Hey everyone! Sorry for the delayed update. These past couple weeks have been absolutely crazy (as I’ll talk about in a minute), and I haven’t had any time to sit down and write this post. Fortunately, our Sunday today is free (thanks to a mix-up with passports and SIM cards and timing), so I have some time to finally write this post. I’m mostly going to stick to sharing funny/meaningful anecdotes and stories from my life here in Beijing. I’ll eventually do a “day in my life” -type post once things finish settling into a routine (a.k.a., when I finally know how a day in my life actually goes), but until then, I’ll mostly just be telling little stories!
I’m also combining weeks 1 and 2 into this post… because there has been a lot going on, and this way I can cover as much as possible without overwhelming everyone with posts.
So some of the highlights of week 1 were:
- Getting to see the Lincoln Memorial again after more than three years!
I haven’t been back to Washington D.C. since I visited there during the National History Day competition in 2016, and it was really fun to get to go back during Pre-Departure Orientation! Although most of our day was spent at the American Councils (our implementing organization for the program) office, we had a little bit of time to explore D.C., Georgetown, and the surrounding area. It was a great opportunity to get to know my fellow NSLI-Yans better, and see such an important and historic city.
- The suitcase that wouldn’t unlock.
So after our long flight directly from D.C. to Beijing, we hopped on a bus and rode directly to our dorms at Beijing Number 80 High School (where we’re staying here in Beijing). After dragging our 50-pound suitcases up the 6 (yes, you read that correctly, six) flights of stairs to our dorms, we finally started to get moved into the spaces that would be our rooms for the next 9 months.
Now before leaving D.C., I’d decided to lock my suitcases using the built-in locks that came as part of the suitcase. For my small carry-on bag and my medium-sized checked bag, this was a great arrangement! But for my large checked bag…
Flash forward to me sitting in my dorm room, trying to pry open my locked suitcase. For some reason the lock wouldn’t disengage even though I had the password correct, and I was absolutely freaking out. To make matters worse, all of my most important stuff for moving in (including hangers, books, bags, etc.) was all in that big suitcase. So after having a miniature mental breakdown, going to our local Carrefour (like a French Walmart chain, kind of) to buy more dorm supplies, and returning back up the 6 flights of stairs to my room, I was finally able to pry open the lock using my dorm room key. Whether or not it will permanently disable the lock on my big suitcase is… to be determined. But I managed to get my suitcase open so I’m happy about it, all things considered!!
- The Great Dumpling Disaster
So on our first full day here in Beijing, our NSLI-Y group headed from our dorms to the US Embassy, for a briefing, and to get to know some of the embassy staff. On the way to the embassy, we decided to stop for lunch at a bun-and-dumpling store. Being the overeager NSLI-Y student that I am, I was first in line to get food.
At the counter, I was struggling to understand how the menu worked. I knew what I wanted (Pork and Cabbage Dumplings), but I was unsure if the pricing was “per-plate” or “per-dumpling”. Trusting my instincts from my experience last summer (where you just stated how many dumplings you wanted), I ordered 8 pork-and-cabbage dumplings. This order was met with a look of surprise by the worker at the counter, who rung up the order with a look of surprise on her face. Something about the way she looked at me, combined with the total price of the dumplings, led me to change the order to 4 pork-and-cabbage dumplings at the last second.
A couple minutes later, I was called up to the counter, and presented with 4 PLATES of dumplings. Each plate had somewhere around 15 dumplings on it, leaving me with 60 Pork-and-Cabbage Dumplings to deal with. Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who’d royally messed up (shout out to Bryan and Alec for making an identical mistake), and I ended up having a mukbang (basically where you sit down and eat a L O T of food) with Alec and Bryan to tackle the amount of food we’d ordered. We finished everything but around 15-20 dumplings, which all things considered was a success. I definitely learned a lot about asking questions, though, and it motivated me to actually learn the measure words for different menu items in the future.
- Meeting the U.S. Ambassador to China (by accident)
So once we arrived at the embassy (after the dumpling disaster), we were greeted by a couple U.S. Foreign Service Officers. These FSOs talked to us about everything from staying safe while living in China to how the pathway to becoming a Foreign Service Officer works. All in all it was a really engaging presentation, and it was really interesting to get to talk to people who were actively pursuing a career that I’m interested in.
About 3/4 of the way through our talk at the embassy, a group of people walk into the back of the room. Our FSO presenters balked at the sight of them, immediately standing up and greeting them. We all turned around, and were greeted by the U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA. At first he looked a little confused, walking up to the front of the room and greeting us politely. He spent some time answering questions and telling us about his background before becoming an ambassador, and it was very interesting to get to talk to him. He was very professional, but spent the entire presentation looking a little… confused? Perplexed? Out of place?
After the ambassador left, the Foreign Service Officers explained what was going on. Apparently, the ambassador had been supposed to go to a meeting in the basement of the embassy, but had somehow ended up in the room where we were having our presentation instead. It was a complete fluke, but also a really awesome opportunity to get to meet someone who we otherwise might never come into contact with. I won’t lie- I spent the entire time the ambassador was there freaking out because of how cool it was. I mean- it’s not every day you get to talk to the US Ambassador to China, right?
Maybe we’ll get to see more of the ambassador in the future- I don’t really know. But I DO know that I had one of the craziest/most exciting experiences of my life getting to talk to him and ask him questions while at the embassy.
Flash forward to week 2 (the week I just finished). School started Monday, and has been a wild rush of classes, meals, self-study, and (barely any) free time ever since. I spend Monday to Friday in classes from 7:15 AM to 5:10 PM (usually), with an hour-and-a-half break for lunch from 12:00 to 1:30 PM. It’s a lot of work, with so many tests and lots of little characters to memorize and understand. But I’m adapting really well! I’m in the advanced-level class (called the 高级班 in Chinese), which has been really rewarding but also sosososo much work. You see, while my speaking and listening are pretty well-refined and advanced, my reading and writing are… much less so. I’ve spent more than 2.5 hours every night practicing for our 听写 tests, where we hear words and have to write the characters and pinyin for them. It’s a LOT, and I’m working hard to make up ground as the lowest-level reading/writing student in the advanced class. For my peers, it’s still a lot of work, but less so, because they already know how to read and write a lot more characters than I do. But it’s still rewarding despite the difficulty- I can already feel my reading and writing levels improving, and I’m starting to settle into a groove here in Beijing.
This week didn’t necessarily have any funny anecdotes like my first week did, but I did get to see a North Korean Passport while at the Chinese visa office, which was very cool. China and North Korea have much more stable relations than the U.S. and North Korea (obviously), so there is more interactions here between Beijing and the “Hermit Kingdom”. It’s been very interesting to see the relationship between these two countries from a Chinese perspective, as compared to the US-exclusive perspective I grew up learning about. I think there’s real value in seeing relationships like the US-China relationship or the US-North Korea relationships from a different perspective, and that’s already been one of the most interesting things to experience during my time here in Beijing. Everywhere you go, whether it be Utah, China, or North Korea, individuals are just looking to live and be happy. Different governments have different values and priorities, whether they be keeping public peace, promoting domestic trade and economics, or creating an environment of stability and unity- but in the end, people still care about the same things wherever you go: living a happy, fulfilling, safe, and stable life. I can’t wait to gain more insight about things like this over the course of my 9 months here in Beijing.
Well… I don’t have much more to say. I’ll keep trying to update this blog weekly, but please bear with me if posts are late!!!! Our schedule is still settling into place, and it’ll be easier to post consistently when it does.
Catch you guys later!