After a short eleven hour flight from Seattle, I arrived Thursday afternoon at the Beijing Capital Airport. Despite the best advice of friends, I hopped right into a taxi - because I packed entirely too many bags to carry on the train! The taxi ride was uneventful but long, as there was heavy traffic at the airport and in the city.
I got to the Conference Center Hotel just as the sun was setting over the city. Luckily, I arrived just in time to get dinner before the hotel's restaurant closed. The food was good and very reasonably priced. I was able to get a huge plate of sizzling vegetables with rice and tea for 23 Yuan (that's less than $4US).
This morning I explored the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU) campus and 五道口 (Wudaokou) - the shopping area just off campus. It was every bit the bustling metropolis that I expected. Crossing the street seems like a tricky endeavor - the red and green walking men at the crosswalks seem to be optional advisories. In fact, most people seem to cross with the 'don't walk' signal. The throngs of pedestrians along with erratic traffic make for an exciting walk!
Not surprisingly, I found a 星巴克 (Starbucks), and I was able to sit down to enjoy my morning latte in a cafe that looked like it could have been in a quiet Seattle neighborhood!
This afternoon I experienced a bit of bureaucracy as I registered for my course. I visited four different offices in three different buildings to say "I'm here", pay for tuition, get the payment statement notarized and have my 学生证 (student ID) made. (A note to anyone who wants to study at BLCU: There is a box of *free* SIM cards for your mobile phone at the registration office.)
All is not perfect in the Northern Capital, though. I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the poor air quality. Most of you have probably heard of the big 'orange cloud' that was over Beijing for the past week or so. It has dissipated, but I still find the air a bit ... 'thick'. Apart from environmental causes, automobiles and ubiquitous smokers also have a detrimental effect on air quality here. A high pressure system moving over Beijing is supposed to improve the situation. I certainly hope so because I need to start training for a marathon in Seattle in June!
I'm currently writing to you from the BLCU Library, so I'm not able to transfer the pics from my phone or camera. I promise to find a way to do that soon!
I plan on exploring more of Wudaokou tomorrow, and I'll be studying through the weekend because I have a placement exam first thing on Monday morning. I'll keep you updated!