Year One in China

Life in Beijing

August 2008-June 2009

On the morning of my 23rd birthday, I boarded a plane that took me from Detroit, to Chicago, to Tokyo, and finally Beijing.  I arrived in the Chinese capital as part of a group that would live together, teach English, and learn Chinese.

On just our second day in Beijing, the 2008 Olympic games kicked off at 8:08 PM on 8/8/2008 – can you guess that eight is a lucky number in China?  That first month here was a blur of sightseeing, going to the games, and partying with people from all around the world (we even saw Vince Vaughn!).  I quickly made friends and was having a great (alcohol fueled) time.  That was, of course, until we had to go to work.

It quickly came to our attention that we were getting a raw deal.  The apartments we were provided were laughable, and were in a remote part of the city far from anything that us recent college-grads found interesting (namely bars).  After taking up our grievances with the company amounted to nothing, we started taking our jobs much less seriously (we weren’t taking them seriously to begin with).  One school that we worked with even commented to the managers that they had a “drinking program with a teaching problem.”  Their offers for remedying the situation were too little, too late, and a majority of us decided to quit.  That meant getting kicked out of the free apartment, though, which was a problem for me, seeing as how I was flat broke.

Luckily, a couple of the guys from the group offered to pay my rent for a few months if I lived with them.  We found a shitty apartment in the student hangout area of Wudaokou, and I began a new job hunt.  A few interviews later, and I had a job in a Korean training school where I would teach spoken English to children in the evenings.

For the next eight months or so, I worked there as an ESL teacher for about 20 hours a week, studied Chinese in a small class for 6-8 hours, and partied the rest of the time.  Pub Quiz on Wednesday, Beer Pong on Thursday, all night electronic shows on the weekend, and Open Mic on Sunday – we were always out and about.

Occasionally, I passed up the weekend debauchery to head out on day hikes around the city.  You wouldn’t know it on a polluted day (which is more often than not), but Beijing is actually surrounded by mountains.  I hiked out in the hills, on the Great Wall, and through small villages, all the while meeting and conversing with new people.

Travels Around China

During Chinese holidays, I traveled to other places in China with friends or on my own.  Attempting to travel independently in China has been the best way for me to practice and learn Chinese, and it’s the reason my Chinese has gotten to the level where it’s at, seeing as how I haven’t spent much time in a classroom.  Here’s a rundown of my Year #1 China travels:

October 2008: Qingdao and Beidaihe

My first trip out of Beijing took me to China’s east coast, where Tim and I reveled in the Tsingtao Beer Festival in the city with the same name (spelled differently).  We got irresponsibly drunk on shitty Chinese beer with a bunch of Germans and had one helluva time.  I then took a short trip to the beach town of Beidaihe with a friend and her school, where I finally developed a taste for seafood.

December 2008: Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou

To ring in the New Year, me, Tim, and Zack headed to Shanghai where we took in the fireworks on the Bund from a rooftop open bar.  We also took day tours to Suzhou, where we got massages and drank bai jiu in the afternoon, and Hangzhou, where we hiked through tea fields.

January 2009: Harbin and Nanjing

In an impulse decision, Tim and I bought one-way flights to Harbin for the Ice and Snow Festival.  We ended up getting high on cough syrup, going to the children’s park, feeding slabs of beef and live chickens to tigers, and taking a 15-hour sleeper bus back to Beijing.

For the Chinese New Year, I headed to Nanjing with Andrew.  Nothing screams festival atmosphere like visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial!

May 2009: Beijing Day Trips, Xi’an, Tokyo

I joined Couchsurfing and hosted a German guy named Felix, and I took him on a few adventures around Beijing. We went hiking at Shang Fang Mountain and slept on the Jinshanling Great Wall without tents or flashlights.

I also hosted a Filipino guy and we went to the Shidu scenic area outside of Beijing to breathe some fresh air, do some hiking, and give bungee jumping a try.

Later that month, I traveled to Xi’an by myself, where I saw the Terra Cotta Warriors, got blackout drunk with an Irish hippie, and had a miserable hung-over walk on the City Wall.

The month finished with a visit to Tokyo, which I found to be an incredibly modern, sophisticated, clean, and efficient city – basically the opposite of Beijing.

June 2009: Back to the USA

I cruised back to Detroit, hit a Biscuits show in Cleveland, and set out for Tennessee to meet up with the lovely girl whom I had become crazy about to embark on the epic Summer of Bruce. To keep going through our story, you can check out what Rachel did while I was in China, and then go on to read about the crazy summer of 2009.

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