Xander’s Overseas Log – Day 1-2

Backtracking a bit…

Okay, so I’m a few days behind… but I think I need to make this post now, to announce that in fact, something terrible has not happened. I originally intended to write a LOT on this trip, but things have been kinda hectic, so I haven’t been keeping up. But with so much going on, I should right? Meh, well–I think it’s about time. I’ll post one entry a day, just to keep up, and let things settle in.

Two things:




Trip Log Entry 001
Continental Airlines Flight 86,
36,150 feet above the North Pole
Day 1 – 5/26 — 6:25 PM CDT

Over North Pole

So, here is the beginnings of the longest trip away from home ever. As I’m writing this, I am currently 36,500 feet above the North Pole , in a Boeing 777-500, a behemoth of a plane with engines as wide as the fuselage of a 737. From the window, the arctic cap seems to stretch on forever. Hmm… it’s been so long since I’ve chronicled my life that I feel like I’ve forgotten how. But… a trip like this cannot go without a proper journaling, so here we go! (Schimitt and Schmoot are sitting next to me, watching and agreeing as I type this.)


Here’s a chronological account of the last 12 hours:

So my flight was scheduled for 7:30 AM, which meant we had to get to the airport by 4:30… so what did I do? Obviously decide that sleep is expendable and pull an all-nighter. I had originally planned to finish packing by 11 and watch X3 at 12:01,
but tragically, I didn’t finish packing on time… (sorry Wangsta!), but that’s all right (I’ll have plenty of time in China for that). Sq
came to help, and the packing went very haphazardly; I spent most of the time moving back and forth between rooms trying to keep track of where everything was being put. Clothing, paperwork, camera, phone, etc… In spite of all the last minute craziness, I was done packing and out of my house by 4:30 AM.

At around 5, I arrived at the terminal and found fellow IPENGers arriving, as well as an old friend.

Checking in was messed up… since when did they replace all the helpers with an automated touch system? That caused a minor hassle. Then at the security check in, I found out that I was selected (!) for “additional screening”, which basically included a pat down and a deep scan of my stuff. And of course, this had to be done in front of the other few hundred people there, so that was fun…

[waah! The plane is shaking!]

At the gate, we sat around and chattered for a while, and Georgia, our travel agent supervisor stopped by to let us know that the plane was delayed, and make sure that we were all okay (“basically, if you’re here, you’re here, if you’re not… oh well!”). Come to think of it, I think we’re missing one or two people… “oh well!”

The first leg of the trip was from Chicago to Newark in a 737-500. This was uneventful, and sleep was good. Our brief stay in Newark was very rushed. Since our first flight arrived later than planned, we barely had enough time to make it to our connecting flight. I felt a growing sense of camaraderie as we all made sure everyone got to where we needed to be…

We arrived in Newark, New Jersey at 11:20, with just under 50 minutes till our next flight departed. Rushed through the airport, without glimpsing at much but the “Welcome to Newark!” signs. We arrived at the gate, called home, called Sq, and then I was soon juggling three cell phones trying to get one of them unlocked. Failure, Samsung said to call the carrier, T-Mobile said they don’t hold records for more than 90 days after termination, but that I could try calling Samsung. Screw that… I’ll do it in China…

Continental Airlines Flight
86 Newark-Beijing

12 hours later…

This has so far been the longest plane ride of my life… I finished reading Night (which many people were surprised that I’d never read before), wrote this entry so far… and mostly just chatted with my neighbor, a cool dude named Fang from Texas visiting relatives in China, and wandered around the plane. I’m beginning to realize how significant a cross continental voyage is; we’ve traveled halfway around the world for this. Maybe I just haven’t been traveling for a while. But it’s still cool! We’re directly over the North Pole as I’m writing this; a place that I never thought I’d get close to; but seven miles below us is the biggest expanse of ice that I’ve ever seen.

I’ve also realized that I have close to zero Chinese ability. I’m sure it won’t be a problem at international places, such as the airport or our dorm… but out in the city… hmm…

Till next time!

Entry 002 

Foreign Student Dormitory Zijing
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Day 2 – 5.27 — 8:10 AM (Beijing
Standard Time)

I’m gonna make this entry short, breakfast and orientation at 9 AM.

Backtracking a little bit… haha, we had to fill out customs reports on the plane, declaring anything that might be considered contraband in the People’s Republic of China. Among those included: arms, imitation arms, ammunition, counterfeit currencies, deadly poisons, drugs, and… printed matter, films, photographs, records, tapes, compact discs… …which are detrimental to the political, economic, cultural and moral interests of China. I suppose the government must at least make its censorship official. I wonder how much more we’d see…

We landed at Beijing International at 12:45 PM, exactly on schedule. The airport was very clean, very well serviced, and  very new looking, at least, compared to O’Hare. I was surprised at the mass amounts of corporate advertising everywhere, especially the masses of American companies; it seemed as if every third sign was a GE ad. There’s one proof that this is indeed Asia however: the English.

I find this hilarious–you’d think that the person making signs would at least check the English with someone who actually KNOWS English? This one isn’t so bad, but I’ll be sure to see more (and photo them of course!). Security was light, and we exited customs without incident. And then faced this:

SO many people with signs, and about a third of them were in Korean!

There was a large Korean tour group that had exited with us; I was surprised—about a quarter of the people coming out seemed to be Korean, and the signs were posted in three languages, English, Chinese, and Korean. Expected, I guess…
Seoul was closer to Beijing than Nanjing even…

Here we met up with professor Wong, and were introduced to our three guides, a student dude named Jeff, who introduced Ms. Yuan, and “his friend” Ms. Leong. We were also delayed a while because two students went missing… and we also found out that one of us missed the plane. Sad… so disorganized already. Five minutes later, I took my first step into China.

