Progress report: I have made a total of two native Chinese friends ( soon to increase ), found a church, learned some Korean, nearly been scammed ( by some ladies wanting to “practise their English” over a coffee ), lost a phone ( bought just before coming to Beijing ), lost and recovered my wallet ( not before cancelling the cards ), and had my laptop die ( now repaired ). I’m getting a bit sick of canteen good and my bike is beginning to make noises like a rattle snake, but on balance life is getting easier, and the drowning sensation is less frequent/intense.

It feels like an age since I unlocked my room in the international dorm at 8am after an 18 hour overnight flight, I was left standing in a bare white room on the 6th level, functional furnishings, a select 35 kilos of my life on the floor, an alien city out the window. I wondered why exactly I was in China and how this place could ever be home, and thought that maybe I should have selected something else on my UCAS application.

A room with a view ( of the canteen out back )
A room with a view ( of the canteen out back )

I call it the Korean Embassy because it’s actually full of Koreans. There are Europeans, Australians, a few South Americans I think, met an Iranian, people from all over, but it feels very Korean. Most of them speak flawless Mandarin ( sounds flawless to me in any case ).

It’s like halls in England, with an Asian edge. My room is basic. My bed is harder than a board and always catches me out when I sit on it. Sleeping in a bush on the Great Wall was more comfortable. I can’t decide if it’s good for my back or destroying my lower spine ( no wonder the Chinese get up early ). I have an en suite, but this is Chinese en suite. It’s a wet room, so everything gets soaked when you shower, even if you don’t thrash about like a whale. And the hot water is only on at certain times (7-9, 15-17, 20-00), but I have a bowl if I’m up later: can boil water and add cold and wash my face and hair squatting on the floor of the wet room. There’s a sink, but you can’t drink the tap water. It’s bottled or boiled ( I think boiled water is OK, I hope it is, I’ve been using it for my tea for over a month.. ).

Getting native
Getting native

The rooms get cleaned every other day, which sounds great, until you’re lying in bed at 9 and the Fuwuyuan comes round knocking to see if you want the place swept. Especially bad if you’ve had a tipple and a sing-along the night before and would like a bit of a lie-in. Still, I’m grateful that I don’t have to clean the wet-room etc. There’s WiFi, but I only have 20GB for free, after that you have to pay. My use of Spotify, frequent Skype calls, and Youtube addiction eats through the allowance pretty quickly.

“En Suite”

After a trip to IKEA the place is looking a bit more perky. There’s nothing like the comfort of Swedish flat-pack furniture to make somewhere feel like home. For the record, IKEA sells exactly the same stuff ( I could have bought my first year uni room ) but is laid out differently. They still sell meatballs which I devoured with chopsticks in a Sino-Swedish homesick frenzy. Anyhow, a rug, a blanket, some cushions, and a clothes rack have done wonders to my little white box.

Looking pretty homey
Looking pretty homey
Cultural crossover
Cultural crossover

While my room feels more homely, Beijing as a whole is starting to feel more like home, or at least less alien. Those moments when I think “Oh crap, I’m in China” happen less often ( still daily ), and I’m getting to know our little corner of this teaming metropolis.

The Chinese have a Chengyu 成语, a four character idiom which translates literally ( and somewhat clumsily ) as: [to take] the four seas as home 四海为家. It means “feeling at home anywhere”, and I like to think I’m not doing a bad job of seeing this place as my home, for my year here at least. Soon I’ll be just like one of them Beijingers.

One of said Koreans, Jin.
One of said Koreans, Jin.

Skates

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