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.
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.. ).
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.
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.
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.