Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beijing Beginings

After a longer than planned, but wonderful summer and fall in Ohio, I finally made it back to China in early November. I can say with relief that the contrast between the first few weeks here in Beijing and my first weeks in Dalian are positively disparate. I shudder to think back on how I began my first experience in China: heartbroken, friendless, speaking zero Chinese, illegally hired, and having lost my luggage. Any situation here will have to be an improvement on those first lonely and confusing weeks.

In contrast, this time I was met at the airport by some friends of a Chinese friend in America. They drove me to dinner (which was spicy boiled duck heads, duck liver with sour garlic sauce, and beer) and then on to the institute where I will be working as an intern. Still waiting for me there at 9:00PM were two researchers who took me to a nearby hotel. The whole 48 hour travel experience ended with all five people escorting me to the door of my hotel room, and me feeling ridiculous and guilty for all the undue attention.

The institute where I will be working is a full hour by subway from the cultural epicenter of Beijing. But, I am solidly in the university district which makes the place feel alive and young. The street on which the institute is located I have deemed as “recycling row.” It's chaotic traffic is dominated by second hand furniture vendors and recyclable collectors on load bearing tricycles. If it were not so cold, I could stand out there and watch the impressive loads of cardboard, old box springs, Styrofoam, and plastic bottles go by for hours. This stark contrast between the new research complexes with their million dollar budgets and the old neighborhood where it’s still worth one’s time to collect waste materials, seems to encapsulate developing modern China in one city block.

Thus far everyone at the institute has been exceedingly welcoming and helpful and I am breathing a huge sigh of relief! Let the Beijing chapter Begin.