The small things

I made it back to Beijing on Sunday, 20 August, in one piece. There was no calamity, no catastrophe. It went well coming back. I arrived at about 05:30, and went through customs very quickly. I collected my luggage, got on the first airport express train and made it to the campus for my new job at about 09:00. Then the issues began. They were small things, but ones which led from one to another. I should say I’m staying in the experts’ hotel at the university.

First, the hotel itself did not (initially) know I was coming, despite the fact, the person responsible for me and my accommodation had telephoned them last week to tell them. I don’t have his phone number either, only his WeChat. I called the person who oversees my English teaching, and it was in that moment (as it always is), that the reception staff thought that I might be a foreign teacher and in that case, they were expecting me. I admit, I perhaps should have said I was a teacher (I think I did), but equally I assumed they’d see a foreign face and know who I was and what I was doing there. When they realised, they were okay and pointed me towards my room, though there was a back-and-forth between me, them and their phone app as they translated what they were saying into English.

Once entering my room, I found out there was no fridge. I had been informed it was to be delivered that morning, which was fine. But there was no microwave either. I didn’t know if this was deliberate or not. At RDFZ, the school provided us with a quilt but no pillow, which always seemed odd to us, as Chinese people use pillows. I thought this might be the same, but later when the fridge was delivered they brought a new hotplate and microwave as well.

I don’t really know the area around the university, though I’ve started exploring a little bit. I’ve discovered another subway station which might be marginally closer than the one I was more familiar with. I’ve also found the Carrefour supermarket nearby and a 7-11, so that’s my food needs satisfied, at least for the short term.

Later that morning, I messaged the mother of the boy I tutored, the one whose house I’d left my stuff at. I asked if it was possible to bring my stuff back in the afternoon. She said her husband was away and it might be better to wait until Monday – when he’d be back – as I had a heavy case, and there is no lift in my building. I said I should be okay carrying it (in the end, she gave me a smaller case so I could split my stuff and make it lighter), and that I’d prefer to just have my stuff and move in. She agreed, and said after lunch (and a nap), I should go to her house. I had lunch and then fell asleep. I set my watch alarm – which I didn’t hear or it didn’t go off – and the alarm on my phone, which just so happened to die whilst I was napping. When I woke, it was 3pm – the time we’d agree to meet at her house. With my phone dead, I had no way of contacting her (my charger was with my stuff at her house). Anyway, nevertheless I headed to her house, arriving about 4pm, covered in sweat. We loaded up the car and came here. She left my stuff in reception and I carried them upstairs. I also gave her a gift I’d brought that for her.

I managed to unpack my stuff and settle in, before going to bed early.

These little things – the reception staff not initially expecting me; oversleeping and arriving late to collect my stuff; not to mention the baking head of the city – were nothing to the bigger little thing, an issue which has plagued me often, partly because, I think, I’m not an expert on technology and issues related to it. The biggest problem I had was the internet. Yes, I can use a computer but it is this, and the technology related to it, which often leaves me floundering. In my first year in Swansea, for example, my internet did work but only partially until magically, after about half a year, it worked fine. I don’t know what I did or how, but after that it worked.

I’d been told, before I arrived, that there was an internet cable in my flat, but that other teachers use a router to use the internet in all parts of their accommodation. Could I find the cable? You won’t be surprised, I’m sure, when I say no I could not. I didn’t know where it was. Eventually, I bought an ethernet cable myself today. Needless to say, it sort of works (though seems somewhat sporadic), which you might have figured, since I’m posting this now.

A quick comment about the room – a student who I sent photos to commented it looked nice, but reminded them of a hotel room. My response was, ‘funny you should say that….’. Yes the bathroom is smaller than last year, but who needs a big bathroom and perhaps for the first time ever, the shower is just at the right temperature when you turn it on. I’ve never had that before. I don’t like really hot, or really cold showers, and I’m not in it for very long usually, but it’s at the right temperature very quickly so that’s a big plus. The bedroom and bed are both bigger than last year. There is also more storage space for clothes, and the desk is almost presidential! It’s pretty big. It’s not a bad place to spend some time, even if the hotel does not have a lift, and I’m on the forth floor (with the ground floor being floor one). Still, it will keep me fit going up and down stairs all the time! There is a laundry room somewhere in the building, but I’ve not found that yet. I have found the cafeteria…. or at least one of them (I think they are rebuilding the other one), but I don’t yet know where the machine is to top up my card so I’ll have to find that out soon. Priorities etc….

Now it’s a case of settling in, working on teaching plans, and doing one final sweep to put everything away (some things are still waiting to find a home).

A couple of years ago, when I first arrived, I scouted around for supermarkets. Carrefour was the closest but there was also a Walmart nearby (I was told). It was, but wasn’t the easiest place to get to, so I did most of my shopping at Carrefour. Now I’m close(ish) to both (Walmart still requires a subway trip but it’s only one stop). So I decided to go there, as it often has different things in to Carrefour.

Now, many supermarkets have sections of imported food, with some catering exclusively for expats, but you don’t see that much British stuff. Imported food is also very expensive, but there are certain things which you can only buy as an import. Breakfast cereal is one. Chinese people don’t really eat cereal for breakfast, so most of it on sale is imported. Porridge is reasonably priced, I suppose, and I eat that regularly but if you want a change, other than cornflakes, anything else is expensive. The same goes for cheese. You don’t really get cheese here, so often cheese is very dear, even for a small amount. As a result, I don’t often buy it. Sandwiches are not that common (except in expat stores or international stores like IKEA), although 7-11 sell some nice ones. Therefore, you don’t really get a cheese sandwich sold in many places, so it’s not even common as a simple snack like that.

After Marks and Spencer’s closed at the start of this year, getting quintessential British food is harder to come by. I don’t seek it out, but at Christmas (before it closed), I was tasked with finding mince pies and crackers, both of which were sold in M&S. Cheese is nice occasionally, but I don’t eat it that often at home and I don’t mind if I don’t eat it much here. Cereal, however, I do like a lot, so although I usually eat porridge, when I go shopping, I do sometimes look for deals or reduced priced breakfast cereal.

Coming back to Walmart, I’d forgotten they stock some Asda products. And so, coming half way around the world, you have that little connection with life back home.

You come half way around the world, only to come face to face with an Asda product (the dent in it is from my poor handling skills getting it back to the flat. It wasn’t like that when I bought it)!

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