Beijing 14/08/15 to 16/08/15
The first thing you should know about Beijing in the summer — it’s H-O-T HOT!
Landing at 6:30 in the morning to a long day ahead if you, in two days old clothes, fuzzy teeth and large bags under your eyes from sleeping for about 3 hours over the past 48 hours is something most people probably wouldn't find pleasant. And trust me, it wasn't. Although we experienced the whole no queuing dilemma when we tried to escape our flying prison, moving though immigration and customs was pretty speedy ( even if we did have to go through the ‘foreigners’ section). We were greeted by Mike at the airport who took a group photo, helped to exchange our money and guided us to the bus. We dumped out luggage on the bus while complaining about the heat and scrambled inside the bus. Mike introduced himself and gave us a brief talk on the way to the hotel letting us know that we weren't going straight to sleep.
Having only half an hour to sort yourself out, there’s not much time for a shower when your priority is finding cool clothing and brushing your teeth. So when we set out for our Project Trust China tradition, I felt utterly disgusting. Negative feelings aside, my first sight of Beijing was amazing! The underground is really clean and simple to use, and there were adverts on the tunnel we could see through the window as motion pictures! Mike took us to Tienanmen Square, it was beautiful. He then told us the name of the station that the CEAIE building is by and strolled off. This is the tradition, tell the volunteers where to meet and at what time and then the rep just leaves. So we were quite cool and confident, we had a map and it only took 20 minutes to walk there so with an hour and a half we wondered around the square for a bit. A few people asked other volunteers to take pictures with them, but most tried to take them secretly and some just stared for a very long period of time. There was one really cute girl who was absolutely amazed and we did some funny poses for her.
Once we got some ice cold water for ¥5 (about 50p) we set of confidently to find the station. We were going the right way initially, we even saw Mike walk in the same direction and crossing the road! Why we didn't follow him I haven’t a clue but I wish we did. We got monumentally lost because we got part of the name wrong! We were walking in the baking hot air for a good hour and a half!! People at the front got restless with those behind, the group fragmented once we finally got on the right road and we nearly lost two volunteers when they went off to get a drink. It was utterly chaotic.
After finally getting to the CEAIE building in one piece with Mike standing there, smug smile on his face, we were greeted by Li Ang. She’s a lovely person. We were also ecstatic to see bottles of water available. Her boss came down and gave us a talk about China and Beijing. I'm sure it would have been interesting if we weren't all ridiculously jet lagged! I was so focused on controlling my drooping eyes and head that I couldn't hear a word he said. Soon enough I found my other distraction though… watching the ways other volunteers were trying to hide that they were falling asleep! Some were just sleeping in the open, hilarious!
We headed back to the hotel with a three hour period to rest and get ready. Some slept — I had a freezing cold shower. Not intentionally, the hot water didn't work unless you ran the water for a long period of time. Finally ready (and having to leave some sleeping souls behind) we skipped off to a duck restaurant! It. Was. Amazing. We were split into two tables on the second floor for larger parties. Mike was on the opposite table and ordered the food for everyone, this is what normally happens during a banquet or eating out. So as it happened we had no clue what we were actually eating! Complete guess work! All of the food was placed in the middle of the table on a lazy Susan and is shared around the table. It was the first time using chopsticks for some people so that was funny watching them try to use them. Everyone got the hang of it really quickly. Food seemed to keep coming though, as soon as you think that you’re stuffed and you couldn't possibly eat more a brand new dish that you just have to try appears! I had such a food baby.
We had a late night back and no time restraint in the morning so everyone finally managed to catch up on some much needed sleep.
Breakfast wasn't available for us in the Saturday so we bought interesting pastries and bread from the shop. I stuck to a chocolate filled croissant, I've never really been a breakfast person. We received out trainee packs and name badges as the other trainees arrived from different Uni graduate programmes. Because the welcome dinner was at 6 and the day was free for those who were arriving to rest, we had the day free.
So what do you do on a free day in the incredible city Beijing? Tea ceremonies? Cultural lectures? Historical sight seeing? No, more like the zoo!! We walked for 40 minutes in the afternoon sun, the heat was overwhelming and I was sweating in places I never knew I could sweat before. After being redirected to the ‘foreigners queue’ two times we finally bought our tickets to get in, agreeing to meet outside at 3:30. The tickets cost ¥20 which is roughly £2, so I really wasn't going to complain. Courtney and I rested for a bit and within a while people were shoving their kids towards us while asking to take a picture! At least three families approached us for a photo while we were resting. One little girl stared into our Caucasian souls. Once recovered from the ungodly heat we went to see the pandas which was an extra 50p, but it was so worth it!
After we went to get and ice cream, and the cheapest of all was the pea ice cream that Calum had told us was amazing (we later find out he was trying to play us). Much to my surprise it was actually really good! Like sweet frozen peas on and stick. Because we were sat down more people asked to take photo’s with us, so many we've lost count! I wonder where those photo’s are now…
Walking around we saw monkeys, wolves/dogs, elephants and others. We felt most sorry for the Polar bears, who didn't have a temperature controlled environment. They had to be outside in about 35°C, panting and circling around or collapsed on the floor. It was a little sad to watch.
After the zoo, those who hadn't gone back to the hotel went to the supermarket. This is where culture shock hit me. It was SO LOUD. Microphones on every corner convincing people to by the product. BRIGHT COLOURS. You thought our products were bright, but oh my god it was overwhelming. When Millie was shopping for sunscreen, a shop assistant came over, unscrewed the lid of the bottle she was looking at and blobbed it on her arm. She awkwardly rubbed it in and decided that she did want it (thank the lord). I decided to instead get sun burnt because I'm a cheap skate and didn't want to buy a bottle of sun cream for £5/ ¥50 when my budget per day is £7.30/ ¥73!
The walk back was long and draining. Our feet hurt, it was hot and motivation was low. We somehow managed to make it back by 5:10 with 40 minutes to get ready for the banquet. I put on my fly H&M dress and skipped happily to the food. The banquet wasn’t that long but there was a monumental amount of food there! I ate well.
Ending about 8ish we had a free evening so a bunch of us went to KTV… oh yes. We went to Karaoke!! This isn't the western style when you get up in front of a bunch of strangers at a bar and make a fool out of yourself. You hire a private room by the hour with screens, microphones, flashing tambourines and a cool disco light! It was so much fun and I want to go back there again (this time with alcohol).
Waking up early, we had breakfast with the tickets we received with out packs… but I wasn't too keen. I'm not much of a breakfast person as it is, I normally just have a cuppa and some breakfast biscuits but for a change I had rice and other cooked foods I wasn't sure of. The rest of the day was held by an American lecturer training us on culture and teaching. Jet lag must have still been in effect because I was nodding off (we’d also already learnt all of this in our training week). Then in the evening we were whisked away to our summer camp schools…