Our writer has left the country on a short trip and will return soon with more riveting posts! Don’t go away – she’ll be back soon!
-Her Loyal Copy Editor
Our writer has left the country on a short trip and will return soon with more riveting posts! Don’t go away – she’ll be back soon!
-Her Loyal Copy Editor
To my dear friends and family who made clear their sorrow at the lapse in my writing — I’m back. Please forgive the intermission… If you weren’t already aware, I have recently moved back to China, with the intent of a more long term, but ultimately just as impermanent a stay as before. For the interest of those who might wonder what day-to-day is like in China, I’ll try my best to return to relating my thoughts on life as an ex-pat.
It’s kind of fun to be a celebrity. I don’t know if it’d be enjoyable long term, but it’s fun for a change. This afternoon I had a horrible hair day. I had let it dry while I slept, which often makes it more curly than normal, and kind of pretty. However today it turned out to just be messy and in the way. It really was a bad day though. However, in spite of that, everyone seemed to still act as if I’d walked off a Hollywood movie set. I went into the office to send a fax for mom, and Yinghua, our “English speaking secretary” (what it says under her job description on a sheet of paper I have of important iHep contacts) started speaking to the lady at the desk. We were just waiting for the fax to go through, and I started looking at a magazine there on CERN. I put it down, and when I looked up Yinghua said “We were just saying how beautiful you are” in the bashful almost embarrassed way so many Chinese girls have of saying things. I hadn’t really been paying attention, but I looked over at the other secretary. She obviously didn’t speak Chinese, but she beamed with pride as if she’d been the first to discover a momentous fact.
There’s a certain liberty afforded you when you realize that you’ll be a novelty whether or not your hair is perfect. The truth of the matter is, extremely few ex-pats make it as far west of Beijing as we are. There are probably 6 westerners on campus, and I know 4 of them. 3 will leave in about a month and go back to Minnesota!
The other side of this coin is, no matter what you do, you stand out. When I was in France, it was something of a compliment to have someone not pick you out immediately as an American. If you took just a couple extra minutes to dress in something besides jeans and a t-shirt when you went to town, and looked respectable like the rest of the very classy city, people would treat you like something more than just an irritating American. They appreciated when you didn’t stick out like a soar thumb. That’ll never happen here. I mean, I still like to dress nice, but there’s no point attempting to ‘fit in’. The nice thing is, it’s not like in India. When I went to the Taj Mahal I was harassed by other Indian tourists. ‘May I take a picture with you?’ both men and women would ask. “can a get a shot of you with my baby?”. It was the worst side of being a celebrity. It was kind of funny and cute at first, but after the crush and pleading of a couple hours, even unable to leave for more people asking for pictures, it got irritating. If you started to say no, they plead, and put on a look as if you were taking the bread right out of their mouth. This, coupled with the exhaustion of going shopping, made the whole experience just draining. If you picked anything up to look at it, but then decided not to buy it, they would plead, and beg. I appreciate people working for their income, and not just begging on the street if they can help it, but the whole experience was just draining. “If you don’t buy it, my family will go hungry tonight” it felt like they were always implying.
Here, they like to haggle and barter as much as the next country with an emerging free market, but even this evening, as we were some of the last people out of the market, mom decided she really didn’t want such and such an item, after the girl had brought it out to look at it. “I’m sorry, I just… it’s just not right. I’m sorry –“ expecting the girl to beg and plead that she buy it, or offer a better price. “No lady, that is okay” she smiled as if, ‘sure, it’s a game to sell it to you, but if you don’t want the thing, ya just don’t want it’.
The courtesy makes it a much more pleasant experience. People still stare at the two bazaar white ladies, and yes, even steal some pictures. But it is very much more rare that you feel harassed and irritated.
I’m really enjoying Beijing. There are things I miss, of course, in some ways it is very very different, but in others, it’s a very pleasant society to visit and be a part of for a while.
