Beijing, China: You never really know what to expect when you arrive into a new country. Our arrival into China incited identical feelings. My study of the Chinese language and culture and my travel to Taiwan couldn’t prepare me for the motherland. Robbin’s Chinese cultural heritage and her knowledge of the Chinese psyche could not amply prepare her for our new adventure. A very wise person had once told me that you don’t know China until you visit it. Robbin and I were about to find out the exact validity of this statement. Our adventure was just beginning and we were completely unprepared.
Our plane arrived in Beijing at 10 p.m. and we hit the ground running, our mission was to find somewhere to sleep. My previous experiences with international airports is that almost all of them were a “safe zone” for Americans – they all had English information assistants. I walked up to the desk and decided to test this theory of international airports being “safe zones.”
“Are there any hotels nearby that my girlfriend and I could rent for the night?” I asked.
My question was received with a blank and confused stare. It was China, my theory was invalid here. I had been learning Chinese for the past year and a half with three of those months spent in Taiwan. My Chinese was fluent enough to where if I was dropped into China without any means of transportation or communication, place to stay, point of contact, or geographical awareness I could survive.
Perfect. I repeated my question in Chinese and was received with much more pleasant response. She had informed me of two hotels that were nearby that were, what we thought at the time, fairly cheap to stay for the night, about 270RMB (since all the prices I’m going to use are going to be in Chinese Renminbi I’ll put this conversion rate here because it’s what Robbin and I use: 100RMB = $16USD.) We booked the hotel, a shuttle, and we were off.
The hotel we stayed in had a large lobby with white tile floors that belied the cigarette ash which floated to its surface. Facing the doorway was a large fish tank that held one huge Arowana. To the left was a small reception desk and to the right were souvenirs ranging from cigarettes to hanging Chinese trinkets.
After we checked in we walked upstairs to relax in our small, cigarette scented room with a few holes in the wall. We decided to use the U.S. power strip with the power converter I had brought to plug in a few gadgets at once and as soon as the strip went in the power went out. We told the building manager who didn’t seem very surprised by our problem. He brought a ladder, poked around in the vent above our room and voila the power was back on. Like many things in China the hotels exterior was pristine and impressive, but the quality was severely lacking. Wary of plugging anything else in we went out to have our first meal in China.
The road outside looked as impressive as our hotel room. A truck depot faced the hotel and the road was lined with back alley car repair shops, potholes and a spa with an entrance that looked like a gateway to an underfunded amusement park. We found a small restaurant that was still open and sat down. I hadn’t learned the names of most of the Chinese dishes or how to read much of a menu. Robbin also had only learned up to an elementary level of Mandarin and was clueless about the menu. Ordering food is always an adventure.
I knew a few characters in some items and decided to order what I thought was beef noodles, pancakes, and beef with vegetables. After the food came out and we started eating it did we decide to look up the character in our order – 驴. The definition read donkey; ass. We were eating ass meat and we loved it. We had finished eating and a small girl, no more than two years, was running buck naked outside in the concrete – China.
We left to get some rest for tomorrow held a new challenge for us – navigating China’s train system, we were heading to Nanjing.
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.