I'll step back. We were up at 4:45 am last Saturday. The Saturday that blended into Sunday. Everything went smoothly at the Winnipeg airport, and we were extremely pleased to learn that our baggage was checked through to Beijing. Of course, that still left me with 7 carry-on bags to wield, as the boys don't tend to help much when it comes to carrying. And Jess, of course, had to shepherd the boys. We got on the plane without a hitch, and the flight went well. Ari was thrilled by the concept of flying, and Jude slept most of the way.
When we arrived in Vancouver, the stewardesses helped us get our stuff off the plane, and the pilot took Ari up for a tour of the cockpit. He got to sit in the pilot's seat and give the controls a good crank.
By the time we were back on the plane, the boys were ready for a nap. The plane took off at 12:30 pm, and since we were flying with the sun, the day just seemed to go on forever. 12 hours later, it had only slipped down the horizon a few degrees. It was a bit of a bizarre experience - something like time traveling, which in a way it was.
Ari broke down in the Beijing airport. It was just too much for him to walk the zillion miles from where the plane landed to the massive queue in front of the customs booth. I don't think he was aware of the fact that seven 25 lb. carry-on bags I was shouldering might make me want to cry a bit too. But we met Rod (one of the Country Reps here in Beijing) no problem, and soon enough we were whisking down the airport expressway towards our apartment.
The apartment is very nice. We are on the third floor of a building in a complex called Atlantic Place. Until you've walked around a while, it's a little hard to envision how the complex is set up. There are five or so qu's (for example, we live in C-qu), and the whole complex takes up the better part of a square kilometer. There are quite a few Koreans living in the area (some from Korea, and some Chinese Koreans, I think), and many of the signs are written in both Chinese and Korean.
If you head left out our gate, you'll wind up at the market. There you'll find all sorts of things for sale: mountains of fresh vegetables (delicious!), heaps of meat (less than appealing), and sacks brimming with spices, nuts, beans and more. One building over, you'll be stumbling over electronics, frilly underwear, stationery, and a myriad of other knickknacks, paddywhacks, and dog bones. (Actually, the dog bones are back in the meat section.)
Alternately, if you head right from our gate, you might end up at the mall. Behold, the Beijing Hualian! And behold the disparity. Outside, you pass a little old man who plays an instrument that appears to be made from a tin can, hoping for a few coins. But inside, you enter a throne room for feet. Italian leather shoes, knee high boots (very in with the Chinese ladies), and runners of all shapes and sizes. That's not all. Cosmetics, perfumes, lingerie, skirts...
Directly below this shoppers paradise is the supermarket. One of the things I will like the most about living in China is the availability of mushrooms! Today, for about $1.75, I bought three trays of oyster mushrooms. Each tray came with a second "Free Gift" tray of some other type of mushroom that I recognized, but whose name I can't remember. They look like long noodles with little bubbles at the the tips. Let's call them "hair mushrooms". Whatever Linneaus decided they ought to be called, I fried them up and gobbled them for supper.
Yesterday, we had a chance to go by the language school where Jess and I will be studying Mandarin. Teipei Language Institute. It seems like a good place, and the staff that we spoke with seemed very nice. We will begin official classes next Tuesday (the 10th). In the meantime, we've been given our books, which I've spent the last day looking through. It promises to be a challenge!
Of course, it will be good to get at least a minimum of conversational ability down as soon as possible. It was somewhat surreal when the telephone rang in our apartment (may I call it a flat? It sounds so much cooler that way...) and a woman's voice came on. She rattled on for a bit, but all I caught was ni hao. After she had delivered a prolonged monologue, I piped up with a rather timid "I don't speak Chinese". Another longwinded speech ensued, in which I caught san A, which is our apartment number (I mean our flat number). This time I rephrased myself. "Only English". With a hint of concern in her voice, the woman unleashed a final blast of retroflexes, and hung up.
Yesterday the air was bad. Very bad, I think. I really don't know how it compares to the average air quality. But late in the evening, we heard a loud explosion, as though a battleship had let off one of its big guns. Then came the fizzling sound of fireworks. In the morning, we saw that it had rained, and Rod mentioned that from time to time they fire a round of silver-something-or-other into the sky to seed for clouds. Whatever it was, it worked, because by morning the air was clear and the sky was blue. And most importantly, my crushing headache was gone. So keep the cannons firing!
It will still be a while before things feel "normal" around here, but the reality is, life hasn't been normal for several months. Even while we were living in Winnipeg, many aspects of life were up in the air, like so many pinches of silver-something-or-other. All we did, in some ways, was change the location of our strangeness.
But for now, I'm off to bed. Jet lag has been kind to me, but I'm still in bed by 9 pm. This job won't make us wealthy, and the air here won't make us healthy, but we might get somewhere with wise...