I’d really planned on writing about the weekend and our trip to the Wall and Forbidden city, but I need to go to bed. I’m trying to get up early and start work early, so I can get off early as well and have the late afternoon to go out with mom.
Today we went to the “Pearl Market” – which is something like one giant department store, but all different vendors inside. They also sell just about everything. On the 5th floor is supposedly heaps of pearls of all varieties and worth, but we didn’t make it up that far as we arrived just as it was being closed. We walked around the first floor just a little, and got a couple gifts, but ended up leaving and walking out to find some dinner. 5 huge platters for just over 10 bucks. I could get used to this!
Oh. Another quick little story before I fall asleep sitting up.
Mom and I chose a random restaurant on the second floor of some building. It’s extremely hard to know if anything is particularly good, because you don’t even know what they’re advertizing. They could be boasting the best dog meat in the city, and we’d walk in with just as much vigor. Well, in any case, we were seated and the menu’s and eventually food were brought out. Next to us were a couple of men, having some heated discussion. Not towards each other so much, as just very intense (also, rather loud). The one younger man was very into his point, making forceful hand gestures and getting right up in the other guys face. But as he finished whatever he was saying, he broke into a smile and relaxed, as if he’d been imitating some scene he’d seen, or telling a story of some intense moment he’d witnessed. Mom and I had both noticed them and were kind of analyzing what type of conversation it was. Mom’d thought it was an argument at first, and was worried it might break into fist-to-cuffs, but I’d noticed him before he’d gotten upset, and sure enough, the moment passed. We had just started going back to our own conversation, which had itself lulled for a moment, when the man turned to us and with the graceful gestures of a pleasant young gentlemen said “I’m sorry, excuse us” in broken English. He apologized for getting a little too boisterous and hoped we’d not been too worried or alarmed (This second part was mostly in Chinese, but the translation was unmistakable). Then went back to discussing, in an ever so slightly quieter a tone, whatever he’d been in the middle of discussing before. Mom and I both turned back to each other – amazed that we’d been so obvious in our interest in their conversation, as much as the response we’d garnered from them!
The two evenings this week Mom and I have just been utterly exhausted, and I just couldn’t stay awake to write more — but I’ve made notes about thigns not to forget to mention, so I’m hoping to write this evening and post tomorrow morning (your evening tomorrow). Wish me luck!
In any case, I am being successful in loading some pictures, if you’re interested. I was goign to make an album on facebook for people to see but, for some reason their pic. ap. is just too slow and convoluted for my poor limited broadband here.
The first place a group of them are located at is :
If you look to the right there’s a browse button, and you can click forward and back on that. There are maybe 15 pictures there.
I didn’t realize it when I opened the flickr account, but you’re relatively limited on space, which kind of makes sense for the purpose of the site, but I need more. So I’m loading a different, larger group of pics to a snapfish account. Anyone got a better idea for a good photo site? Taht was just the thing that came to mind, and I didn’t want to spend a lot of time on this. Anyway, here is the link:
Enjoy! I’ll be loading photos from the Forbidden City soon.
Miss you all!!
Mom dropped in to visit on Wednesday. She is doing a walk in France, and some language classes, so decided she might as well swing around THIS side of the globe, over the pacific, just as well as go around Atlantic style. The funny thing is, she could only get a ticket that made any sense going through Amsterdam, on to China, then BACK to Amsterdam and down to France. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Luckily, when on her wait to the airport Delta called her and asked if she would be willing to re-route through Japan (the route I took) as the volcano was again causing havoc. “Why of course. That’s what I wanted in the first place!”. They gave her some extra flyer miles, and all was good. Unfortunately, the plan that was coming from Japan, that would be used to take her back to Japan and eventually on to Beijing had … ‘problems’. It appeared that on its way to Minneapolis, two men had locked themselves in the bathroom and were not allowing anyone to come in or to leave. Under the fear of terrorism, the plane returned to Japan. So Japan air was hustling to find an alternate flight to ship 700 some passengers form Minneapolis to Tokyo on. It’s unclear whether it actually was terrorism. American news called it that, but then, any mishap these days can win that title now a days. Japanese news called them stow-aways, but how one becomes a stow-away, on a commercial flight, IN the passenger bay is beyond me. That’s more a feet than being able to slip weapons through security if you ask me!
