22 May 2011

Tales of travels, travails and triumphs

This will be my first blog entry from Beijing, so I feel I’d best get my first impressions down quickly. After all, as the expression goes, ‘if you stay a day in China, you can write a book; if you stay a month in China, you can write an essay; if you stay a year in China, you can write a sentence’. I figure I’d best get started on that book, since I’ve already been here one and a half days.

For one thing, Beijing is far greener and far cleaner than I remember it from 2006. There are some beautiful gardens nearby my firm’s office (PlaNet Finance), and many of the streets are lined with flourishing trees and shrubs. In addition, one can see much further into the distance now than one could four years ago – the obscure outlines of great glass towers sparkling in the daylight, and shimmering at night with a thousand red and blue neon lights. I don’t know whether this new clarity of vision is because I’m living in the east side of Beijing rather than the west side (different neighbourhood, different environment), or whether this is a result of an active greening campaign dating back to the run-up to 2008. Busses here seem less crowded now. I don’t know whether this is because I’ve simply gotten used to riding the erratically-timed sardine can that is the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s 71A line, because I’m taking all the wrong busses here, or whether the busses really are less crowded now. It will be interesting to see. I am overcome with the exuberant-yet-melancholy emotion of being reacquainted with an old friend I haven’t seen in many years; a sense of rediscovery and a sense of lost time. (This feeling is very familiar to me. I have recently made a prodigal return to Madison, Wisconsin for my sister’s graduation; I got to see a lot of old friends I hadn’t seen since I was 17 years old.)

I’ve spent the past couple of days mostly recuperating from my thirty-hour flight into Beijing (alternately sleeping and watching old episodes of Star Trek), and what time I haven’t spent resting I have spent exploring my surroundings. I have been put up temporarily in a friend’s home – Han Peng (韩鹏 a friend and fellow student at Pitt) and his family have very graciously allowed me to stay in their apartment near Three Circle Bridge (三元桥, Sanyuanqiao), and have even arranged for me to rent a more permanent residence near Peace Gate (和平门, Hepingmen), within easy subway access of the district in which PlaNet Finance is located. (The reason I found it so quickly was because Han Peng’s mother’s colleague was, upon her request, willing to rent a room to her son’s American friend.) I’m very grateful to the Hans for their assistance – once again, I am quite awed by the power of guanxi (关系, or connexions) in getting things done in China; these kinds of institutions are a communitarian’s dream.

So far, my stay has been very comfortable. I have not been able to access my blog here yet, except from the Beijing Airport. I’m not sure if this is a temporary glitch, if all Blogger is limited-access, or if the powers that be have somehow taken exception to the random philosophical ramblings, rants and YouTube links of a certain articulate Anglo-Catholic aficionado of China and heavy metal. Thus, I’m not quite sure whether I can get the ‘Banned in China’ merit badge just yet. I promise that once I get access, I will begin posting further… though, my gentle readers, be warned that may not occur for another three months (depending on said powers that be).

EDIT: It is actually the case that all Blogger is blocked here. I will be archiving the blog and moving it to another location soon, I hope. I will keep my readers posted!

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