It has been around a month since my last post…

ImageIt has been around a month since my last post, and there is a lot to report! I’m currently on a high speed train to Anhui province, south of Beijing. It is really peaceful writing while travelling, the last post I wrote on a plane up above the clouds, and this time I’m writing whilst sitting on a train moving at hundreds of kilometres an hour! This post will summarise my last month in Beijing.

On the 14th of July, I landed in Beijing in the afternoon along with the tour group that I travelled together with in Gansu. It was sad to say goodbye to the group, we really got to know each other quite well over the weeks we spent together travelling around. However, I was very ready for not staying in hotels and having the comforts of my own bedroom and kitchen. When I landed at Beijing, I had a phone with no credit and an address of where I would be staying. After exiting the airport, I was greeted by a really unhappy taxi driver and my first impressions of the city were not great. The air in Beijing is seriously polluted, the smell and the sight of smog, is really confronting and is noticeable the moment you step outside. Despite this, I got to my new home safely and hassle free.

The place I am staying at in Beijing is really nice. It is on the top floor of a newish apartment with views over a huge local park. It is located in the east of Beijing not too far from the fun parts of town and the city. I have two flatmates Demi and Nicole. Demi works in the Real Estate Private Equity industry, although she works long hours she makes a perfect flatmate. Despite speaking perfect English (she completed her master’s degree in the US); she only speaks with me in Chinese as she knows I’m working hard to learn the language. She also loves cooking and has taught me a list of different Chinese dishes. My other flatmate Nicole is a business person and she runs a business that provides Chinese artwork to hotels, private clubs and other spaces all over China. Her business is essentially working with architects, and corporates who have spaces that need customised commercial art. She has a team of artists that are hired from Chinas most prestigious art schools that design the artwork, and she has a project manager that ensures the work is delivered to the client’s satisfaction. She essentially is the sales side of the business. As part of this she travels a lot and our house is filled with expensive and unique sculptures and artwork, which makes it an even cooler place to live. They have both been fantastic in helping me settle in and introducing me to people.

I wanted to do a few things over my first month in Beijing, settle in, finish a language course, get prepared generally for the semester ahead at Tsinghua and get a good start on the ANU online course that I had enrolled in. The ANU course ended up being an absolute nightmare. I was working with a bunch of kids who had a really different idea of group work to what I was expecting. I did not get along with them at all. As a result, I withdrew from this course and I am so happy I made this decision. It has meant that I have had more time to enjoy life in China and has removed the stress of dealing with a bunch of immature kids. This experience has really reminded me how lucky I have been to have met such great people at university who I really get along with and are really passionate about studying law. Everything else on my to-do list has gone exactly to plan. I feel settled in and I know my way around Beijing fairly well already. Wudaokou is the university district, Tai Yang Gong is my home, San Li Tun is the party district, and I have mastered the subway so I can get anywhere I want to go with ease. I have also purchased a second hand bike which makes transport very convenient. I’ve been using this bike to get to BLCU, it is actually faster to bike than it is to take the subway!

The language course at BLCU has just finished. At BLCU I studied in an advanced class where I achieved a massive improvement in my reading, listening and speaking ability. It is really amazing the improvement you can get in just a month of having the right environment. Speaking Chinese at school, Chinese at home, then Chinese on the streets, Beijing makes an excellent Mandarin learning environment – much better than Shanghai! In regards to Tsinghua, I’ve spoken to their law school about courses and am waiting to hear back from UNSW about subject approval. They have a bunch of visiting professors from all over the world taking electives on International Arbitration and Intellectual Property which will be really interesting for me to take. Unfortunately my Chinese level is not quite good enough to take law classes in Chinese, but I will see if I can take some non-law elective classes just for personal interest.

The people I met at BLCU are worth mentioning, they were all really interesting, motivated and ambitious people. I find people who study Chinese as a second language and who have made it to an advanced level are pretty determined people. It is not easy learning a second language, and whatever their motivations it is impressive that they have taken it this far. I met a few law students, one of them is working in Hong Kong and she was improving her Mandarin for work. She made Hong Kong sound like fun and I think I’d like to work there and try it out some time in my career. Although in HK she works in general corporate law, she has an interest in tax law, and also managed to make this sound like a very interesting avenue. She invited me to the Beijing ‘color run’ with some of her HK friends who had flown in just for the event. The color run is basically an Indian inspired event where you run around throwing paint at other participants. This was so much fun and I took lots of fun photos from the event. Apart from her, at BLCU other students worked in hospitality, journalism and history who were motivated to learn Chinese for these reasons.

The most frustrating aspect of Beijing so far has been the administration necessary for a visa, I will refraining from whining too much, but this basically involved me paying tax on behalf of your landlord (yes, this makes no sense to me either) and travelling around on the back of the real estate agents scooter to get from the household registration office and the various places where you need to pay tax. Massive administrative nightmare.

Overall, the first month has provided a few hiccups, but looks like things will all run smoothly from here. My Chinese level has improved, I have a mask for the pollution, I have a good social network in China, I know my way around, Tsinghua looks like it will be a challenging yet exciting learning environment and all the administrative stuff of visas and housing has finally been sorted out.

The reason why I am currently travelling to Anhui is because my flatmate Demi is originally from Anhui and she has just travelled there for work. She has kindly invited Nicole and I to travel up there over the weekend to see the local sights. Hopefully I will have some photos and a few interesting stories to share from the experience in a few weeks!

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