To say that the last week has been a whirlwind is an understatement. It’s hard to believe we have already been in this magical ,fast paced city for that long. To make this post flow more easily ,I have divided it into a day-to-day review. I’ve only written about the first three days thus far because there is just so much to absorb. I know it’s long, so bare with me.
Day 1: After a very long flight we arrived to Beijing on August 27th in the evening. Billy and I anxiously waited in the baggage claim for our luggage and were told by our company that a man named “Mr.Li” would be taking us to a hotel for the evening. We had no idea what Mr.Li looked like and were just praying that he would be holding up an obnoxious sign bearing one of our names. Well, he was holding up a tiny sign with the words EF on but it did the trick. Mr. Li did not speak a word of English but man was he happy. As we drove along the highway I felt like a little kid looking out the window. My face was pressed up against the glass and my mouth was hanging open.
We checked into our hotel really late and the restaurant wasn’t open but our stomachs were rumbling so we wandered across the street to a 24 hour noodle house. I have to say that my first meal in China was spectacular and it only costs me three dollars. More on food later.
Day 2:The next morning Billy and I checked out and wandered to breakfast in the lobby. We were hoping to meet all the other teachers in our specific program in Beijing. Let me tell you, in a small hotel in Beijing it was very easy to spot out all the teachers. We all introduced ourselves and grabbed a table. There are a total of fifteen teachers, seven adult teachers and eight children’s teachers. Within ten minutes we were all cracking jokes and sharing our travel experiences. It was a very heart warming feeling.
After breakfast two employees from our company, EF, took all the teachers on a walking tour of Beijing. It was very brief but we just went to a few different districts around the city to orient ourselves a little bit better. We were given a subway map and told to figure out where we were going and how we were going to get there. I really liked this challenge because it immediately made everyone learn their bearings in this crazy large city. Now when you travel in a pack with sixteen western people, you will get stares. Everywhere we went, Chinese men and women were staring at us. But, don’t be confused, staring is not considered rude in Chinese culture, it just happens.
Tian’an’men square was one of our first stops. For those of you who don’t know what this is, it’s the biggest public square in the world and its a place where you can find hundreds of people passing through. It almost seems like people are on a pilgrimage somewhere.Walking through the square, is when I really started to feel like we were living in a foreign place. Everyone around me looked like they had a destination and I was just orienting myself with the surroundings.
We were taken to a local restaurant for lunch and we feasted on bao’zi(dumplings), mapo tofu, leeks, cashew chicken, hot tea and much more. It was a delicious introduction into the unbelievably awesome cuisine in China. The rapport between all the teachers seemed to flow so well, but maybe that was because we were all delirious from jet lag.
Now, the most exciting part of the day was about to happen moving into our apartments. Packing suitcases for people who plan to live in a city for a whole year into a car, is a difficult challenge. Once again, Mr. Li came into the equation and helped us heave all of our bags into the car. Assisted by an agent from EF, we were taken to our apartment on the 19th floor of a 35 story building. Strange looks were given to us as we heaved an armada of bags into a tiny elevator on the first floor. Something I quickly realized after being in the country, is just how careful the Chinese are on their electricity usage. We had to stomp and clap our hands for any light to turn on in our apartment hallway. Hey, more power to them.Electricity jokes.
Our apartment has two bedrooms, one small kitchen and a living room. It is the perfect amount of space for two people. The apartment came somewhat furnished which with basic apartment necessities. We were told that our internet would be set up in a week or so, hence the delay on this post. To give you a better idea of the apartment, I have provided pictures below, but we were pleasantly surprised by the set up. A few hours later, jet lag caught up to us and we hit the hay.
Day 3:Today was a logistical day for all the new teachers in EF. Every foreign working person is required to get a medical check. Now, this medical check was nothing like the American standard of a medical check. All of the teachers arrive in this clinic and we all registered with our passports . We were then asked to take a piece of paper and visit all these separate rooms with different numbers on them. At every station, a doctor was supposed to check off the exam we had just received. It was quite comical because it seemed like we were being taken through an assembly line. We were prodded with a needle to take our blood and before we could say thank you we were taken to the next room where we were given a chest x-ray. All of the Chinese doctors and nurses seemed to wave their hands around and do their little medical dance and then we were sent on our way. All of the teachers were in stitches laughing after it was over because we felt like cows being herded around.
We also registered at a local bank and received our local debit cards. I would elaborate on this section but there was really nothing too exciting about this process. We got shiny new plastic cards. However, afterwards we walked across the street to EF’s headquarters which was pretty darn exciting. I don’t really know what my expectations were for the headquarters, but I was completely blown away by the professionalism of the office. We walked into a very large building, one which you could pick out from any building on Wall Street. There was a large Starbucks on the first floor and the ceilings were covered in beautiful marble. We headed up to the sixth floor where EF’s headquarters are. The whole floor is taken up by the company and there is a brightly lit front desk displaying all the countries where EF has headquarters, some of which include Stockholm, London and Beijing. The whole layout of the office looks like something a designer for Apple would create. There were lots of sleek meeting rooms with white chairs with a dash of color. There are no cubicles, just open spaces with long rows of desk. Each corporate employee is given a brightly covered tool box to store all their belongings. It was pretty neat.
Niamh( pronounced Neve) is a very bubbly Irish woman who has been spearheading all the new teachers orientation over the last week. Niamh gave us a basic orientation into EF and the company culture. We then were broken up into our groups and sent to our respective learning centers. Billy’s center is only four floors down in the same building as the headquarters. His commute is also a twenty-minute walk from our apartment. My center is a few subway stops away from our apartment. A very tall Chinese man( right? yes, he was tall), picked me up in his car and took me to our center, but first we had to stop at Starbucks so he could get a mocha cappuccino. Starbucks rules all. His English was perfect and we chatted about life. His father was in the oil business and he lived in Tulsa, OK for all of his highschool career. Small world.
My center is located in another large building, one similar to our headquarters, but my center is not nearly as big. There are a total of ten teachers and all of them are from the U.K., South Africa and Sweden. I am the only American at this center. Reppin. They were all very friendly and seemed very excited for a new teacher to be coming to the center.
By far the most exciting experience of my time in Beijing thus far was meeting all the students at the center. I will be teaching adult men and women, most of whom are in the corporate working world. All of the Chinese students were so eager and enthusiastic about meeting me. They smiled and everyone looked at me happily as I walked through. They shook my hand and asked me what my name was, where I was from, etc. And I thought southern hospitality was the best. I felt like a celebrity.
As mentioned before, my center is much smaller but it still carries the same atmosphere as the headquarters and other schools. There are open glass classrooms and brightly colored walls. I also found out that all the teachers at every center have a their picture featured at the front of the office. So, each time I walk into my center I will be greeting a huge black and white picture of my face. Oh, the joy. By the time all my introductions were made, it was getting late and my stomach was rumbling. I called Billy to see if he was done at his center but his boss had invited him out to drink Tsing Tao( Chinese beer) with some of his co-workers. My friend Sedona and I headed to a Korean BBQ place near our apartments and feasted on some vegetables and meat. Once again, exhaustion set in and I hit the hay.
I know this was a lot of information and i promise my posts will be more concise and well written later. I just had to get all my thoughts out about our first few days here! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask! Missing everyone so very much!