Yesterday, I embarked on an adventure that brought me to a part of Beijing that I had not yet explored, introduced me to a native Bejinger who owned a bike store owner and had an Ausie English accent, and then exploited me as a pawn in the solicitation of numerous likely stolen, second-hand bicycles. However, I did manage to come away with my new best friend. Meet the Flying Pigeon.
Although it’s breaks are rather squeaky and the chain fell off on the second day, my new friend has allowed me to finally break free of the agony of Beijing’s public transportation system. I have now been elevated, although only slightly, on the transportation value-chain that overflows this city’s endless network of highways, streets and alleys. Although the volume of cars, busses, trucks, scooters, modernized and motorized rickshaws, bicycles and people is at a constant high, the people in Beijing are like a large school of fish: perpetually swimming elbow to elbow, but somehow never crashing. Hopefully I will never crash, as helmets cease to exist in this school.
Did I mention my new friend cost me 20 George Washingtons? Yes, that is $20 for all of you who are unaware of the president that graces the U.S. $1 bill. Last I checked, you couldn’t even fill up half of your gas tank for that much.
After climbing the Mutianyu portion of the Great Wall yesterday, I had the liberating experience of riding a toboggan down a giant slide. On this perfectly warm day, with blue skys and a slight breeze, the five minute ride down the mountainside gave me a eye-level view of the natural vegetation and wildflowers. For a brief moment, a sense of childhood freedom and euphoria came over me, as the hardships I’ve been facing during my first week in Beijing suddenly melted away.
Click here to see a video of the Toboggan Ride.
After an official week of class has come to an end, I decided to cap the week with a uniquely Chinese, but rather touristy adventure. My mission: to climb the Great Wall of China. Although I had done it before as a child, I vaguely remembered the hundreds of trinket stands that littered the pathway up to the main entrance.
Slowly jogging my memory with the attention seeking shop keepers and the almost 5 km. walk up to the wall, I was engulfed with a sense of belittlement upon reaching a portion of the wall that enabled me to see miles and miles into the distance on either side.
Not only did the expansive sky seem to be never ending, but also, the greatest of walls appeared to twist, turn, climb and descend the mountainous terrain. As soon as I climbed to the top of a hill and up through the narrow staircase that lead me to a watch tower, I was able to see the indefinite continuation of the wall, which I had to keep reminding myself, was build entirely by hand.
Despite the centuries upon millennia of harsh weather and hundreds of millions of tourist, all of whom have left their marks, this wall has been able to withstand immense physical forces as well as other forces that came as a result of political and social turmoils throughout the dynasties.
I found the trip to be a quintessential reminder of my intention for moving to Beijing and confirmation of philosophies in life. One must always be mindful of the fact that with any self-developed and maintained will power, there is a possibility for sheer greatness. A greatness so profound that it can truly endure the most strenuous of physical, and on occasion, non-physical forces. And with that internal fire burning strong, fortune and happiness come. Ironically “good fortune” peaches greeted me at the bottom of wall.
Culture shock often comes in a variety of forms, but I find the most amusing to be the simplest of objects. Here are some of the things that have amused me over the past few days:
Mini pastries shaped like penguins. There were also hedgehogs, but people take a liking to spiny creatures.
Live turtles sold inside of the subway station. Apparently they are for eating, yet I’m hoping they are to assume the role of being a nice turtle friend.
Squat toilets. You would think that installing a porcelain hole in the floor would be just as easy as an upright toilet.
A strange stuffed Bambi standing on the side of the street. Oh yes, it didn’t have ears…
Today was the first day that a high dose of anxiety did not commence my day. For the first time since finishing my masters program over a year ago, I found myself a student again. Waking up at the crack of dawn I had scrambled eggs, manto (steamed bun) and doujiang (soy milk) for breakfast. Shortly after finishing my meal, I was escorted though the chaotic jungle that is known as Beijing rush hour traffic.
Quite quickly I was faced with the electrifying torment of the overly crowded subways, as the notion of personal space ceases to exist and you are equivocated to merely a sardine. So important it is to fit all swimming sardines into their cans, that Beijing has designated a portion of its work force to ensure that each eager fish is appropriately directed to it’s can, squeezed in to be sealed close and finally shipped off to it’s consumer.
However, one jovial aspect of the experience was the realization that it cost me roughly $0.30 to ride the subway. And to think metro fares in New York are over eight times that cost…
Upon arriving at school, I was immediately welcomed into a demanding, yet interesting classroom environment. Finally a sense of relief and eagerness to learn overtook the anxiety and stress that had characterized my first few days in Beijing. For now, I have been given a purpose to my daily life and the focus of my attention could be directed towards the improvement of my language skills; one of my primary intentions for moving to Beijing.
Despite the challenges that will confront me on a daily basis, I must always stay conscious of the fact that I have sole control over my thoughts, emotions and actions. The external forces of life in Beijing cannot be changed, but if I am able to experience and live each of my days to the greatest of their potential, I will be able to grapple with the affect that the incontrolable forces would otherwise have. And so, although the challenges seem endless and my inner-strength is slowly beginning to grow, I finally started the marathon that for so long I have wanted to run.
Last night was my first night out in Beijing and for the four hours that I was being guided through the streets of Sanlitun, I felt I was in either Argentina or Berlin, but certainly not the capital of China. Seeing that the weather was quite perfect (a pleasant 76 degrees), the evening yearned for a rooftop bar. I give you Migas. A seemingly delicious, Spanish-inspired restaurant with a beautiful rooftop bar.
Unfortunately my camera battery was dead, thus giving the photo credits to www.neo2.es.
While being introduced to people ranging from a Canadian diplomat to a chef from Spain to a like-minded French sculptor, I felt I was in some sort of “shabu shabu” melting pot. Although English was the common tongue, I found myself speaking una mezcla de Español, un peu Français, 一点中文, and English for the words that remained unknown. Granted I had arrived in the capital city a mere 24 hours prior, my mind was in a bit of a tizzy and could hardly keep my languages filed correctly. Astonishingly enough, my smorasborg of languages seemed to be understood by those to whom I was speaking. Although it must be noted, despite the minimal amount of native Chinese in attendance, I was pleasantly surprised by the kindness, personal motivation and intriguing topics that filled each of my conversations. Considering my introduction to this city over the past 36 hours, I am certainly looking forward to the people I meet and the opportunities they bring my way.
And so I’m off. After perhaps one of the most chaotic days I’ve had in years, I am finally packed and ready to leave my home in Los Angeles for a new adventure in Beijing. Appropriately, tonight I had one of my favorite Chinese experiences to commence my trip and calm my nerves: a $20 hour-long foot massage. Although, tomorrow will be long, the other side of the rainbow awaits an exciting new land that will teach me, inspire me and change me, hopefully for the better.
Until next time, 再见。