One of the more stressful trips I’ve taken but luckily not the most uncomfortable (the bus trip to Malawi from Joburg wins that title). The first two legs (Botswana-South Africa and South Africa-Hong Kong) were fairly uneventful. I just spent most of the time feeling very emotional and nervous. I was going in completely blind and that worried me. The internet didn’t have much information about the place I was going to and I could not locate anyone who had already been there from Botswana. So I just had to take a deep breath and hope for the best. When I got to Hong Kong, I missed my connecting flight to Beijing which of course sent me into a panic but I was quickly put on standby for the next available flight and they even waived my booking fee, I suppose because I looked so distraught. This baby face is good for something!
Before my panic began I had some time to appreciate the beauty of Hong Kong which had me dreading going to mainland China. It was such a relaxing atmosphere! Mountains and the ocean framing the horizon, warm, pleasantly humid and everything just looked so refreshing and brand new. Plus the free WiFi that covered every inch of the airport didn’t hurt either. It’s basically “China lite”, they have all the cultural qualities but they speak English and have clean air! I have sworn I shall return to visit a friend there as soon as possible. The Hong Kong-Beijing leg was a little uncomfortable as my stomach was slightly upset, not sure what I ate on the previous flight that caused it. By the time I arrived in Beijing I was absolutely exhausted. However, I had to deal with missing luggage since my suitcase never made it to Beijing with me. After reporting it, I then had to go buy a bus ticket and locate the stop only to find out I had to wait just over an hour for it. I sat on a bench and tried very hard to not pass out though I did doze off a couple of times.
The bus arrived and luckily I ran into a Zambian female student who was also going to my university. I let her take control when we got to Baoding 4 hours later. She talked to the cab driver, got us to the university, walked me to my hostels, helped me check in and promised to come see me the next morning to help me get other things done. Without her I have no idea what my tired brain would have done. She has also been essential in my settling down process, taking me to banks and malls, translating for me where I fail to understand, helping me get my room organised, introducing me to other students and showing me around campus.
The university is quite old and from the looks of it the old campus, where all international scholarship students reside, the buildings haven’t been renovated much since it’s establishment. I felt a little cheated when I first saw it because the pictures on the website are all of the new campus. However having strolled through the rest of the old campus, it’s clearly evident the foreigners are living it up. The Chinese students live 6 per room on bunk beds, have no Internet access in their rooms, have pay as you go communal bathrooms and their flats are incredibly dirty and cramped. Foreigners are 2 per room, have the option of internet access though we have to pay a small fee for it, have tv (my room has a 32 inch flat screen), en suite bathrooms, an aircon, a fridge and kettle. We also have many people we can whine to should we not be happy about something (and I have been doing so non stop since I got here).
One thing they don’t slack on though is their gardens. They are simply stunning. You can’t help but feel at peace when strolling through them. And since you only get to really enjoy them in summer, there are often people taking walks or playing games on the grounds.
The group of international students starting school this year are the universities 4th batch so the international studies office is still in it’s infancy. Subsequently, black people are still quite a curious sight for most of the people living in Baoding. The foreign student population is larger than I anticipated, between 150 and 200. And we are quite a diverse bunch. Togo, Malawi, Zambia, Egypt, Sri Lanka, India, Mongolia, Morocco, Mauritius, DRC, Mozambique, Jamaica, Ivory Coast are some of the nationalities I’ve come across.
The school year begins next week and I am simultaneously looking forward to it and not.
Baoding, by Chinese definitions, is essentially a village. It’s a “small” city of 11 million people (which is the population of my home country!) and is located about 3-4 hours from Beijing. It is shabby in comparison to Shanghai and Gunazhou which I visited in 2012. It’s not strange to see middle aged men going about their errands topless on a hot day, such is small city life. Despite it being small, it never stops, people work from Monday to Sunday so weekends still feel like weekdays – even banks are open on Sunday. Though they work all the time, service never slacks. The store attendants are always alert, you always hear “welcome” when you enter a shop and they’ll even throw in a “hallo” if they know some English.
In Shanghai and Guanzhou, we (blacks) only attracted attention in the tourist spots however in Baoding, everywhere we go we get stares. Some people come up to us and ask to take pictures or ask how we do our braids or want to touch our skin or gleefully wave at us from cabs or cars, while others stare at us when they think we aren’t looking. When I catch them staring I usually wave or say hi just to remind them that I am in fact a human being and can be communicated with. Being able to just say hello in Chinese seems amazing to them which is adorable because when we say more they can barely contain their fascination. Some respond with an excited speech which usually goes right over my head and I just smile back.
I hope to do a little touring of the city before school gets too hectic. Will post my experiences as I get along. Currently I still feel like a fish out of water but I keep reminding myself that it’s barely been a week and it’ll take time to find my feet. I’m excited about learning more Chinese though and I know Baoding is the perfect place for that because as soon as you leave campus grounds, english is completely useless. And some of the foreign students are coming from french or portuguese speaking countries making Chinese our only common ground.
So here begins an interesting few years….