AUGUST 21 – When my Aeroflot flight neared Beijing, I looked out the window to see mountains unlike any I’d seen before, not terribly large, but completely covered by plant life, almost vertical in many places, misty clouds nestled between them. A Chinese teacher by the name of Tiger picked me up at the airport and took me back to my apartment in Haidian district. It’s a pretty comfy 2-bedroom, lightly furnished, on the first floor of a massive housing complex. I had just been traveling through the Balkans and so was ready for any sort of craziness, but Beijing takes some getting used to. Crossing the Yuquan Rd. felt like sprinting across a football field for dear life. The good thing about the traffic here is that while a car can come from any direction at any time, they don’t drive terribly fast, so you have time to run for safety. My first night here I headed out for dinner on my own with no idea where to go, and not another westerner in sight. I picked a place on Beitaiping Rd. and the waitress was simultaneously amused and flustered at the language barrier. I knew how to order a beer, and to explain that I don’t speak Mandarin, but when you say that, they just keep on speaking Mandarin to you. The manager came over with a translator app, and that helped a bit. When I pointed at various dishes, asking if they were any good, they took it to mean I was ordering it all, and I got a rather large dinner. No problem, they wrapped the rest and it was good leftovers for a few days.
AUGUST 22 – I left my flat and ran into some other expat teachers on the way to take care of our residency visas, new bank accounts, and SIM cards. We made fast friends. Li Ang is our Chinese liaison, and has done a great job shepherding us through the bureaucratic weirdness. Matt, an English teacher, has been living here for a few months with his wife over in Chaoyang, and they took us to a place in their neighborhood for dinner and drinks. Eric, Alejandra and I checked out their place afterwards. Matt makes a very drinkable gin and tonic. They have a one-eyed dog.