A couple of observations right off the bat:
Yes. The air. It is the first thing you notice. “Hmm,” you muse to yourself as the plane begins its descent, “is Beijing particularly foggy today?” Then as you descend further into the persistent veil which envelopes the entire metropolitan area with its shroud-like embrace, you realize that it is not, in fact, fog. The air is thick with pollution, giving the city a sweet, almost anti-freeze aroma; the sky overhead is not blue but washed-out white and gray. Rampant smog banks. Tolkein’s dragon would be proud.
The buildings. Even in the middle of the city you find the curly tiled roofs, pagoda-like structures, and apartments that might belong in 1990’s Moscow if not for the air conditioning units pumping in every window. Riding by Olympic village was particularly exciting, as the Swallow’s Nest and Water Sports Complex popped into view.
The place we are staying during training is called the Xinhai Sports Hotel. It’s more or less on the campus of Peking University, and is full of the sounds of children running and tennis shoes squeaking and whistles blowing short blasts; basically it sounds like an elementary school gymnasium, though the noise seems to die off at a fairly reasonable hour. My fabulous roommate and I are comfortably situated in a very large room with an extra bed which we have designated “the Couch,” a pretty nice bathroom, and an electric tea kettle which will most likely be put to use as our teeth-brushing and emergency nighttime water supply.
We took a wander down the streets of Haidian (the district in which our hotel lies) this afternoon in search of electrical plug adapters; it wound up being quite the adventure, as the first place we went, an electronics store, wound up having plug adapters but not voltage transformers so then we had to look for a hardware store which carried the transformers and one of the girls from the first store, who spoke a little English and apparently agreed that my Chinese was too awful to be let out in public yet, wound up marching off in the direction of the hardware store beckoning us to follow. So we did, obligingly, and got all sorted out, but not before we had caused a complete stir in both stores, with salespersons descending from every corner and all discussing which adapter would work and should the foreigners buy this one or that one etc. It was a little mad, but fun, and it’s good to be forced to use the language. I already feel like some words are coming back that I wouldn’t have been able to tell you yesterday.
We also had a bit of a dinner adventure, but I’ll save that for later. I’m sure there will be other food-related incidents in the next few days.
Orientation tomorrow. Wish us luck. The jet-lag is making its presence known in full force.