A lesson quickly learned here, is nothing is ever simple. A quick walk to the bank, to exchange money, turns into a merry-go round of which no money actually passes into my hands. Instead, I am tossed from person to person, like a ping-pong ball, all the while repeating the same four words 我要换钱(Wǒ yào huànqián) as if they will deliver me from the circus I find myself being a part of.
The issue seems to be that you need a passport to do anything of importance here, and yet they were quick to take away my passport within the first few weeks in order to apply for a resident visa. The bank won’t accept the numerous photocopies I have, though the resemblance is striking, since nothing will do unless it is run through by their own hands. This leaves me in the loop of having lots of money yet none at all.
Thankfully it is very cheap to eat here and seeing as that’s where the bulk of my money goes I am doing just fine. We have a cafeteria here 食堂(Shítáng) were you can buy heaping bowls of rice, noodles, and a variety of other dishes. It is very foreigner friendly, they will only yell at you in Chinese the first 3 times and then give up, and if you can muscle your way through the crowds you’ll do alright.
That reminds me of something else important I must mention which is there is no such thing as “lining up”. If you line up for food, for the subway, or for your visa application, you’re a sucker.
This rule also applies to the little store by my classroom that sells snacks and drinks to fatigued students during our breaks. The first few days I lined up to get my delicious bread; which is a combination of cornmeal, chocolate swirls, and heaven. I waited in line for about 10 minutes and by the time it was my turn there was hardly any selection and class was about to start.
Once I finally caught on, and headed straight to the front for my food, I realized it is supposed to be served warm! The added warmth which I imagine is fresh from the oven, but most likely is just micro-waved, makes it taste ten times better. The other day as I was zoning in towards my personal snack a man actually stepped out of the way for me and let me go ahead. This made me feel a bit guilty, and I ate my food much slower that day. I now prefer a combination of waiting in line, but moving ahead when the opportunity arises. If others really don’t know what they want to eat, who am I to rush them? I will politely go in front and make my selection while they wallow away their precious time.
My quick synopsis of a day in Beijing wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a few of my classmates. I’m in a class with 24 other foreign students, and we are split evenly when it comes to the amount of guys and girls. My seatmate is from Australia and we get along really well. We always are performing dialogues for the class which he hates but I find quite fun. I make it up to him by always having the biggest part and asking the questions, so he really has nothing to complain about.
In front of me sits Igor, from Russia, and he is hilarious. He has this heavy accent that becomes more pronounced when he speaks Chinese so whenever he can’t say a word he just says it louder, and LOUDER.
Last but not least, to my right is a girl from the Philippines who draws during class when she’s bored but instead of making happy faces, or squiggles, creates detailed fantasy characters. I’m half in awe, half in fright of what she draws.
There’s a lot more I could tell, but I’ve yet to meet everyone on a one-on-one basis. We do group excursions to 798 Art Distinct, and WangFujing, so I’m slowly meeting everyone and trying to remember all their names. I definitely think though that we have one of the best classes and it makes learning Chinese that much better.