In any case, mom arrived safely in Japan. Unfortunately, (or really, to her favor), by the time the flight arrived, it was too late to be booked on a connecting route to Beijing, so Japan Air booked her, and the rest of the passengers, in very nice hotels near the airport for the night. It added an extra day to travel, but I would have much preferred that on my trip. The last 4 hours on the continent hopper was such a drag for me. She arrived the next morning in Beijing, and I was at the gate, waiting as she walked through. More or less, all on schedule and as planned. Or re-planned. (That was the call I’d been waiting for the other night, late in the office when I was so tired).
The only hiccup was she left her iPod in the hotel in Japan, so we’re hoping it can get through Asian post without any more problems, and arrive here at the institute soon.
I worked Wednesday morning (or tried to. Soooo many little issues trying to set up your environment on the server here, and get what was working great on the us machines working here. Much frustration). Then the 4 of us went to lunch at the Expert Restaurant (a restaurant connected to the guest house where all the visiting researchers stay. One feels rather elitist dining under such a title, but the feeling soon is diminished when it is really just a restaurant on campus, like any other – there is no …. ‘checking of credentials’ to make sure one’s obtained a venerable enough status in the world of science before you’re allowed in ;))
After dining, I caught a taxi (air conditioned!) to the airport. I showed the driver the map with the Chinese writing telling him I where I wanted to go, and it was relatively un-eventful. I got the feeling he straightened up when he realized he was driving a foreigner. A minute into the drive he put on gloves and fastened his seat belt. It is an amazing experience being on the highway in Beijing. Well, being on the roads altogether! 5 years ago there were NO cars, and now, there’s an entire highway, and paved roads, with overpass and all the hoopla. None of the cars are thus more than 5 years old and so it gives everything a very new fresh look. Also it was amazingly sunny and bright, so the welcome mom had to the city was phenomenally biased to the good. As it should be when one enters a foreign land. My own welcome had been much more dreary and depressing. The trees looked greener, and the roads newer. Also, there is not so much traffic. It was 1 when I went to the airport, so not rush hour, but even so, a city of a few million, with a brand new road way – one could expect worse!
The new airport terminal as well is just gorgeous. Sweeping high ceilings, and all fresh and polished. Really quite lovely and impressive. The things they accomplished in such a short period of time is really quite amazing.
I found the gate I thought mom would be exiting from, and waited for my turn at the railing. Then didn’t budge for fear of losing my spot. I am listening to a book on the Napoleonic wars, and having that distraction made my wait tremendously more enjoyable. My feet got a bit tired, but other than that, it was fine – being air conditioned and cool helped as well. I stood and waited and tried to imagine how long it would take her to get through the baggage claim and security. My flight had been the only one left when I arrived, and my bag almost the first one off, so it’d been relatively fast for me. But 45 minutes of waiting made me wonder if I was waiting at the wrong gate. I decided I’d hold off till 3, and if she wasn’t there.
It got to 2:45 – “should I really wait till 3 exactly? Maybe just 2:50”
Got to 2:50 “it could take 45 minutes easy to get through … maybe I should just hold on a couple more”.
Got to 2:55 “almost an hour? She’s probably sitting outside a different gate, for the last 40 minutes, waiting for me….”
2:59 “I should start walking around the arrivals terminal…”
3:00 sharp – mom walks out the gate. What luck. JUST in time!
She was happy to see me, waiting for her. It is nice to have someone there waiting. She’d said not to worry about being there on time. If I had to work later, or couldn’t get on time, she’d just hang out, it was no big deal. But it looked like she really did like having me to pick her up right as she exited.