So many cars!

The weather was actually very nice, warmer than it was in Chicago, humidity was tolerable for the temperature. Quickly, we boarded our buses, and were off! The ride to the university was amazing—the city reminded me a lot of Seoul, lots of billboard advertisements, tall apartment buildings, masses of construction everywhere, and of course the millions of newly planted trees to prevent erosion. There was also a lot of Olympics related construction. Beijing reminds me of Seoul in many ways; narrower lanes, obviously planned tree lines, packed traffic (with an obvious disregard for traffic rules), and of course, the masses of people.

The city has something that Seoul lacks however: MASSES of bicyclists! There are SO many! I swear—there are at least twice as many people on bikes as there are on foot! And of course, we would have to get one too later. Excitement.

Anyway, skipping forward (yes, this is just a summerized narrative; I’ll put in thoughts later, when I have time), we’re at the our dorms now not too shabby of a place really—smaller than I expected, given the pictures from last year—but I think I can make it home. Classes start on Monday!

By our dorms… 

Till then!

Entry 003

Foreign Student Dormitory Zijing
Tsinghua University, Beijing
Day 2 – 5.27 — 7:10 PM

We still don’t have internet here—saddening, as I told Sq that I’d email daily. Nor do we have telephones, which is also slightly saddening as I told my mom that I’d call upon arriving. Mleh mleh… I suppose this is still better than things might have been years ago. A lot has happened so far today (but I’m writing this in the slightly distant future, so I don’t quite remember everything… but we can pretend, yes ;)?) We did basic things today, getting stuff… including our red hot “new” bikes.

Walking across campus

Two things I’ve observed on the walk to get out bikes: Tsinghua University definitely spends its money: the grass is plentiful, roads well paved, and buildings elegantly designed and definitely in good shape too. The university itself is also very well organized, and there are a LOT of wide open spaces. However… I’ve also observed that the traffic is as crazy within here as it is outside, though not with cars, and bikes instead… and the occasional honking car/van/bus. I don’t know how these people all manage not to collide with each other; it reminds me of the high school freshman hallways, except with people on junky bikes. Somehow though, I haven’t seen a single collision, and traffic manages to move “smoothly”, even when people are merging, turning, stopping, swerving to avoid cars. My only guess is that they’ve adapted. Oh the human capacity to adapt to anything… so incredible. Anyway… I’m beginning to worry about getting our own bikes. I suppose we’ll learn, eh?

The Main Library

At the bank, I exchanged the first of my Benjamins for renminbi—the colorful and highly controversial currency of the PRC. About 800 RMB, and then, it was time. We got our bikes from the junkiest seller of bikes I’ve ever seen—at the corner of some streets in front of the bank. There had to be at least 100 bikes there—taped with bubble wrap for some unknown purpose. Maybe to give the illusion of “new”? Picking one was hard: there didn’t seem to be one without a serious flaw. But then the dudes got to work hammering, twisting, and otherwise manipulating the bikes to become ridable as we flashed out money. Even in their junky state, it seemed to be a decent deal: 160 RMB for a bike and a lock (about $20). We ended up taking a quarter of his stock—but not before he suddenly started arguing with Jeff (our student supervisor) about how we did not pay him enough. It was resolved deftly by the flashing of extra RMB, and Jeff’s persuasive skills. Junky AND shady.

My bike was at some point dark blue… but it was now more gray than blue. It was the only one without any serious defects that I could see… though that definitely didn’t mean anything. Being so cheap, I started testing its limits, and within three minutes of riding, the pedals started getting funky; and the next minute… the metal  holding the pedal to the bike bent off and broke. Had to get the entire bike replaced. Anyway–this is what I have now.

Yet unnamed…

Touring the university was interesting—learned some history about China and its relation with the U.S. Apparently one of the original architects of Tsinghua went to U of I… and it couldn’t be more obvious than a look at one of the “Quads” here:

Foellinger in Beijing?

We took our first group picture at the current Tsinghua’s President’s Office. Once the palace of a Qing dynasty prince, it now serves as a cool place for us folk to play around in.

One of like… 20 pictures taken on 8 cameras.

We wandered some more—took a LOT of pictures.. and then wandered off to a fully paid for dinner. We sat at tables that had little “appetizers” on it, consisting of various unknown small dishes, including a basket of cucumbers. We were all very wary of these, especially the cucumbers: professor Wong had warned us not to eat “fresh vegetables” as they apparently don’t clean them as well as they should… and often use human feces to fertilize the food. She did also say that we must brush our teeth with bottled water, and various other precautionary advice. So we sat there for a while, poking at the food, slowly trying it… but then the food still didn’t come, so one of us—I think Charles decided to take a bite out of a cucumber. We took the fact that he didn’t spit it out in disgust as a good sign and each tried the food. It was good. Ten minutes later, when our first dishes started coming out I noticed that the other tables hadn’t even touched the food. HA. So we were the bold ones.

The food came… and didn’t stop coming. At first I was afraid that I would lose more weight than gain… then changed my mind. This had to be like… an 8 course meal, with all sorts of meat, fish, vegetables, etc… it was great. Apparently, it also cost about 20 yuan per person, about $2.50. Amazing. Life is gonna be great.

Anyway… that’s it for now. Orientation tomorrow–as well as our first trip shopping 😀 where I shall begin my quests! Mwahaha… Sq shall be in for a great surprise!

Till then! 🙂