After nearly 30 hours of driving, flying, waiting, flying, waiting, flying, and more driving, I have arrived in Kaifeng, China to the foreign experts dormitories. Overall, the journey was uneventful. We had no problems with passports, visas, or luggage. We were comfortable on the planes (although I think the trans-continental flight could have provided us with more water) and during our layovers. The vegan meals on Continental Airlines were spectacular! For the main course they served me some type of Indian curry and rice with a delicious dinner roll and dessert cookie as well. The snack was a veggie burger with vegan cheese and yet another cookie and the breakfast meal was fruit, a bagel, and some scrumptious steamed broccoli. I was pleasantly surprised by the offerings and would recommend Continental to any vegan or vegetarian travelers!
The selection of movies and entertainment was awesome. I managed to watch Shrek Forever After, Lost in Translation, and Fight Club as well as several episodes of some entertaining TV shows. I filled the rest of my time with some Regina Spektor and Yann Tiersen. The one downside to the flight was the crying/screaming children directly behind me who managed to kick my seat from take-off to touchdown. Sleep was not to be enjoyed.
Our flight was delayed as we were leaving Beijing airport to Zhengzhou, so we arrived at 7:30 instead of 6:30. Jackie was at the exit gate to greet us. His hair is longer now and he has grown out his mustache and goatee. I have been referring to him as kakkoi-Jackie cause of how cool he looks! The drive from the airport to Kaifeng was a bit longer than I was expecting, but it gave Ben and I a chance to ask Jackie some questions about the upcoming year as well as to observe Chinese driving habits (they be crazy here with their horns and driving on the wrong side of the road).
After we arrived at the apartments, we picked our rooms and relaxed for the duration of the evening. As of the writing of this entry, there is no working internet in my room, so I apologize that I won’t be able to post this or contact anyone from home until tomorrow. I might also switch rooms into one of the upstairs apartments, as I am not very comfortable with the smell of this one.
The other teachers from Beloit will arrive tomorrow night. Tomorrow morning Ben and I will go to the market and shop for some fresh fruit for breakfast. Then we’re going to head to the bank with Jackie and open bank accounts. From there it’s anyone’s guess. I will leave you with some silly travel pictures and some postings of what my room looks like (maybe until I switch units?).
I ended up not being able to post the above entry on the following date as I had first expected. The day after we arrived, Ben and I began taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of China. We started the morning with a trip to one of the many markets that line the streets outside of the university. The markets here are amazing. The carts are overflowing with vegetables, fruits, and numerous other offerings. Some carts offer warm foods as well. My first food in China was a sort of half-moon shaped pastry that had been stuffed full of vegetables and rice noodles before being fried. I ate two of them, and would have gladly eaten more. Several days later, I still think it might be my favorite breakfast offering.
After perusing the carts for some time, Ben and I made our way from the south gate of the campus to the west gate, where Ben introduced me to his favorite bao zi (steamed dumpling) shop. I was pleased to find that one of the workers there is able to speak English. I managed to negotiate the sale of two dumplings filled with scrumptious carrots and cabbage. It’s worth mentioning at this point that the price of food here is incredible. The half-moon shaped friedlings were 0.50 RMB, which is equivalent to $0.07, and the bao zi was 0.60 RMB. The combination of the two was more than filling, meaning that I ate breakfast for about $0.30.
After the breakfast pizaz, Ben and I met with Jackie to take care of some boring banking matters. It was highly uneventful and disappointing. Also at this time, I asked Jackie if I could move rooms from the bottom floor to one of the upstairs apartments. He happily obliged and the decision was made. My new apartment smells much better than the last one and is somewhat larger, I believe. I took the liberty of making a video tour of the place, so please watch it and enjoy J
The rest of the day found Ben and I traveling to downtown Kaifeng and shopping around for cleaning supplies and subsequently cleaning. I was also introduced to Bernita, one of Ben’s Chinese friends who teaches at an English school. She treated Ben and I to some delicious foods (unfortunately I did not have my camera with me at the time, so I didn’t take any photos). The conversation was jovial and I was impressed with her English.
The Beloit teachers (Josh, Marlie, and Marija) arrived around 11:30 at night. As they were rather tired, they went straight to bed after picking their apartments.
At this point, I shall simply create a list of things that I have found to be interesting. I will also post some pictures and videos after all the writing.
- In China, many children simply poop on the street in lieu of using a loo (hah, wordplay!). We were eating dinner one evening across from the university when one of the children in the shop ran outside, squatted over a dirt pile, and began pooping.
- Traffic flow in China is NUTS. The streets here are filled with drivers that pull out in front of others, frequently pull onto the other side of the street to pass a slower car or three-wheeled taxi cart, and refuse to slow down for pedestrian crossings. I will attempt to post a video of us riding a bus and observing traffic sometime.
- Kaifeng’s night markets are stunning. As sundown nears a wide variety of streets fill up with food vendors and trinket shops. We’ve gone twice thus far, and each time has been full of adventure.
- The street vendors here are so fun to interact with… they’re a bit eager to get us to try things and spend our money.
- Chinese drinking customs are very interesting. The administration hosted us for dinner at a nice little restaurant where we learned all about it. We were served both baijiu (Chinese rice liquor, usually between 40 – 60% alcohol) and beer. The host gives three toasts at his own pace before anybody can begin freely drinking. When these toasts occur, everyone shouts the phrase ‘ganbei,’ which is similar to cheers. However, ganbei also has the meaning “to the bottom,” so when said one must down their glass of baijiu/beer. After the three toasts, the guests may drink freely at the table, but each of the hosts may have the pleasure of moving around the table and drinking individually with the guests. When this occurs, the host will first add alcohol to the guest’s glass and allow the guest to drink by themselves. Then the host will refill the cup and the host and the guest drink together. At our dinner, three of the five hosts drank with everyone individually. This led to Josh and I having somewhere between 6-8 cups of baijiu as well as a fair bit of beer. 今年は本当にお酒強くなるよ!
- There are so many beautiful green spaces and parks here… It’s shocking, but is counterbalanced by the amount of cars/smog in the rest of China. The parks tend to fill up with people who practice their hobbies and skills in public. For example, one park near the east gate of campus fills up with drummer ladies, people that spin tops by cracking whips, and sword-wielding tai chi practitioners. At virtually any time of the day there is something new and interesting to be observed.
I think I might be in love with China, for all of its quirks and interesting aspects… Feel free to leave some questions in the comments !
Pics are after the jump!