It’d been really hot on the plane, and it was a warm day, so we decided before rushing back on a taxi ride to iHep, to sit down and enjoy a couple minutes to relax. There was a very nice Starbucks, so, ya I know. I’m in China, but there isn’t ice other places, and there really isn’t coffee to speak of, and as we’ve already discussed, McDonalds doesn’t really hold the bill, so we decided it wouldn’t be too shameful to just enjoy one iced coffee before plummeting ourselves back into the east.
We sat down and enjoyed the cold iciness of it. She told me about her trip and the interesting engineering students from the UofM that were coming back to china for the summer. “We love the U! It’s just wonderful” they all said. Also interesting when she asked them if they remember the changes as they’ve come to China. “Do you remember before there were cars?”
“Are you kidding? I remember when I say my very first Car! It was quite an experience”.
She was interested to hear also what they thought of as China becoming a world power, and their development.
“China has come a long way. We were communist, but we are capitalists now!” (Dan and I both agree that it’s MORE capitalist, but it’s a very unique BRAND of capitalism…. [I call it a Red Capitalism]). “But China has a lot of things yet to learn from the US” they all agreed “until they understand the morality of doing the right thing and acting in accountability to others, we will never catch the US. It has a lot to learn about taking care of the old and not trampling on the poor”.
All very profound things to realize, as an undergraduate. Mom and I both agreed that understanding how to treat the under-classes is something that one acquires on the road to success. When you’re not worried about where YOUR next meal is coming from, and are confident in your survival, then you naturally can look to make sure no one else is in trouble as well. As the flight attendant says “Safely secure your oxygen mask before helping those around you”. It’s not a rule of thumb, but rather an instinctual thing that will come as China becomes more stable (instinctual implies a very unconscious effort – I don’t mean it that, but that it is something that will come as a result of solidified success, as more people become aware of the needs).
Ok. More work to do!!
Monday I checked out, and walked the few blocks down to the intersection, across a 6 lane street, and through the gates of the “Institute of High Energy Physics”. I walked through the campus and up to the main building. If you should ever visit – it’s the most modern looking one, with the dark green tinted windows. (See the picture from two posts ago).
I hauled my suitcase up to the 4th floor, down the hall and found the office we’d be working in. Coincidentally it was also the moment Dan (my professor, I’m only going to say it this time. Next time you’ll have to remember – sorry) chose to be walking in as well. He had just gotten in that morning, and was walking up to the office for the first time this visit as well. With him was Nick, a Swiss post-doc who is in China .. more or less permanently… till the end of his contract. For those of you not in physics, a person generally gets their undergrad, goes to grad school, pics up their masters after two years of intensive course study, then continues with a couple more years of research before defending their thesis and being awarded their PhD. (this can take anywhere for 5 to sometimes 8 years – if you’re unlucky enough to get a slow professor, or have your experiment canceled on you, or finished, or not even start, as is the case with a bunch of students at the LHC who’ve waited years for some real data, it can take even longer). After you get a PhD you usually get post-doctoral positions where you continue doing research for a couple years, and then apply for tenure-track type jobs on your way to becoming professors. This is where a lot of people ditch and go to industry, as professor line jobs are few and far between. Nick, Dan, Dan and I decided to set the bags down, and go to lunch – Yinghua, our English speaking liaison with the institute, was out of the office. Dan version 2 is a graduate student at the University of Rochester in NY. He was an undergrad at the UofM, which is kind of fun. (dan v. 2 will be referred to as Ambrose, from here on out, in deference to his last name).
The wonderful thing about the restaurants around here is, there’s always a great abundance of variety, and it’s all very cheap. When the 4 of us go out, Nick orders about 5 or so dishes out of one big picture menu book the waitress brings, which are then always served family style. So family style that, we often don’t’ bother to use personal plates and just pick out of them with our chopsticks as we want bite by bite. This meal we had a plate of fresh cut cucumbers in soy sauce, a steamed leafy green vegetable in a vinegar/soy sauce with peanuts (very yummy), fried rice (very restaurant specific – always a bit unique), shrimp on a stick, served in a bed of salt lit on fire (that was for the boys – Nick pulled off the head and stuck the skewer in his mouth, pulling off the tail it after he’d removed the thing from the skewer — Dan has a bit less adventurous demeanor and removed the legs/tentacles, the head and tail, and skinned it before partaking).
