China is like Spirit Airlines: Life in Beijing

September 21, 2016

in Academic Year 2016-2017, Asia, China, Fall 2016, Katie McClure

Where does one even begin? I cannot believe that it has been almost two weeks since I arrived in the Beijing airport, nearly 24 hours after I packed my three bags into my dad’s car for the trip to O’hare. It was a longgggg plane ride, but the abundance of movies supplied by the airline, and my frantic studying of my Chinese textbooks made it not so bad. Unfortunately, I was too wound up to sleep and so arrived in Beijing in a caffeinated haze Thank goodness my program leader was there to direct me.

In your first few days in China, the differences in our cities become immediately apparent. The fact that essentially no one follows traffic laws is offset by the numerous overhead and underground walkways crossing every street. The lack of toilet paper or soap in the bathrooms is intriguing, as are squat toilets. And I swear everyone dodges left here. They drive on the right side of the road same as the U.S., but for whatever reason, move left on the sidewalk. Sorry to everyone who I’ve run into as a result.

Living here is incredibly easy. Public transit is everywhere. I live right outside the cleanest subway system I have ever seen, which can take you to pretty much every major site in Beijing. Once you figure out how to read the bus schedule, it is even cheaper than the subway. And if all else fails jump in a taxi, but just make sure to ask for a receipt.

The nice thing about Beijing is that for a modern city it is fairly cheap to live in. I think you get lured in to the low prices, and so when you have to pay for something more, people freak out. It’s kind of like flying Spirit Airlines. Everyone loves how you can get ridiculously cheap flights, but ask someone to pay for a beverage? Or pay for a carry-on? Blasphemy. Everyone gets annoyed by the charges that get tagged on, but if you think about how cheap it was to begin with, you can’t get too mad. And part of that mindset is just that we are so used to the flat fee, which includes one free carry-on and refreshments, that even the change in structure is weird. For example, getting a phone in China. International calling and data plans are expensive, and so many of the people in my program elected to just buy a fairly cheap Chinese smart phone. We were all completely ecstatic at the fact that we could purchase a phone, SIM card, and data plan for the equivalent of about 70 US dollars. Completely amazing. But Chinese phone plans are very different and where as in the U.S. you essentially use as much data as you want and then get a bill at the end of the month, in China you pay up front. And if you go over your entire phone capabilities go off, good bye calling and data. Not to mention forget texting. It isn’t included in normal data plans and people in China don’t use it. Hence why everyone’s phone got cut off almost immediately. Instead, welcome to the world of WeChat. Which might actually be the most versatile app I have ever used, but to continue.

Classes are intense. I thought power lectures were long, but two or three hour classes are tough. Thank goodness I like learning Chinese. I have speaking class, grammar class, culture class, an elective class that uses audiovisual learning, and a Chinese politics class. Only the politics class is taught in English. I also have tutoring and a language practicum three times a week. It was a really strange, but kind of an awing feeling to be listening to a lecture in Chineseon a grammar point, and being able to understand and take notes on how it is used.  I hope this means my listening ability is getting better.

To round off this lifestyle entry, let’s talk food and housing! Would you like to eat pizza? Starbucks? Haagen-Das? There are tons of options for Western food. But why would you eat that when you could try all the other options? You can find a lot of food from a lot of different regions of China right around the university. I’m working through them so I’ll have to wait to pass judgment, but right now the baozi place down the street is my go to food of choice. Baozi is like a steamed bun with meat inside, it’s delicious and very fast!

Housing for international students is very nice here. I am just outside the gates to the university and my class is about a fifteen minute walk from my room. I live in a dorm room in which my roommate and I have our own rooms, and a shared living room. The only thing out of the ordinary is the shower in the bathroom, which drains onto the floor, just the regular bathroom floor. That’s pretty typical in China and I don’t get it.

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There is so much to talk about, but I don’t want these to get too long. I plan on doing a food update, not to mention that I’ve already gone to the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Summer Palace. More next time!

Emily H. September 23, 2016 at 9:15 am

Don’t forget to just take pictures of your route to school and things that will soon become “everyday” to you! Play a tourist one day at your school and then you’ll be able to “walk” friends and family from your dorm to the classroom and around campus, using pictures that you took!

I’d love to hear more about the food you’re enjoying there! It sounds like there are a lot of options!

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