Our first full day on the ground was a bit of a whirlwind. Jetlag provoked Alex and I to a 4 a.m. wakeup call, and we stayed busy from around 6 in the morning until 9 at night. The day started with asking at the front desk for directions to the closest ATM as we had no RMB, the currency of the People’s Republic. The desk attendant did not understand, but she instead started handing us what she thought we were after—our short term residency permits. After thanking her for our documents, through a hodgepodge of Chinese on our part, some broken English on her end, and the use of translation apps by both parties, she was able to direct us down the road to an ATM.
Outside was cool with blue skies. A rain shower the previous evening had cleared the skies to an amazing level of clearness that residents warned us to enjoy while we could. We finally reached the ATM, but the machine inexplicably would not service our request. Slightly nervous about not having any local currency, we were forced to wait till the following day to exchange our dollars when we were scheduled to open a local account.
Back in the hotel, we enjoyed our first Chinese breakfast. For those like us who have never experienced breakfast in China, the variety was dazzling. In addition to eggs and sausages to please expats like us, the Chinese breakfast seemed to consist of items like steamed buns filled with vegetables, fruit, and yogurt. Less conventionally, the menu also included many items that surprised one at 8:00, chicken nuggets, a salad bar, and slightly spicy noodles with vegetables to name a few. To a dedicated breakfast/brunch aficionado as myself, the result was slightly heretical, but as delicious as the spicy noodles proved to be, I decided I could adapt to the local morning cuisine.
During breakfast and for the rest of the day, the process of learning the names of everyone in our intake group was a major goal. Our group consisted of 31 individuals, which is roughly a third larger than the average size. We all loaded into two vans and crossed the city ogling the skyscrapers as we went. We pulled up to a phone store and all entered (slightly alarming the staff) and received new SIM cards for our phones. This four hour process put us slightly behind schedule for the training that was happening in EF headquarters a block down, but ended up being a great time to meet people and begin finding friends.
After we got our phones set up, we walked over to the EF headquarters and learned about our various teaching centers and different neighborhoods around the city. As the last stragglers arrived from the phone store, it was time for lunch across the street. EF had reserved several tables and a set menu so a few minutes after we arrived, plates of food started being placed on a large lazy susan in the middle of the table. While everything was delicious, the dish that stuck out in my memory was the glass noodles. This may be especially memorable because the large slippery noodle accidentally slipped from my chopstick onto the table with a loud (to my ears) slap, but maybe also because once they reached my mouth, they were delicious.
After everyone was so stuffed that we couldn’t even make a halfhearted effort at the last 4 or 5 dishes placed on the table, it was time to go back to the center. We signed our contracts (all three copies) and had an opportunity to ask questions about the city or our centers. Then, three current teachers came in and introduced themselves. Our main trainer told us that we were going to Tienanmen Square together (we had previously been warned to wear comfortable shoes to explore the city). After braving the subway for the first time—a little crowded, but not bad—we arrived, looked at the surrounding sights, and were prominently displayed or occasionally coerced into other people’s pictures. Alex’s red hair proved to be a beacon of foreignness and he was asked by total strangers to be in their pictures. In other parts of the city, our appearance was noticed, but not a source of interest, but tourist attractions, like Tienanmen, with more rural people showed us the kind of interest we might arouse in other parts of China.
After making our way back to the hotel, Alex and I played some cards with Carson and my new friend, Anna. It was nice to play familiar games with people we felt very comfortable around, and encouraging to know that maybe being in Beijing wouldn’t feel completely different from home.