Beijing by Tem Woodham
Beijing, China – lively, historical, urban, Far EasternRegrettably the second part of my year abroad – in Beijing, was a short one – I was limited to a month in the city due to health problems. However, a month was certainly enough to get more than just a feel for one of the world’s biggest and most mysterious cities.The city is huge, and, unfortunately, very polluted and vulnerable to the elements: when it was not covered with a deep snow or a dense fog, the sky was heavy with the orange sandstorm which is blown in from the desert in March. Whilst this is hard to get used to at first, the language is a little more reasonable – on the whole the people are easy to understand and don’t have much of an accent on the Putonghua I learnt at university – and there is of course lots to see. My host university arranged trips every month to places nearby, so the Great Wall was easy to get to, as was Tian’anmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Imperial Palace, right in the centre of the metro network. The Summer Palace in the north seems far flung from the hustle and urban bustle of central Beijing, where the ancient and imperial world comes into contact with China’s capitalism and industrial present and future. Above all, while it feels strange to wake up every morning in Beijing, every day is an immensely exciting adventure.
Useful local words: Just add er (儿) to the end of every sentence (i.e. ni hao’R) , the taxi drivers sometimes failed to understand where I wanted to go unless I insisted on going to WudaokouR.
What not to pack: A reluctance to haggle, if you want to buy anything other than food, then this is essential to avoid getting ripped off.
What to pack: A few RMB in cash for the first couple of days if possible – in my case I had far too much on my plate dealing with university registration in the first few days to have to find a bank or machine that would take my card. Any English food or drink that you can’t do without as they are hard to find in Chinese supermarkets: I survived on pot noodles and Chinese green tea for the first week or so – but English tea is virtually unobtainable in Beijing.
Couldn't have done without: One of my best finds when I started in class was the electronic dictionary translators the Koreans were bringing in – whilst they are difficult to get hold of in England most good ones are available at Sanlitun’s department store for under 1000RMB (£100) – and BESTAs are the best. Everything electronic was a great comfort: my iPod, BESTA, even Facebook (actually banned in China, I used a loophole – Yahoo! Quick view, otherwise a VPN is required for social network and blog sites), and above all, Skype!
Word of advice: Get a good group of friends as the capital is more difficult and maybe more risky to explore alone. As my year abroad in China was arranged by my university and based in a Chinese university I already had a few good friends from university based in the same place. Making friends with the many different nationalities and cultures in my language classes was not hard at all. I possibly took this too far, opting for a room on application with a complete stranger who turned out to be a Russian who played loud techno all through the night (!!) – but on the whole making friends is very easy (as everyone is in the same boat) and makes for an enjoyable and more ‘at home’ experience.
Pete Gentle, French and Chinese, Manchester University