China, September 28, 1999
Nothing like wandering around a Chinese university campus
28 September, 1999
A year ago, a guy wrote into my web site about his summer spent in Moscow. He sounded cool, and after a few emails back and forth, we became friends. When I told him of my plans to wander around China, surprisingly enough, he told me he was headed the very same way to study in Beijing. Thanks to Tom, I'm sitting here, in the Student Union of the Beijing Language and Culture University, surrounded by the sounds of minds absorbing the language of this land.
Right now, to my right, a Chinese-American is returning to his roots, studying his "native" tongue, while to my left, an Italian and a German are chatting about last night's exploits in the bars around campus. I just said "hi" to a stunning French girl, while chatting with a group of Russians I seem to be hanging with these days. Actually, there is a sizeable Russian community here, which I got to know quite quickly, that is helping me adjust to the Chinese culture.
The University is considered the best place to study Chinese, with about 50% of the student body from other countries, giving it a very international flavor. I'm having a bit of trouble with it all though.
The students are reminding me how old I am, with fresh stories of high school and freshman years that I've totally forgotten by now. Also, they are mostly straight from their home countries, and in deep culture shock, while I, after my years in Russia and on the road elsewhere, am only overwhelmed by the new language. I keep reminding 'em that I am not straight from some University, I have a real job here, and I'm not straight from the States, I answer "earth" when they ask where I'm from.
Life around the school helps me adjust, no matter how much I seem to disconnect with the kids. There is a super-cheap cafeteria next door, a fast photoshop on my way home, and a cool bar where I've found a job behind the counter. The student body, on occasion, does come in handy. I've made a few club-kid friends, and I'm corrupting the studious at every turn.
Oh, if you're headed to Beijing, the Uni offers a real gem in accommodation. On campus is a clean, cheap hotel, open to anyone, and ready to serve. Also, unlike the backpacker's hotel south of town, all the taxi drivers know exactly where the school is.