When Robbin and I met Ilya in New York before we left for China he told us about a website he used for renting apartments across the world. The website is called airbnb.com.
The website has hundreds of apartment listings in cities all across the world. The apartments are typically cheaper than renting a hotel and, if you’re a sociable like Robbin and I, you stay with the owner of the apartment and any other roommates.
Since we love to meet new people and we love a good deal Robbin and I used airbnb for our month and a half stay in Nanjing and our week in Beijing.
In Nanjing we are airbnbing with Ann, a 40+ year-old Chinese law professor and we are her first airbnb-ers. She’s about 5’5 inches in height with a motherly aura about her.
When we first arrived to her apartment her mother made us a traditional Chinese home-cooked meal and Ann offered us anything that would make my stay more comfortable: her bike, and an offer to buy another one, the use of her car (we would never get on the road with drivers in China), and even her friend’s electric bike.
Although we only ended up using her bike, we appreciated her Chinese motherly kindness; however, that motherly kindness requires children to accept it and we became those children. With her children out of the house she checked up on us instead. She made sure we had eaten, knew where we were going, and she even found me a job teaching English in the community where we live. Along with studying Mandarin, discovering the teaching environment in China had been one of my main reasons for coming here.
She left to visit America for one month only a few days after we arrived and it was a sigh of relief for Robbin and I. We appreciated her helpfulness, but we hadn’t come to China to live with a Chinese mother. As for her bike, we used it one time before it was stolen at the subway stop. We went to the police station very skeptical that anything would actually happen. A stolen bike in China is like running out on a restaurant bill in the States. We have yet to tell her that her bike was stolen on its first ride in 12 years.
We staying in Beijing for one week with Mike and Amanda. Mike is a thin Indonesian-born Australian with long black hair that reaches his mid-back and has a knack for fashion. Amanda is a Chinese-born Australian with a smile that makes you feel right at home. Both of them are fashion photographers staying in Beijing for six months after an eight-month stay in Shanghai.
Every morning we woke up to a different arrangement of toast and fruits laid out on a low straw table. Their suggestions of Beijing had Robbin and I joining them at the traditional style hutongs where the whole community shares a few open showers and bathrooms. We ate ducks pumped full of air and sliced in front of us at a contemporary Beijing duck restaurant (Robbins favorite dish). We also visited Nanluoguxiang Street (naan-luow-goo-siang), one of the busiest streets at night in Beijing.
Located in a Chinese hutong, Nanluoguxiang depicts a fusion of traditional and modern. Lights and lanterns lit up the 30-ft wide street, guiding the way for Chinese and foreign tourists. With people walking shoulder-to-shoulder it was difficult to imagine drivers brave enough to traverse through the human traffic, but in China there are no roads drivers cannot navigate. Bars and restaurants packed with westerners, locals, and tourists lined the street for what seemed like miles.
We stopped into the Passerby Bar and hopped into a table on the rooftop deck overlooking the diversity of people. Mike, Amanda, Robbin, and I conversed until the wee hours of the morning.
Beijing was a drastic change from Nanjing. The exposure to westerners and western culture accustomed Beijing citizens to the sight of a foreigner. Nanjing is still continuing to develop and has a continually influx of country folk so foreigners are still an uncommon sight to most. As far as nightlife Nanjing represents an early to rise and early to close city. Beijing rises early and goes to sleep late.
Vadim Rubin is an ethnic Belarussian learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. He is a coach, teacher, linguistic, and an aspiring world traveler and journalist. As an avid volleyball player and coach he spends a majority of his time on the court with sweaty volleyball junkies. Off the court he enjoys to travel, write, and teach English as a second language. Last summer he traveled to Taiwan to study Chinese and wrote about his adventures in his blog: http://yourinnrchild.blogspot.com/. This summer Vadim is, yet again, making the half-world trip to Nanjing, China to continue his study of the Chinese language and to write about his adventures.