Adventures in the Middle Kingdom- Part 1

Henry Ko is a second year MBA student from Los Angeles, CA. He is currently studying abroad at Peking University in Beijing, China. This is his adventure…

It has been a crazy couple of days but I have arrived safely in China and I’m settling into my new home for the next three months. The first 24 hours of craziness started with some delayed flight drama in Nashville, followed by a sleepless 12.5 hour flight from Chicago to Beijing, ensued by long and chaotic queues at the Beijing airport, and topped off by a frustrating search for my living accommodations on campus. Things are finally coming together now and I’m ready to enjoy my China experience.

So far, Beijing has been everything I expected and a lot of what I didn’t expect. Here are some of my observations:

-          China is growing and it is painful, for me: I’m reminded every day from 5AM to 12AM that China is experiencing unrelenting growth. Example: there is a new building going up about one hundred yards right outside my window and the site never seems to shut down. Just the other day, there was a thunderstorm rolling through the area. Lightning struck not too far away. Yet, the workers kept on hammering and the crane kept on lifting. Talk about commitment. The only time it seems to be quiet is when I wake up in the middle of the night wondering why there isn’t any noise coming from outside.

-          Peking University is the best in China: Someone told me that PKU is the Harvard of China. It must be true because 1) Wikipedia says so, 2) I was reminded multiple times during my orientation, and 3) I’ve eavesdropped on conversations where a mom is telling her kid that he is attending the best university in China and that he must study hard and bring honor to the family.

-          My dorm room is one step above camping in the woods: My dorm room is the opposite of the Four Seasons Hotel. As I mentioned above, my windows open up to the beautiful sights and sounds of a construction site and tennis court. The bed consists of a metal frame, plywood, and a thin cushion. The shower room looks like it hasn’t been updated since the place was built. I share a communal bathroom with three urinals (only two work), two squatty potties, and one western toilet. The hallways are perpetually dark and it smells like a mixture of pee and cigarettes.

On the plus side, my place is convenient because I’m right on campus and there are a bunch of markets and dining halls nearby. And there isn’t a whole lot to do so I can really focus on my school work and meditation.

-          You never know if you’ll meet Jekyll or Hyde: Before I left, I had no idea what kind of people I was going to meet. My family kept warning me to keep my wits about me because they think that people in China are shady. On the other hand, I’ve read many things about how people in Beijing are warm and inviting and many of my friends have nothing but glowing things to say about China. So far, I haven’t been cheated yet and my experience with the locals has been mixed: 80% of the people acts like you’re the dumbest person alive when you talk to them or 20% of the people genuinely want to help you out.

Here’s a Jekyll experience: I asked a campus guard for directions to a hotel. He gave me pretty precise directions, “50 meters this way, turn left, 100 meters that a way, turn right, walk for ten minutes, you’re there.” Great! Then I asked him how to dial the number of the hotel. He asked, “Why do you need to call the hotel?” In case I get lost. “Why would you get lost? I just gave you directions? Pfff” Ok, thank you sir, but how do I dial the number? “What are you talking about? Just follow my directions!”

A lot of service workers I’ve come across don’t like to answer my questions directly, but rather answer with another question about why I’m asking such a silly question. It’s frustrating to say the least.

-          It takes three of four tries to get something administrative done: You think going to the DMV in the states is bad? Try to get something done in China. To apply for my internet account, I went to three different buildings and talked to four different people who gave me four different stories. I can tell a similar story for the location of my dorm, campus card, meal card, and my cell phone that I have not purchased yet because I’m still trying to untangle the information that I have received. I’m extrapolating my experience thus far, but if takes this long to get things done in China, imagine the growth China would experience if processes were straightforward and simple.

-          Food is cheap and generous: I can’t end my first post without talking about Chinese food. As expected, food is really inexpensive here. If I wanted to, I could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner for $5. What I didn’t expect is how generous the portions are. It is surprising that people here aren’t heavier. Everything I have eaten so far has been good, even the $5 foot long Subway sandwich. I’m still waiting to eat something that will blow my socks off, such as fried scorpion or chili hot pot. Maybe next time…

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4 Responses to Adventures in the Middle Kingdom- Part 1

  1. Thanks for your comment Jinge Song. Hopefully you’ll catch the next installment!

  2. Jinge Song says:

    Oh, it seems that just a few days you have already feel lots of differences between China and the USA. However, as a Chinese student I want to show some points clearly. We have constructions all over the country, but constructions can be only conducted in the allotted time and your situation is not a representative sample. Your dorm is much better than all university dorms in China where 4 or 6 students share a room. It is normal for you to feel that people don’t answer your questions directly. The logic in which people talk in eastern countries and that’s part of our civilization, although in some point, it leads some misleading, sometimes we consider it as the art of language. The food is cheap, but be careful if it is safe ,clean and healthy. Food safty is a big problem in China. May you enjoy your life in China !

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