I think we had 5 or so dishes. Plenty, with some to bring home. It was all very filling. It also seems to be no problem at all to order vegetarian – I wasn’t sure what to expect in country, but I’m enjoying the food so far.
Ok. Almost 8pm. Past my bedtime. More later.
I think I might have been a bit hard on China thus far. If you stop and look around you it’s amazing the things they’ve achieved in the last few years – and I should be appreciative of their hospitality. I admit that when I first landed, I was absolutely exhausted. And the smog was pretty thick. The next day the smog was even thicker and perhaps the overcast sky made it worse – but buildings I’d seen from my hotel window the day before were no longer visible. The dreariness and unpleasantness of it was kind of overwhelming – that and arriving by yourself and missing your husband and all was a little damper on everything too. Yesterday it rained a bit, You could see the bank of clouds obscuring what was left of the horizon, rolling over the buildings and to my great relief, it actually started to clear things up. It rained a little bit in the morning/afternoon, then cleared up, and last night after being in the office later, I walked home in relatively fresh feeling air. This morning, to my great astonishment, if you looked up, the sky was actually bluish! (there is still a haze around the edges, but at least when you look through at near the azimuthal – maybe a 45 degree spread, it is bluish. ) And sunny. I really hate to admit it, but that gloom and dust covering smog and gray just took it out of me. (and HOW does micro. Word have ‘azimuthally’ but not ‘azimuthal’ in it’s dictionary??)
I’m told it can come back quick. Actually, there are a lot of very impressive and positive things about my stay, already, and it’s looking better.
Saturday and Sunday I pretty much just walked around and got my bearings. I woke up at 2 and 3am both mornings, and so it was way too early to get up, so I would often just call Josh or do some reading in the mornings, then try and take a nap. This was relatively successful and at 9 I got up again for good. The problem was that I was also getting exhausted by 4 in the afternoon, so my days started extremely early, and ended equally early. I am trying to study for the physics GRE, so I did that and called Josh – and did some catch up on emails and stuff I’d kind of pushed to the side.
People often say that no matter where you are, the one thing you can count on is that a Coke always tastes like a Coke, wherever you are. It’s not true. I had a diet coke on China Air from Tokyo to Beijing (I hate to admit it, but I’ve gotten very used to the taste of Diet coke since I’ve spent so much time around Josh 😉 and granted I was absolutely exhausted having finished a 12hr flight from Minenapolis to Tokyo, but, the diet coke tasted SO horrible I couldn’t even finish my drink. And it was from a can! Usually you can trust the canned stuff, even if the fountains sometimes mix it wrong! I chalked it up to exhaustion, but I’ve since had diet, and normal coke and they all taste icky. Haha. Good way to kick the habit!
I also admit that on Sunday I was feeling a bit glum and kind of wanted something familiar, so I went to McDonalds. I generally try and stay local, but… I just wasn’t really feeling it. Outside of the tourist industry, English is still very much unspoken by the locals. When it was my turn in line, I tried to point at what I wanted (a Sunday and a small fries) and the girl looked confused. She traced out a square in the air and I realized she was wondering if I wanted the picture menu. That’s a trick to remember! I nodded yes. She brought it over and I pointed at the stuff I wanted. She rung it up and I waited for my order. Everything else in China is pretty amazingly well priced, but McDonalds is just about equal (often it’s more expensive in other countries, so that’s actually nice – in France it was exorbitant!) 14 RNB ($1 ~6-7 RMB, but you should factor in the conversion fees and stuff). McDonalds also often has a unique menu for it’s expats to savor from. Apparently, in China you can get a side of corn with just about every meal (instead of fries? The healthy alternative?). Also, something I’ve never seen in my life is what looks to be watered down orange juice (but it looks fizzy) with a twist of soft serve on top. Where’d THAT come from MickyD? I think I’ll have to sample one before I leave. They also serve what would generally thought of as KFC chicken (roasted or breaded and crumbly, drumstick style). The funny thing was that of the 6-7 meal sandwiches they offered, the minority were actually hamburgers.
