Day 1 - Destination: China

Monday, February ~8th, 2016

Well, after all that struggle, today was the big day that I finally made it on a damn plane to China. In total from inception to take-off, it has been about a 16 month struggle to find a job, gather my documents, ensure they arrived (the same document was lost in the mail twice ($65 CAD), and rejected once ($550 CAD)) and were accepted by the Chinese government (they don’t like Canadians applying from Australia, apparently), receiving the documents on the Canadian side, going to the visa office in Toronto (twice), and somehow pulling everything together within a week of the visa being granted.

Baggage Claim in Beijing Airport
In short: It’s been a bit of a struggle.
My best friend, Steve, and his wife, Adeline, agreed to drive me to Toronto. Neither of them are comfortable driving in the big city, and the trip was made even easier by taking a vehicle they neither owned nor were comfortable with. Note the sarcasm.

Despite that, we made it alive, went out for some drinks, and enjoyed our brief accommodations via Air BnB. This entire week, I’ve been sleeping very light, and anxiously. I’m still frightened of this trip, though don’t ask me what particular thing scares me. Probably just some fear of the unknown mixed with a heaping dollop of horror stories, and a gallon of language barrier for good measure.

The day started after 5ish hours of sleep, hoofing around the surrounding shops to find a decent cafe for breakfast. We settled on one that Steve almost turned his nose up at for reasons "unknown." Just a gut feeling, I guess. In either case, we all enjoyed it quite a lot. Afterward, we struggled with the bags, parking, and short drive to the airport. 

Adeline and Steve said their brief, bittersweet farewells and I was banished into the airport. Things went smoothly, except for the special screening at security. Pat down, body scanners, and several times over with a metal detector. Free and clear, I was surprised at how quick and easy the entire process was compared to the last few times, even with the extra screening.

My New Digs
When I came back from Australia in September, my friend, Raph, had decided to surprise me. While I was away, he had informed me that he was no longer planning on going to China (reasons unknown), which is where we had agreed to meet up again. I tore a strip off him for that, and that totally changed his mind (citation needed). Honestly, I don’t know what made the difference, maybe it was just a temporary hesitation. I’ll be sure to ask him when I finally see him, which will still be a while because he’s in Shanghai, which is about the distance from Windsor, Ontario to Quebec City.

Here’s the thing: he seemed to make up his mind and be in China within a month, give or take. Meanwhile, I’ve been determined to go since October 2014 and am now dusting off on February 7th, 2016. His landing and setup have been rather rough, however, which leads me to hope for the following:

If his preliminary work was light and easy, but his landing difficult… maybe, just maybe, my landing and setup will be a breeze thanks to my preliminary work being excessively difficult. Fingers crossed.

As of writing up to this point, it is now 10pm EST, and the flight took off at 2:20pm. I haven’t slept, and appear to have missed the window because everyone slept from 4-9 for some reason. I guess we’re already on Beijing time?

One thing I’ve noticed among the variety of Chinese people aboard is that I keep hearing people loudly snort their phlegm. It’s hard to describe the guttural, nasal noise, but it’s been from various people in my little segmented neighborhood of the plane.

The rest of the flight goes without mishap, though some people start letting out short screams/audible gasps when we hit some turbulence. For some reason, Tyler Durden’s words from Fight Club (1999) comforted me with dealing with the fear: This is your life, and it’s ending one second at a time. If I were to die in a plane crash, at least I didn’t let fear hold me back. I also laughed at this when I heard the scream (in case the marker doesn't place it, the part I mean is from 1:25-2:41):

Of course, everything goes without mishap.

Everything in the airport is pretty empty. I’ve been told this is because everyone that usually lives in Beijing has gone back to their homes for the Chinese New Year. To put my date of arrival in our own cultural terms: I basically arrive on Boxing Day, or January 1st. Just after the main celebration. Happily, my documents are all accepted and my fears of being turned away are set aside.

Shimou meets me at the gate, and so does Ms.Handler, one of the school's handlers I’d been corresponding with.* Another employee of the school, a guy, drove all of us from the apartment. Didn’t catch his name, though.

The View from my Livingroom
If you look closely, you can make out
three mountains
The airport and city both reminded me of Toronto, at least what you can see from the highways. Very grey, both city and sky. There was no visible smog today, so I guess that’s just the color of things. Occasionally, I could see traditional Chinese architecture along the highway, but it felt anachronistic across from the sky scrapers and factories.

We arrive at the apartment. The gate at the front was a little difficult to get my luggage through - it didn’t swing open, but narrowly revolves from a hinge in the center. About a foot of clearance to get through. The building itself is poorly lit, giving a slightly uneasy impression as we ride our way up to the 16th floor.

Inside the apartment, I’m informed that I have an American roommate. News to me, as I was under the impression that I had the apartment to myself. Oh well, so long as he’s not a dickhead, I’m sure it will be alright.

After a 1.5h nap, Shimou ordered food and woke me up once it arrived. Dead to the world, I didn’t even notice her leave. After a brief meal, I hit the hay again around 10pm local time and slept until 7.

I still can’t get past the internet barrier consistently, but it seems like Facebook chat messages are occasionally slipping through. People were right: set up your VPN before you get here. I have no idea how to set them up right now because I installed them, but didn’t bother to make sure they worked. Bummer.

Throughout the night, dozens of fireworks go off every few minutes. The heat in my room is outside my control. It's set for the entire floor, chronically radiating. It’s almost 8am as I write this, and I still hear the odd POP outside. One literally went off as I wrote the word pop. Time to nap a little bit more before getting up and ready for the police station on Day 2.

*I am aware that it's "improper to end a sentence with a preposition," but it just sounds pompous to say "with whom I'd been corresponding."

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