For those of you that haven’t heard, I’m officially in China! It’s my third full day in China and I’ve already moved into an apartment and found a job (I’ve been busy). But before I tell you all about what I’ve been up to the last few days, I thought I’d fill you all in on my “welcoming” arrival.
My last week in America was extremely hectic. I don’t know why I was surprised that there were issues with AYC getting my work visa. I guess I just thought that since I was actually following the rules this time and had a job and housing, my work visa might go a bit smoother. Like I’ve said for the millionth time: nothing in China is ever easy or simple. From problems with my health forms, to issues with diplomas, it was a rough last few weeks. I won’t go into the details, but lets just say there were a lot of panicked phone calls and emails on my end. Let’s just hope I can get my work visa before I leave for Tibet so that I don’t have to go to Hong Kong TWICE.
On top of these problems, I needed to pack a years worth of clothing, shoes and toiletries into two suitcases and one backpack. Since my flight wasn’t leaving until 8:3o pm, I may or may not have left the packing until the last-minute… I had all of my clothing, shoes and toiletries organized; however, it wasn’t until I was about to leave that we realized that my suitcases were both 20 lbs overweight. Apparently toiletries and shoes are very heavy. In a frantic rush, I began pulling out shoes and clothing in an attempt to make my suitcases lighter. It was a disaster, and I ended up leaving almost an hour later than I wanted to. Thankfully, I got to the airport in plenty of time to check in and board my flight.
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After an extremely long flight, I finally arrived in China! I was expecting to arrive in the fancy international airport, but I definitely arrived in the dumpiest of the three airports in the Beijing complex. It was extremely humid inside, and somewhat dingy and dirty. My first stop was to find a China Construction Bank ATM, which partners with Bank of America for free ATM withdrawals. I loaded all of my luggage onto a cart and attempted to ask random airport employees where I could find a CCB ATM. The only problem was that I didn’t know the Chinese name for CCB, and I was constantly harassed by men following me around yelling “TAXI!!! TAXI!!!”. No, I don’t really feel like getting ripped off by an unlisted cab tonight, thanks for asking. Eventually one woman told me that there was a CCB ATM on the second floor, and I took the elevator up to go find it. When I finally found the ATM I couldn’t withdraw any money. What?! Eventually a man came up to me and told me the ATM had run out of money. Of course, it’s Sunday. Most banks refill ATMs every Monday, so by Sunday night, most are out of money. I eventually went to a currency exchange booth and paid about $10 to have my money exchanged so that I could take a cab to my friend Mark’s apartment.
After exchanging my money, I headed out of the airport and into… a torrential downpour. I easily found a legitimate taxi, and settled into a long ride. For most of the ride, I attempted to have a conversation with my cab driver, who was a native Beijinger and was almost impossible to understand. The drive took twice as long as normal because we were forced to drive about 15 mph on the freeway due to the raging monsoon. Every car on the road had hazard lights on, because the rain was so incredibly heavy that normal lights wouldn’t do.
Eventually we made it to Wudaokou and I was able to call Mark with my cab driver’s phone. I handed him my phone to dial the number, and I made a mental note that he “forgot” to give me back my phone. We eventually stopped under the subway overpass, where Mark would lead me to his apartment. As I was getting out of the car, I asked for my phone back and the cab driver said, “Oh! here you go!” and set it just inside my camera bag. I scanned the car seats to see if I had left anything, and set all of my things on the sidewalk to wait. As I was waiting, I had a horrible realization: my phone was nowhere to be found! I checked literally EVERYWHERE. My cab driver must have slipped it into his sleeve rather than into my bag!!!
While it was an awful feeling to lose my old iPhone 4, I was somewhat comforted by the fact that it was on the fritz anyway. I had brought my mom’s old unlocked iPhone 4s to use with me in China. While I would’ve gotten a bit of money by selling my old iPhone, at least I didn’t lose the one I was planning on using.. or my wallet, or my camera, or my passport. While I was very upset at my not-so-welcoming introduction to Beijing, I was so incredibly exhausted that I was past the point of tears. At least Mark would be coming to get me soon.
An eternity later, Mark showed up and helped me grab the smaller suitcase, as I lugged my giant suitcase and two backpacks through the rain towards his hidden apartment. His apartment is a solid 5 minute walk behind the Wudaokou U-Center, but in a monsoon with luggage, it took almost 15 minutes. With no umbrella, I got a lovely shower on the walk over, and gave my sperrys a nice bath in the solid four inches of dirty water we had to slosh through for the majority of our walk. At least all of my clothes were in plastic compressor bags!
After what seemed like hours, we finally arrived at Mark’s apartment to a room with.. no electricity. Not only were there no lights, the lack of electricity also meant no air conditioning and no internet. The two of us stumbled into his pitch-black sauna of an apartment, exhausted, and soaking wet. “Welcome to Beijing!” Mark laughed, and for a moment I questioned my life choices.