(I don’t know what hte problem is, but I had some pictures to load — they’re not working. So I’ll load them later)
I got my fries and Sunday and sat down. Sad note. They don’t serve Heinz, and I hate to say it but… that really IS the American sauce, and the other stuff, and I mean ALL the other stuff, just ain’t the same. Whatever it was they were getting from their China supplier tasted like it’d been sweetened with pineapple juice. Maybe it rates higher in Chinese test groups as it ‘s closer to a sweet and sour or something.. who knows. Also very interesting was the fries were probably a ¼ as salty as I’m used to getting. It was a little disappointing. You don’t go to McDonalds to be healthy. You go there to get happy. Kind of like an Adventist bar. No one goes to a bar to drink mineral water! I want my salt and my Heinz and that poison flavored coke! It was fun to visit, but it didn’t really do the trick for me Sunday. I walked back to the hotel, which by the way was very nice indeed, and skyped Josh. Then was proud to have made it to 6(?) before I fell asleep.
Well, I’m very tired, but I’m going to try and write anyway. This Jetleg thing is getting a bit tiresome. I wake up at 5am bright and awake, which honestly I kind of enjoy for a change. But I’m waiting for a call, (I have to be in the office for this, because I don’t have internet at the apartment I’m staying in) and … it’s 8:15 my time, and I’m just dying. I was actually ready for bed at 5pm, but I’d already made arrangements for the call, so … what to do.
In any case, here I am.
So where’d I leave off? Friday night? That’s as far as I got??
Well, Saturday morning I woke up at 5 or something in the morning, but tried to go back to sleep. I just didn’t feel like rising and shining THAT early. I eventually got up, dressed, and went downstairs for some breakfast. Then went to the pool they had at the hotel. Everything was a bit old, and I wondered if it was out of season, or of the hotel was built for an audience it just wasn’t seeing. The pool would have been fancy when it was new, but now it was getting old without proper repair – mildew in on the ceiling and pealing paint type of stuff. There were people out cleaning the outdoor pool, (the cotton wood trees here are apparently very abundant, and the cotton is everywhere – including the water). So I went to the indoor pool. Neither of them were heated. And although indoors was a bit warmer, the water wasn’t what one would call … well warm! I got in and did some Lappish type swimming – but then realized that the joy of being in a pool resides, as a child, in the play partners you’re with, and as an adult, in the sun, warmth and relaxation abilities it can offer. Other than that, if you can’t really do laps in it… there serves no greater purpose. This pool was inconvenient to lap in, was indoors (in a not terribly pleasant indoors at that) and was a bit cold. All the pleasure I could gain had been gained in a few minutes, and so I got out and headed upstairs for a warm shower. The general gloom of a deeply smog-ridden city kind of takes the general joy out of being outside. It was still unclear to me how much of the sun that I wasn’t seeing was from smog or overcastting clouds, or a mix of the two – but it was generally not a pleasant weather to be out in.
So I’m writing this in the office at the institute, and just got another, in a long line of emails today. Note that this is the first day I’ve been in the office, so I’m still getting accustomed to the practice of it all. Anyway, I get this email, this morning, this afternoon – well actually, a few times both this morning AND this afternoon – but it’s completely in Chinese, and every time, it’s the same basic format. I figured that either 1 – it was not to me personally, or the writer would know full well my ability to comprehend Chinese, as extremely limited as it is (and by limited, I mean, if you’re not gesturing and looking me in the face, I don’t understand), ends at ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. So no one would purposefully send me this thing. And two – if it’s part of the collaboration chain email, someone will inform me if it was something I should be paying attention to.
