Arrival: Beijing Post 1

There was a Chinese woman at the San Francisco airport during my layover who couldn’t speak any English. After about a minute of watching her futile attempt to order a drink from Starbucks using hand motions and grunts, I intervened. “What would to like to buy?” I asked her in Chinese. She looked at me with a puzzled stare and, after a moment, responded with a pronounced Beijing accent. I ordered her a large black coffee that, to the best of my understanding, she had requested. When she received her drink she looked frustrated and disappointed. Oh well… I tried.

I’ve taken four years of Chinese— three years in high school and two semesters at Davidson— and for three and a half of those years, my professors have been Taiwanese. I was warned that the Beijing accent would be different from what I was used to. Characterized by a lot of mumbling and the addition of a harsh rrrrr to the end of a lot of words, I knew to expect a lot of confusion.

I joked to my parents on a phone call home that each taxi ride I took on my first few days in Beijing was like a game of roulette. I would dictate my location to the drivers, but I had no clue until my arrival if where they were taking me was actually my desired location. I’ve come to appreciate the Beijing accent. It’s forced me to listen more intently, speak more clearly, and pay better attention to my tones. I am keenly aware that to them, I talk funny, too.

Almost everybody I’ve spoken to in Beijing has given me the same puzzled look as the woman in Starbucks. I guess they’re just taken aback to see a wairen (foreign person) speak Chinese. I live in 三里屯 (Sanlitun), which is a large expat area. Although restaurant workers and store clerks are accustomed to interacting with foreigners, many of them do not speak any English. The area is very commercial. There is a mall at every corner and restaurants that cater to the tastes of the neighborhood’s foreign residents. I’ve actually had to do a bit of research to find good, authentic Chinese restaurants that aren’t just tourist traps. A good rule of thumb I’ve learned is that if the sign is mostly in English, I probably won’t find many Beijingers eating there. For my first completely solo abroad experience, Sanlitun was a good area if I found myself tired of hot pot, zhajiang noodles, and jaozi. But I don’t expect that to happen!

I didn’t begin my internship until ten days after my arrival in Beijing because of the national holiday, Dragon Boat Festival. I took that time to do the bulk of my tourist activities in the city, but because I didn’t know when I’d be called into work I hit the ground running as soon as I arrived. I was able to hit many of the big destinations within my first three days: Tiananmen and the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, Beihai Park, Olympic Park, and Wanfujing Snack Street. I loved riding the metro to each destination. Though a city of 22 million people, I immediately felt very immersed in the ebb and flow of transit in the city.

css.php