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
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!
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.