Well, finally this evening I asked Dan, the professor who’s essentially sponsoring me, if he’d been getting it, and what it was. “I’ve been getting it periodically through out the day as well, and haven’t really paid attention, but I’ll run it through a translator to make sure”. I did the same.
This is what it was :
Dear users, Hello! Order to facilitate timely understanding of your own wireless network traffic, we per hour wireless Internet access network to provide you notice a large flow. As follows: your laptop (MAC address 00:25:4 B: 91:8 D: E1, IP address —.—.—.–) today (May 18) 19:00-19:59 network traffic to 110MBytes ( see Appendix).
(followed by a list of ip addresses, to-, from- and how much data was passed).
– – –
Essentially, this is how I’m choosing to translate it :
“Dear neighborhood network guest,
We realize you’re an American, and are accustomed to the freedom of usage and prolific surfing of the internet that capitalism and a free market afford you, and we’re trying our darndest to be understanding – but here, Big Brother tracks your every step, (see IP Index of your last 10 most data heavy sites) and we, as part of the institute, don’t want to get in trouble with our comrades in the government office. We also are extremely limited in our bandwidth capabilities as, you should already be aware, we are not operating in a free market and thus must thank the government humbly for the inter-web access they grant us. As such, please be understanding that for this reason, we’ve blocked all recreational uses of the inter-webs (Hulu and facebook) to prevent you from being tempted to use up more than your due share of the space. As you see below, we are tracking your every step, so don’t think you’re being all sneaky. Also, don’t spend too much time on those video skype calls with your husband.
Your comrade in The Red.
– – –
If nothing else, this has been an INTERESTING trip. And I’m only on the 3rd day! YAY!!!
Wow. Time just TICKS by when you’re tired!
So. Saturday morning I took a warm shower after the pool, gathered my things and took a taxi to the hotel I’d be staying at over the weekend, while I waited the permanent apartment be readied.
Can’t do it. My head hurts. I’m out.
Till next time! Maybe more informative next time on here… this was kind of ramble-ish. Haha. That’s what you get for keeping me up late! It’s 8:45 for goodness sakes!
It’s a gloomy prospect to be a month away from one’s husband, and it certainly doesn’t improve the feeling to be in someplace so gray and dirty as where I find myself. One major consolation is that, as soon as I get a chance to clean up this apartment a little bit, it wont be half bad. It would just be a LOT more welcoming had it Internet. I’d trade the common area and comfortable couch, perhaps even the western style toilet, to have internet in the room. But what can you do. It does have a decent kitchen, with a microwave, stove, and refrigerator, basic counter space and generic cooking and eating utensils. Again, once I get it wiped down, it will help everything a bit.
It’s just kind of gray and … quiet to be here by oneself. I’m very tired, and have been for the last few hours, but I somehow can’t make myself just lie down and go to bed. I will as soon as I’m done writing. It’s also been somewhat of a chore to gather my thoughts enough to start writing this as well. I’ve been out of this journaling thing for a while, and when my head feels so scrambled from the general weariness of travel, it makes writing even more a chore.
I do very much want to go to bed though. But I’ll try and at least get somewhat of a picture painted before I give up.
Aside from being unsure if I’d have a seat on the flight from Minneapolis to Tokyo, my trip was nearly uneventful. Finally taking off, more than a ½ hour late, we were jetessoned into the sky with the familiar strength only 4 humongous jet engines can induce. Unfortunately, Delta had only the big main screen, and two smaller screen tv’s for my entire section of the cabin – and very far from me at that. This meaning the entire plane would be subject to the same three poorly selected movies. Bride Wars, if you can believe it! Ugh. Young Victoria, which is a decent movie but unfortunately I’d already seen, a couple nameless sitcoms and childrens cartoons, and one other movie that was so plausé the name escapes me. The only notable part of the journey was when, approaching the Narita air strip, and probably not 200 feet off the ground, a sudden racing of the engines and swift pull-back on the throttle made the giant craft hurl itself back up into the air, and bank to the left. “Hello folks. No need to worry. Sorry about that. Things like this happen only about once every four years, and today was our turn. The plane taking off on the runway didn’t clear in time for us, and we have been forced to pull around and approach again. We should be on the runway in another 10 minutes”. I thought it was great fun. You rarely feel the G’s when in a commercial flight, but I certainly felt a couple on that recovery!
