August 2007


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The entrance to the Forbidden City, once home to 24 Emperors.  Now graced with a large painting of Chairman Mao and six solid red flags, it's just North of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

August 27th, 2007

We arrived in Chengdu yesterday afternoon, via a short flight from Beijing. This has been a study in contrasts. Chengdu is more tropical, greener, with more insect and bird sounds. It’s also more humid, rainy, overcast and, like Beijing, hot in the afternoon. It’s definitely more rundown than Beijing, everything we’ve seen so far resembles 14th Street in Manhattan. Little shops selling junk at cheap prices. Very few, if any, of the signs are in English. Unlike Beijing there are more parks here, more green space. It’s very much more like being in China, despite the best efforts of globalization.

We spent our first night in an on-campus apartment, but we didn’t like it that much and they let us move upstairs. Our new place is ten times better. We have a bedroom, and a large living room, with a balcony, and a nice kitchen that also has it’s own balcony. We have a washing machine in the bathroom. And internet service in the apartment. We’re actually living on campus, and the students all look like high schoolers to us. About 80% of them are girls.

The complete lack of English language is forcing us to learn Mandarin. It’s funny just going to the store to get something to wash the floors with, pantomiming mopping, to get the right thing. We went out to eat this afternoon with our Guide books, pointing to the Chinese characters for Tofu, Rice, and vegetables. It was fairly comical, but we got what we wanted, had a nice lunch despite the pork mixed in with the tofu, and it all cost less than $3 for both of us.

Well, Beijing was fun, now it’s time to get down to business. In the next couple of days we’ll get bikes, and register with the local Chinese authorities, and at the US Consulate, get some more shots. Lara will start teaching in the next couple of days, and we’ll be looking into Chinese language lessons, probably here at the university.

Lara and I arrived in Beijing yesterday afternoon. There was another Georgetown Fellow on the flight with us, a young man who speaks Mandarin, and is pretty cool. The flight wasn’t bad. They showed three movies, part of one I watched, and we got to read and sleep. Before we knew it, we had arrived. Just after clearing Customs, beyond the throngs of people waiting to pick up new arrivals, there was a KFC and a Starbucks, like any American airport. We were met at the airport by a driver from the US Embassy.

The drive to the hotel was great. The main highway to Beijing is lined with trees and flowers, and there’s tons of new construction going on. The highway signs are in large Chinese characters, with the pin yin, and then English. When we were making our descent, I joked to Lara that the land looks like Illinois. Sure enough, one of the exit signs along the highway said “Illinois.” We don’t know what that was.

We’re staying at the Comfort Inn, in Beijing, within walking distance of a whole bunch of restaurants. We checked into our hotel, took an hour nap and showers, then went out for pizza at a place that has a large stone oven, with Nolan, the Mandarin speaking Fellow, and a local Beijing women friend of his. The pizza was good, and it was nice to sit down and relax. We were really feeling exhausted by this point, trying to stay awake long enough to get in sync with the local time, fifteen hours in the future.

We walked back to our hotel, and sat and watched rush hour traffic. Lots of buses, bikes, mopeds and cars and trucks. Lot’s of people walking, strolling around. It’s fairly humid, and hot. We aren’t drawing much attention. Beijing seems to be a fairly international city, with lots of people from all over. I was surprised by how many Westerners I saw riding their bikes through the streets.

Today Lara is going to an all day Orientation, so I’m going to go look around and have fun. It’s already Thursday morning here. We woke up at 7:15 AM local time, but it’s “really” 4:15 in the afternoon the previous day. Weird.

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In less than a week my wife Lara and I head to Chengdu, China. There she’ll be teaching graduate school through a Fellowship with Georgetown University and I’ll be studying Chinese Medicine. We both plan to study Mandarin Chinese and Tai Ji Chuan as well. We’ll get bikes and ride all over the city of four million, located in Sichuan Province. This Blog is where I’ll be reporting about our lives and posting photos.