My blog is now up and running with some new features. I've created links to my old blogs below the title page, and best of all there is an email subscription link to receive notifications each time a new "report" is posted (that's for you Janyki)
REPORT #1: The Acclimation Period, Two Weeks Chinese
From Detroit to JFK and then 5 hours of layover. I had two bags checked in Detroit, which were being shuffled somewhere in the airport system. I took the subway to Rockaway Beach to have one last fish-taco deluxe, but to my disappointment Rockaway Taco Stand was closed for the season. The cafe next door sufficed. I ate a fancy baguette sandwich, and then felt panic like I always do when I leave the airport on a layover. I headed back to JFK and the security line had grown exponentially since I had left. I tried to inquire with one of the line monitors about skipping it if my boarding time started in 45 min., but they assured me I would get through by then. "Don't worry your airline will come looking for you if you're late" she replied. That seemed too easy, too friendly for the airline industry.
On the plane I sat in one of the four seats in the center. The headrest unfortunately did not have one of those little tv screens to watch movies...I guess I got spoiled flying back and forth to Spain this past summer. My neighbors, a young chinese couple, had a baby....the kind that cries on airplanes. Air China served us dinner after a couple hours in the air. I got mine first, before anyone else because I had requested a vegetarian meal when I booked my ticket -it just seemed like a safer bet. The tray had a piece of tape stuck to it with my seat number written on it. I had mixed feelings of VIP status coupled with some type of deficiency.
I slept, and woke up to another dinner...again with my tray arriving first. It was similar to the first dish, pasta and vegetables in some type of alfredo sauce. I walked around some to stretch out my knees. The plane was so large you could easily do laps around the 4-seat center aisle, cutting through the flight attendant's prep area. Out one of the emergency exit doors the sky was turning a pale gray. I wasn't sure if it was dusk or dawn. We were flying pretty far north over the ocean off the coast of Alaska according to animation map. I could see the water below was covered in a sheet of ice. This would be certain death.
At the airport my luggage arrived promptly. I exited the baggage area and bought a chinese SIM card from a young girl standing next to the SIM card vending machine. She assured me that her cards were cheaper because I would get an additional 20RMB of talk time. I popped the sim card into my iphone (which I jailbroke and unlocked back at home) and she activated the prepaid minutes and I was up and running. I called Tom Lee, another UM architecture alum, who also flew into the airport that evening after a 3 day stint in Hong Kong to reset his visa. We met up and took a cab back to his place where I would stay for the next week.
Tom lives in this massive block of apartment high rises just east of the 4th ring rd. His roommate, Nick, an Englishman from Manchester teaches english classes and can speak mandarin. Both Tom and Nick smoke in the apartment, and when casually asked "Oh, do you mind?" when Tom lit a cigarette, I lied and said no. I slept on the couch and went to bed when the living room was vacated. Nick stays up late watching internet television, drinking cheap chinese beer and chain smoking. He often brings home chinese girls he meets at the bars, and from what I could gather sleeplessly on the couch, he has no regard for intimate audio levels. That was my last night on the couch. I started sleeping on the floor of Tom's room who was sympathetic to my need for sleep. My commute to work was 1.5 hrs via a bus, two subways, and a short walk. After a week I had worn out my welcome, or rather Nick inquired about my progress in apartment hunting to Tom, and also added that he felt the apartment was not big enough for three people. I was glad to leave, and would have done so before then had I known that staying on the couch in the office was fine with my boss.
My office is in the top floor of a Steven Holl building called "The Linked Hybrid". It's a 3 bedroom 3 bath condo. Most of the desks are in what would be considered the living room, and the rest take up the master bedroom. The other two bedrooms are dedicated to a library and a conference room. Our roof deck has a nice sized grass lawn, and on a clear day you can see mountains surrounding the beijing skyline. Living here has been awesome. The shower has one of those "rain shower" heads on it and just dumps out water. We have a full kitchen with a fairly robust cappuccino machine that has already swung me back into the coffee habit. It's just too easy to steam up some milk and pull a couple shots...and it's on the house.
OBSERVATION: Riding The Subway During Rush Hour
In the subway tunnels people form thick lines on the platform waiting for the next train. When the door opens only a small void exists inside the subway car, which is far too small to fit everyone. The line slowly shuffles forward....and then....there's the push. The shuffles turn into fast wobbles, and the thick line several people across, compresses into compacted chunk of bodies squeezed tightly like a stampede that might suffer casualties. It's a frantic moment but doesn't seem to cause panic. The subway doors slice through the mono-body separating the chunk of people. Five minutes later the scene is repeated. It took three trains before I got on. When I was part of the push it felt like we were one big organism. Inside we were all packed together, bodies against bodies, all movement was felt collectively. The fat chinese men had sweat on their foreheads -the air conditioning just couldn't overcome the body heat present in the car.