When I remembered this incident, after having told Dan (my professor) and the other two at lunch that my trip had been relatively uneventful just a few minutes before, Dan replied “THAT! That was uneventful! You just said it was all pretty straight forward! An event like that would throw me of flying for 5 years!” . My general feeling is that physicists are not the type of people to overtly seek thrill in their lives. Apparently someone, from another collaborating university, hasn’t ever been to BES-III (the collider here at the institute) because he can’t fly. Apparently, we’re just not the thrill seeker type of guys. I guess I’m just the runt of the bunch.
In any case, I arrived in Beijing at 10:30 pm. The airport was all but shutdown, so customs was a relatively quick affair. It wasn’t until I saw my entrance form in the hands of the customs agent that I realized I’d written my maiden name under the space for a sir name. Entering China somehow gives a very unwelcome feel, and the idea of more trouble with the near 24 hours of sleeplessness I’d reached made me feel even more drained. Fortunately, he simply scribbled out the wrong name, and wrote in the true one for me, stamped it, and handed it back. Perhaps he was at the end of his shirt as well.
In any case, I took the tram over to the terminal, with the rest of the flight, where our bags were, and then walked up to the carrousel and essentially pulled the next bag off the turning belt. Convenient. Walked out the sliding doors and down the isle of relatives and friends waiting for their cohorts. To my surprise, there was a young boy in a bellhop’s uniform, with a sign “ms. Reeves”. The fact that there were precious few westerners on the flight from Japan to Beijing, and those that were all but exclusively older businessmen, made me assume this young boy was truly looking for me. I hadn’t expected such service. I admit it crossed my mind, in my drowsy state, that statistically, it was probably more likely I was victim to an evil kidnapping than that there were two Ms. Reeves in the airport at that moment, and that I’d assumed the wrong identity. All was indeed laid to rest, however, as we walked out to the garage, and around just a bit to a van that read “Sino Swiss Airport Hotel”. He had indeed been sent to fetch me.
Everyone knows Beijing is famous for its air pollution. The airport dumps you down a bridge that crosses the street, and out into a parking garage. The first thing I noticed was that carbon monoxide may be odorless, but the exhaust I was engulfed in may very soon suffocate me as the CO levels must be extraordinary. I hoped it was just that we were in a somewhat enclosed parking garage with idling cars and slow traffic.
We eventually left and I was driven to the hotel, but the freshness of the air changed little. I no longer was drenched in the smell of first hand exhaust, but more as if I was breathing air that’d been breathed 4-5 times before, then run around a few cars, through some engines, and then presented for my oxygenating needs. Perhaps it would settle somewhat and get better in the morning.
The hotel had the dusted over feeling that a place gets when it exists in prolonged heavy smog. Generally clean but also getting a bit old. It had the ‘off’ feeling places in emerging economies often have – that it hadn’t been built with lack of funds, but the direction of those funds and the decoration put into the place was something inherited – like your sisters second hand dresses. They fit – and do their duty, but they just don’t hang like they were bought for you.
I took a nice warm shower, brushed my teeth with bottled water as instructed, and went to bed. It felt good to be horizontal. The forced semi-vertical position I’d been in for the last 12 hours had been just uncomfortable enough to keep me awake for nearly the duration of the flight. I went to bed around midnight.
I think this is enough for now. I’m quite tired. It is 8:20pm after all!