My First Day at PKU
From Beijing Capital International Airport, I was to take a taxi to the campus. Though I got the necessary instructions on the available options, picking a cab was the most convenient; that’s particularly true if one takes the financial cost out of the equation. And on that particular day, the cost of taking a cab to the campus was not of great concern anyway, not because I was rich enough to care less about the price tag to be paid—I am, like many students are, highly responsive to price fluctuations; rather, it was, literally, the only assuring means to get to the university. Safe?
After a five-hour delay in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, my flight was long and tiring; and in a city I’ve neither been to nor understood the language, opting for public transportation, though much cheaper, was not the wisest thing to do. Even time seemed to have conspired against that option. The plane landed at 4 am; that’s, long before the daybreak. I knew that the inner city public transport in Beijing stops at 11 pm. So I assumed (fairly reasonably) that it resumes at 6 in the morning, but I couldn’t and didn’t try to find out. The truth is, the idea of endeavoring to find out never actually came to my exhausted mind.
From a long line of awaiting taxies, I picked one. I’ve hoped to find a driver who could speak English. But I soon realized that I may have to wait there in vain, eternally. I’d learned some useful Chinese phrases; or, to be more precise, I’d learned Chinese phrases my online sources said would be enough for a traveler to China. Yet, once in the airport, I found myself unable to use them. First, I could not recall many, and those that came to my mind I could not say properly. And with the only one or two I got correctly in asking for direction, I couldn’t understand the reply either because, to say the same thing, my interlocutors used different concepts than they ones I’d memorized or because they spook so fast that I could barely hear what they said. A disaster. I should have known better that, by relying on those phrases, I was simply deceiving myself, for it requires a lot more than that to survive a language barrier.
When I decided to pick the cab, I realized that I couldn’t say my destination, Peking University, in Chinese. I haven’t thought of that before, and having no Internet connection, Google “father” was useless. It took some time before we (the driver and I) could sort it out. And believe me when I tell that you really don’t need to know how!
It took us less than I’d expected to reach the campus—the roads were clear, and the traffic stream absent. Once on the campus, however, it took us much longer than anyone could believe to get to the right destination, our residence. The driver could not map the address on the campus, and asking by-passers did not help any more than my own ignorance. They would give conflicting information ant led the driver to go back and forth, turning around the same spot. Even those who did not know the place the driver was asking for would say something and indicate one direction or the other in giving instructions to follow. At some points, I was expecting the driver to start shouting angrily for the lost time. Instead, I was deeply impressed by the maintained cool temper. Yet I’d a vague idea of Chinese people always being in a hurry, impatiently rushing around as if chasing some historically lost time…
If that idea is true though, the driver was an obvious exception, an outlier? Eventually, we found the place we’ve been looking for. More impressive to me was the fact that the driver did not ask for any additional fees as I got off and only took the normal fare when I paid.
My hope and expectation though of getting some rest before the scheduled activities of the day, were squashed by the delays starting from Kiev. Therefore, I had no choice but to proceed with the administrative formalities, as scheduled for the day. I’d had a long and tiring journey, and now I was to have a similarly long and tiring day of activities. But I could blame no one since that was exactly the price I was to pay for deciding to come later than the sated dates of arrivals! Yet still, what a disappointing hope and a clearly unsuccessful plan I’ve had!But I’m an aspiring student of von Goethe, and like his young Werther, I’ve long known that “All men are disappointed in their hopes, and deceived in their expectations.”
1 comment - My First Day at PKU
I chose this post to be my first read. Forgive me I actually laughed out loud at that taxi part. Wish I could help!
And love that werther reference.
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