last friends who picked me up on my hitchhiking to Beijing and bought me that expensive hotel and fancy duck dinner. I message the woman and she gives me some of their business contacts in Beijing, who I’ve already messaged and been set up with two different people who have invited me to a tea meeting. They have a third person, who I already met at the duck dinner, who will be coming back to Beijing to show me the ropes of his business.