I wasn’t sure what to expect for the overnight train ride from Dalian to Beijing. All I knew was that I was exhausted from a week of work, and desperately wanted to sleep well.
I was pleasantly surprised by the train. It was modern, clean and comfortable. My “hard sleeper” was the top bunk of a three tiered bunk bed. I was able to awkwardly maneuver myself and my backpack up the ladder to my bed, where there was a pillow and thick comforter. Perfect. I quickly realized that I could not sit up in my bed without hitting my head on the ceiling, but that was not a problem because I planned on being horizontal for the rest of the 11-hour journey. Around 11 pm, about an hour and a half after we left Dalian, the lights in our cabin were turned off, I put in some earplugs and snuggled under my covers. The man snoring like a motorboat in the bunk below me only kept me awake for five minutes before my exhaustion set in and I fell fast asleep.
The next morning at 6:30 am, a voice on the loudspeaker greeted the passengers, “Good morning! We will be arriving at Beijing in two hours…blah, blah, blah. The weather today is blah, blah, blah. Here are today’s top news stories….” I cringed, rolled over, and tried to sleep for the remainder of the ride. When we finally did arrive in Beijing I felt rested and ready to take on the big city. (Not bad compared to my memory of taking an overnight Chinese train as a little kid, where my mom brought along a kitchen pot to use as a chamber pot because the bathroom was either too far away from our beds, or was really disgusting!)
The first day was pretty relaxed. Margaret and I arrived at Liz’s house, where we would be staying the weekend. Liz is a PiA fellow in Beijing working for the JUMP! foundation, which provides experiential learning and leadership training programs for international schools across Asia. (Liz and her roommates, Safia and Roohi, deserve a special shout out for being awesome hosts!) In the afternoon I had to go back to the train station to buy my return train ticket to Dalian (which I forgot to do earlier), and I wandered around 南锣鼓巷 Nanluoguxiang, a quaint but touristy street lined with cute shops and cafes. It is essentially a modernized version of a traditional Chinese 胡同 hutong, or alley.
The highlight of the trip was the much-anticipated PiA Beijing bash, where past and present PiA fellows from Beijing, Shenyang, Wuhan and Dalian all squeezed into a little banquet room at a restaurant for conversation over way too much food.
It was great getting to know the other PiA fellows that I had met briefly at PiA training this summer. Katie and John were our tour guides for the night because they both teach at Chinese Foreign Affairs University in Beijing. Other Beijing PiAers included Nancy and Taylor, who work for the WildChina travel agency, as well as Liz, who I mentioned earlier. Craig and Diana are teachers who came from Wuhan, and I got to see my Shenyang buddies, Kat and Jason, again. It was also great to catch up with Napatra (UVA ’09) who is a second year PiA fellow with the Cultural Heritage Protection Center. Read more about these awesome people (and see their pics) on the Princeton in Asia website!
It was also fun to meet some of the PiA alum and hear about all the amazing things that they are doing in China now. I met Chris, who is a UVA grad and also taught at DUT for two years. After his two years with PiA he moved to Beijing and did research at a business school for six months, and just moved back to the US for a new job this week. I also met Logan, who taught at Chinese Foreign Affairs University through PiA but currently does research (in English and Chinese!) about carbon capture and storage in China. (Funnily enough I met him last summer in Bangkok though another PiA fellow! All these PiA connections are crazy!) I had a great time talking with a couple who met through PiA in the 90s, and now both work in Beijing. He teaches astronomy at Tsinghua University, and she’s a reporter. We compared notes about living in Beijing in 1995, although I was in second grade and they were teaching college! The whole event was expertly organized by Tina, the PiA coordinator for China posts, who had just flown over from New Jersey.
After sufficiently stuffing ourselves at dinner, we got in cabs and headed to Beijing’s 三里屯 Sanlitun area to find a bar. When we got there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was I really in China? There wasn’t a Chinese person in sight, save the employees who worked there. It kind of made me appreciate how Dalian still seems like a city in China!
My next two days in Beijing were pretty low key. I wandered around the big city streets, hopping on and off city busses, pretending like I knew where I was going. I also successfully navigated the amazing Beijing subway system. My goal for this trip to Beijing was to enjoy the city, have a good time with friends, and leave all of the touristy stuff for some other time. That said, I did make a quick stop to see the Bird’s Nest Stadium and Water Cube. I also busted out my best bargaining skills and bought some mittens, a bathrobe and a pair of fake Ugg boots, which I kind of regret now, even though they only cost me around $6.
On my last day in Beijing, I had to do some grading, so I popped in a Starbucks and settled down with a grande coffee and a red bean scone (they put red bean in everything in China– i love it!). I took my camera out of my purse, snapped a picture of my red bean scone, and hung my purse on the side of my chair. Then I began diligently organizing my attendance sheets and grading papers. As I was packing up to leave after a two-hour stay in Starbucks, I noticed that my purse was gone… (dun, dun, dun–bet you didn’t see that coming!). I quickly realized that I had my wallet, my train ticket, my cellphone and my ipod, which were all in a different bag. Thank goodness! However, my cute little black purse was nowhere to be found. Inside, it I had my camera, Burt’s Bees chapstick and a crappy map of Beijing. After getting mad at myself for being so stupid and careless, I talked with the manager at the Starbucks, who helped me file a report with at the police station nearby. I knew I wasn’t going to see the camera again… so, out of mourning for my camera, this post will be pictureless. 😦
When I got back to Dalian, I was so happy to be home. Yes, this city is really starting to feel like my home now! Tina was visiting for a few days to observe our classes. She was actually a PiA fellow in Dalian two years ago and was the person who found this apartment and began its legacy as a PiA apartment. Margaret and I were happy to have her stay with us, back in her old home! We hit up several of her favorite Dalian restaurants, where the waiters and waitresses still remembered her. I hope I can say the same when I come back to Dalian someday!
After observing one of my classes, Tina said that I was “a natural teacher,” but that one thing I need to focus on more is error correction. It’s funny– I feel like since I’ve lived in non-native English speaking countries for so long, I am used to hearing incorrect English, and therefore, it doesn’t really bother me. At the beginning, I didn’t want to correct my students too much because I didn’t want to discourage them from speaking. Now that we have established good rapport, I guess it’s time to train my ear to listen more carefully for mistakes and correct them. I have learned so much these past few months, but I’ve still got a lot left to learn! The trip to Beijing was a nice change of pace, but I was happy to get back to my daily routine in Dalian.