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First thoughts on China

by on September 28, 2012

I’m speeding towards Shanghai in a sleek looking bullet train at 180 MPH. Outside, trees, cars, and brush blur together in a mush of earthy colors, like a shoddy reproduction of a slightly off-kilt impressionist painting. As I look out at the scenery whizzing by, I can’t shake the feeling that my whole time in China so far has been just like this train ride, almost too fast to digest what’s going on around me.

This summer, I decided to defer admission to college to explore my horizons on a gap year in China. Together with my high school friend Jacob, who also decided on a gap year, we are studying mandarin at Tsinghua University. Though we are based in Beijing, a sprawling metropolis of 20 million with towering skyscrapers and KFCs at every corner, the plan is to discover and explore the real China. (No, we haven’t found it yet. And no, we really have no clue what that means.)

Of course, not everything here will be easy – but hey, that’s part of the fun, right? Our first afternoon in China, we tried hailing a taxi for over an hour, because we didn’t quite realize that “there’s too much traffic” translates in English to “no, I will not waste my time going to your hotel that is 5 minutes away.” We continued walking half an hour in the wrong direction until, finally, an enterprising young cab driver decided to take the clueless foreigners to their hotel, instead of informing them that they were actually standing right next to a subway station which would take them directly to their destination in half the time for 1/10th the price.

It took Jacob and I a couple days to figure out how to use the subway system to get around

There’s definitely a learning curve here, but from my vantage point on the steep slope upwards, it will be worth the climb. We’ve been here only three weeks, but in that time I’ve eaten pig intestine boiled in blood at a stand about as sanitary as the dirt it was propped up on, endured cold showers because I couldn’t find the informative slip of paper that really did not seem that important at all when I first got it, and bought a bicycle for about the price of a cheap NY strip steak (which was about as reliable as the $4 “Rolexes” they sell at every street corner).

Of course, everything is different here, from the prevailing attitudes on the proper way to cross a street to the stars in the sky at night (I would tell you how they were different – if only I could see them through the smog). But this kind of differentness isn’t overwhelming; it’s exhilarating.

As I look back out the window again, I notice the beautiful rolling hills slide by in the distance. In fact, this train ride is perfect to enjoy the countryside vistas after all. Not too fast, not too slow. Just right.


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  1. sherry klein permalink

    hi jacob & geoff… you guys are amazing!! stay safe have a ball!!!

  2. Sheryl WuDunn permalink

    Enjoy the adventure, guys, a quest of sorts for what Indiana Jones couldn’t find!

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