Sunday, February 12, 2006

Beijing blues

Mission accomplished: I've safely deposited Hanks at Peking University, where she will be studying Mandarin for the next 5 months. In the 5 days I spent in Beijing acting as escort/tour guide/bodyguard/yaya, the only casualty was a glove Hanks left behind in a cab. Aside from my dear sister, I was also responsible for her roomie Jessica, daughter of a family friend and sister of one of the girls I had spent my own study stint in Beijing with 4 years ago. It was exhausting keeping an eye on both Hanks and Jess (who both look more like 16-year-olds than their actual 22 years), at the same time teaching them how to commute via bus, subway and cab, showing them where to eat, shop and hang out, and translating for them every step of the way. Making everything even more taxing was the emotional stress over leaving my sister, which I valiantly tried not to show to her (as someone wise reminded me I should). However, it was also fun to be back in Beijing and vicariously relive the good ol' days I spent as a liu xue sheng (i.e. foreign student) at Beida (Peking University's nickname in Chinese). The trip was truly bittersweet, and in the end, in spite of the physical and emotional toll it took on me, I'm glad I went.

Day 1

We arrived in Beijing to chilly conditions, with a ground temperature of -6 degrees Celsius, and a warm welcome from the VP of Arrow China, who had generously offered to pick us up from the airport and bring us clear across the city to Peking University. Thus my Chinese speaking and listening skills were put to the test immediately upon arrival, and I found them rusty but adequate.

We got to Beida and checked in at the Shao Yuan dormitories. Hanks and Jess got a room in Building 9, the same building we had stayed in before. I got a room a floor below (since the school term hadn't begun yet, the dorms still had plenty of vacant rooms for temporary occupancy). I took them to grab a late lunch at a Taiwanese dimsum place outside the school's south gate, only to find that the place was gone. So we went to the KFC near our west gate instead. Afterwards we went back to the dorm so that Hanks and Jess could unpack and settle in.

Day 2

We took a cab to Wangfujing, Beijing's commercial district, to open bank accounts for Hanks and Jess and change and deposit money. Afterwards we had lunch in Oriental Plaza, the nicest mall in WFJ, then walked around the area window-shopping. We dropped by The Courtyard, arguably the best fusion restaurant in all of China, to chat and have coffee with head chef extraordinaire Rey, a family friend who has been living in Beijing for 9 years now. He is such a character, I love listening to him dispense his wry, unforgiving zingers. He reminds me of a Chinese Boy Abunda, but more refined, more sarcastic, and more adorable.

After visiting Rey, we had ice cream at Haagen-Dazs and plotted our route home with the aid of maps and a bus route book we had just purchased (I had forgotten all the stops and bus numbers after 4 years). Despite our fastidious planning, due to a navigational error and my lousy sense of direction, we took the wrong subway exit and wound up on a bus going the wrong way. But the booboo turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as we found ourselves heading in the direction of Carrefour, where I recommended Hanks and Jess do their grocery shopping. We got off at the bus stop in front of the store and bought some items my charges needed, and had dinner at an adjacent Pizza Hut.

Day 3

I gave Hanks and Jess a tour of the nearby campus of BLCU (Beijing Language and Culture University), where most Chinese Filipinos enroll to study Mandarin. We didn't run into any Pinoys though, since BLCU's classes don't start until later in the month. Lunch was at a Chinese restaurant across the road, and I pointed out all the usual "safe" items on the menu and how to read them. We went shopping at the Silk Market in the afternoon, and I bought a cardigan for my grandma, some clothes for myself, and 8 sipas my mom needs for her high school class's sportsfest (don't ask me why they're playing sipa). I enjoyed flexing my haggling skills in Chinese, and I gave Hanks and Jess pointers on how to deal with pushy/stubborn vendors (the walk-away technique is still the most tried and tested). We had coffee at a nearby Starbucks (Xingbake!) then headed home. We had Japanese food delivered to our rooms, the same stuff my cohorts and I subsisted on during the winter weeks we were studying in Beijing (cheap, filling, and you don't have to go out in freezing weather).

Day 4

We slept in, then had lunch at an Italian restaurant in a department store several bus stops away from school. We walked around the department store after lunch, and I bought a nice Elle bag Hanks could use while in Beijing (it has lots of compartments with zippers and an adjustable strap). Then we went back to Beida and took a stroll through the vast grounds. I led my 2 wards to the lake on campus (yes, there's a lake on campus!), which was still frozen and dotted with skaters. I also showed them the building where their classes would be held. Later that night we had dinner with a friend of Pa's, and my ability to converse in Chinese was stretched terrifically, especially as I received little help from Hanks and Jess. I think I managed ok, but again I was struck by how deficient my Mandarin is, despite many years of study.

Day 5

I was supposed to have a meeting with the Arrow China VP but he cancelled, so after a leisurely Chinese lunch at the restaurant in Shao Yuan's Building 7, we met up with Mark, son of another family friend, who's studying medicine in Beida. He took us to his regular DVD store to show us the selection, and then to his apartment so that Hanks could borrow some of his discs first. Since Mark had just flown back from Manila a few days after our arrival, our parents had managed to send our small DVD player care of him, along with a framed photo of our family which our mom had snuck in for Hanks (Ma's funny like that, she can be surprisingly sweet when she wants to be... I guess I know where I inherited my closet sap genes from). Mark joined us (though he didn't eat) for dinner at Space for Imagination, one of my favorite places in Beijing, a cozy hole-in-the-wall cafe that shows art films every other evening. Mark beat me to the bill, and I was impressed at how he showed he has inherited his parents' magnanimity and hospitality from start to finish. It's reassuring to know that Hanks will have a friend around, and more on their way once the BLCU people arrive.

Day 6

Hanks and Jess accompanied me as I checked out and waited outside our dorm compound for a taxi to take me to the airport. I ended up taking a hei che or ''black car'', an unregistered taxi (drivers of hei ches often wait outside apartments, dorms, hotels, train stations and airports, offering transport service at a flat rate). Since there were no taxis in sight and it was cold out, and the driver seemed pleasant enough, I decided to take the hei che once I got the fare down to RMB90. I gave Hanks a kiss and a hug goodbye, and because Jess was there my tear ducts weren't activated until I was in the car. And even then I wasn't afforded the luxury of full-out crying, as the driver was the chatty kind and I was forced to make small talk. At the airport I caught myself welling up several times, and at least once I told myself out loud to get a grip. I consoled myself by thinking that Hanks would have the time of her life, with her first taste of independence and the heady experience of living abroad. I quelled my worrying by remembering that Hanks is street-smart and tougher than she looks. And I smothered my selfish sorrow by summoning up what awaited me back home: family, friends, students, work, and all the things that are sure to keep me occupied until my sister's return.

I will not wallow. Jia you!

2 Comments:

At Tuesday, February 14, 2006, Anonymous fans said...

"achi" ails, HUGHUG! hanks will do just fine and have the time of her life there :) and if she decides to extend he studies, sabayan mo sya ;) hehehe kakamiss ang beijing :) haven't been back since 1999 glad to know you guys enjoyed

 
At Tuesday, February 14, 2006, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Thanks Atsi Fan! *hugs you back* A part of me longs to go back to Beijing to lead the carefree life of a liuxuesheng all over again, but I prefer working and enjoying all the comforts of home. :) Anyway we'll be visiting Hanks in April, I think. That's not too far off. I'll survive 'til then, hehe.

 

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