Friday, February 20, 2009

Settling in

I've been in Dalian now for a couple of days, and I'm loving it.

I just got back from the "Trust Mart," a hypermarket owned by Wal-Mart, with a load of groceries I've got a chicken soup bubbling away in the wok, and I'm watching the sole English-language channel on CCTV. The programming is divided between loving documentaries on Chinese history and culture, and current world events (with, of course, a decidedly Chinese slant). I've been watching the documentaries with a particular eye toward identifying historical sites I need to visit during my summer break.

I don't have internet access yet in my apartment, which is probably just as well. There will be plenty of time to waste online once they get me hooked up, which should happen in a few days. I'll be getting a phone card so I can start using the phone in my apartment, but I'm not in too much of a hurry. For the moment, I'm enjoying my splendid isolation. With the exception of a couple of British faculty members who live down the hall from me, the campus is nearly empty. And since almost no one in the general population speaks English, I have been isolated indeed.

Yesterday I discovered a tidy little coffee shop where English is spoken and the wi-fi is free. They court English-speaking clients in ways that would be unacceptable anywhere but the Orient. During the 2 hours I was there yesterday afternoon, I was offered free doughnuts, sandwiches, and a shot of espresso -- offers that were blatantly not made to the Chinese patrons sitting right next to me. On Fridays they host an "English Corner" during which Americans eat and drink for free, while Chinese pay a premium. It's good to be the king. (Of course, I didn't exactly get away for free: two cafe late set me back 40¥, about six bucks. Still, not a bad deal.)

The airport in Beijing is one of the nicest I've been in. It may have been built in preparation for the Olympics. It is certainly new, shiny, and friendly. Customs was quick and painless, though it's possible that my arrival time of 5 AM had something to do with that.

We arrived before the Sunrise, literally and figuratively:

Still, we were greeted by a friendly smile:

The first thing I saw inside the terminal was that ancient Chinese establishment, KFC!

I love the architecture inside the terminal.

Even the baggage claim area was elegant:

The only way you'd know this TCBY isn't in America... is the stylish decor.

Well, maybe this is a hint we're not in America any more. "Kiss n Bake"?

<=I'm all in favor of not smoking... but is it really a patriotic duty?!

After a couple of hours in the terminal, I queued up to board my flight to Dalian. Maybe 60 or 80 of us were crammed onto a shuttle bus, driven out perhaps a quarter mile, and deposited on the tarmac in front of a little twin-engine jet plane. The plane was the same sort one would take on the hop from Chicago to my hometown of Moline -- except that that the Quad Cities has maybe a quarter of a million people, and Dalian has three million. Clearly, China has a long way to go.

After landing in Dalian I was supposed to look for Serena Sui, the woman who hired me. Since she is, I suppose, technically my boss, I was expecting her to be a middle-aged woman, probably cheerful, definitely professional, and well-experienced. I turned out to be right on "cheerful" and "professional," but she is... well, not exactly middle-aged. As it turns out, she only just graduated from DUFE with her MA, and has held her job since September. I am her first hire.

Serena took me on a quick tour of the campus, which is very compact but quite nice. She showed me to my apartment... also compact but nice.

My building is called -- I'm not making this up -- the "International Cooperation Building." The Chinese have a way of naming things that is at once idealistic and bluntly unpoetic. For example, at Liaoning Normal University (itself a curious name), there is a middle school creatively named "The Middle School Attached to Liaoning Normal University." I'm sure it sounds poetic in Chinese.

The apartment consists of three rooms: a kitchen, a bedroom, and a study. The latter two rooms are each 14' 6" X 14' 6"; the kitchen is maybe 15' X 18'. The apartment is entered through the kitchen, with the two additional rooms located directly opposite the front door. To the left is a rather spacious and tolerably well-appointed bathroom, including a compact washing machine (but not a dryer).

Here is an image of the kitchen, as seen from the front door

Here are the two back rooms, as seen from the same spot in the front doorway

And the bathroom. The washing machine is behind the door, to my left.

Here is my study:

And the bookcase, which is sadly uninhabited I had to leave all but four or five books in LA.

The bedroom is pretty basic. That's my luggage on the bed.

Here's the view from my bedroom window. The big white building is the undergraduate classroom building.

Not bad digs, for free! Of course, the kitchen appliances are rather limited.

There is one little hot-plate for cooking

There's a tiny fridge that doesn't really work very well. A microwave, all of whose buttons are marked in Chinese characters I cannot read.

And then this appliance, which I suspect is designed to disinfect one's dishes, since the tap water cannot be trusted. There's no way to know for sure what it does, though, because the directions are all written in squiggles.

All in all, it's a nice little place to spend a few years. First, though, I have to start learning what all those funny little squiggly characters are all about.


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