With one week under my belt, I thought now would be a good time to update this thing. If I’m being totally honest, it feels like it’s been longer than a week. Since I landed in Beijing the only thing I have had time to do is eat, sleep, and go to training (more on that later).
My travels to Beijing were intense, to say the least. I first flew to Toronto and had a 5-hour layover in what is arguably the coolest airport ever. I initially was planning on flying out of Seattle, but the layover in Toronto was cheaper and shorter. Not to mention one of my goals in life- one of the only ones I have ever actually had- has been to eat Tim Horton’s IN Canada. If you know me, you know how much I love Canada so I was really excited for this.
My flight to Toronto was on the tiniest plane I have ever been on in my life and if I never have to fly in something that small again, it will be too soon. I couldn’t even fit my carry-on in the overhead bin. Not because there wasn’t enough room, but because it didn’t fit anything bigger than a backpack and I had a small rolling suitcase. I was so not having it. I ended up having to “sky check” it and could pick it up on the tarmac after we landed. The plane was so small, we didn’t even get a gate. I felt a little fancy, though. Anytime I see people getting off onto the tarmac is when they are famous.
The layover in Toronto was uneventful, aside from the fact that if I could live in the Toronto airport, I would. It has EVERYTHING. I am weird in that one of my favorite things about traveling is the airports. I choose long layovers for two reasons: to ensure that I don’t miss my connecting flight and to explore the airport. I was panicking a bit because I wasn’t able to find the Tim Horton’s near my gate at first. Thankfully, after looking it up online, I was able to find it and was able to fulfill one of my life goals. After getting my Tim Horton’s, I decided to just relax near my gate and people watch, my other favorite part of travel. When it came to line up for my flight, I was immediately freaked out by the number of passengers. I knew it was a big plane and I knew it was full, but I had no idea just how many people that entailed. As I waited to board the plane, nerves set in. I wasn’t nervous for going to Beijing; I was nervous because it was a 13-hour flight and I have a weird phobia of peeing on airplanes. No way was I going to last 13 hours without going to the bathroom (spoiler alert: there is a first time for everything. I lasted about 8 hours before I couldn’t take it anymore). I also knew that sitting in one spot for that long was going to be torture, especially since I was sitting bitch. The woman to my left was from Beijing and didn’t speak any English, but she seemed friendly. To my right was a young boy about 8. Not ideal. If I can’t sit still, there was no way an 8-year-old would be able to. It was a rough flight in that regard. The kid spilled Sprite on me at one point and also kept kicking me when I was trying to sleep. BUT, the flight wasn’t all bad. I didn’t expect them to have such GOOD movies to watch. I got to watch La La Land, Fantastic Beasts, Star Wars: Rogue One, Frozen, and Moana. Not mad about that at all. I am sure the whole plane heard me squeal when I saw the movies. I’m not sorry. It made for a killer flight.
Landing in Beijing, I don’t know what my emotions were. I felt a sense of relief that I made it in one piece. I also felt more nervous than I had throughout the whole process. I was worried that my luggage got lost. It’s never happened to me and it seems to me that the only thing that would make sense would be for it to happen for the first time when I was traveling alone to a foreign country. Luckily, my luggage made it. I met the driver at the airport exit and was so relieved to be on my way to the hotel to sleep.
When we pulled into the hotel, it said “hostel” and I just about had a heart attack. I was not prepared to share a room with a bunch of people. Thankfully, it’s not a hostel in that sense and I have my own room. I could barely even keep my eyes open so I knew it was time for a shower and for bed. The very first thing I learned about China since being here is that they like their beds hard. I’m not talking firm; I am talking rock hard. It feels like I am sleeping on a wooden block. It has definitely taken some getting used to and my back is not too happy with me at the moment. I’m told that it’s not just specific to the hostel. Apparently, this is the norm throughout the country.
For how wound up I was, I slept fairly decently. Although, before bed the first night, I was feeling very overwhelmed. It had finally hit me that I was doing this (I knew this would be the minute it happened) and I had a little bit of a breakdown. I was tempted to just turn around and go straight back to the airport and go home. I had this intense feeling of loneliness and that I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. I think part of that came from the exhaustion of the day of travel and just having everything hit me all at once.
The next morning, I dove right into training. I found out there were 5 other people training with me. I only knew of 2 for sure, so to see a few more people was awesome. Two girls from South Africa, a girl from the Ukraine, a girl from Russia, and a guy from the UK. Right away, I felt instant relief. Just knowing that I would be in this with 5 other people made me feel so much better.
As it turns out, those 5 people have been my sanity for the last week. I felt comfortable around them right away and I think there was this unspoken feeling that we were all in this together. One week later and I could not be more thankful for them. We’ve been learning the curriculum for the various classes and they are intense. We don’t spend more than 2 days on a class and it’s like learning an entire semester’s worth of work in 2 weeks. Not ideal by any means. All 5 of us have helped each other out in so many ways. Not just with the class, but in keeping each other laughing and being there when things get tough. I really couldn’t ask for a better group. I am so sad that we are all going to different places when training is over. I have a feeling that this won’t be the last time we see each other, however.
A lot of people have asked me about the food. I’ll be honest, that was the part I was most nervous for. Turns out, the food is delicious. Granted, the first couple days all I had was KFC, but we eventually ventured off and found a couple street vendors. There is one that has a wrap that is SO good. We also tried some noodles last night. Kind of greasy, but still delicious. I thought I would be eating better in Beijing. I was wrong. It’s so worth it, though.
The craziest part of my day by far is the train ride to and from work. Imagine that there is a Twins game, a Vikings game, something going on at the Convention Center, 5 concert, and a parade in downtown Minneapolis. You all know how crowded the Light Rail would be. That’s how the train is here. All. The. Time. Personal space is nonexistant.
Sunday was our first day off from training and we decided to make the most out of being in Beijing. We decided to go to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Oh my gosh. I have never done so much walking in my life.
The Forbidden City was the Imperial Palace from 1420 until the early 1900s. It’s crazy how much land it covers. I’ve never felt so small in one place before. I’ve always loved the attention to detail in Chinese artwork and architecture and to see it on such a grand scale is unreal. The Summer Palace was the most gorgeous place I have ever seen. I don’t know if anything compares to it. There is so much to see at both places and I definitely need to go back. I don’t feel like I got to fully appreciate it. Partially because it was so busy. Note to self: go on a weekday.
The funniest part of the whole day was all of the people that either asked to take pictures of us or just did it. I mean, we all do look different so it’s not surprising. I felt like I was in a zoo! Everyone was so nice about it though, so I can’t really be mad. Plus, Kristen just turned around and asked them for a picture as well.
Overall, I have had a pretty good start in Beijing. I am getting more comfortable in the city and with communicating with people who don’t speak the same language. It’s the first week of a whole year, but I am looking forward to what this next year has in store.