Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Unexpected Beijing Experience - Part 1

The first post of the year would be for my experience, and state of mind for the 13 weeks in Beijing, China. That has taught me so much despite being there in a short time span, more than any other cities that I had the privilege living in last year, London, Dubai and San Francisco. The Beijing city, where beyond the Olympic hype, China's ancient history, futuristic architecture and as the daily smog runs through the city. I find myself bewildered by so many things, that a city can offer so many marvels of experience, ancient and modern. 

For 13 weeks, I had to keep up with mental power to adapt in an entirely new culture, language and people. I thought to myself, 'I have moved to all these other cities, and travelled to as many as I could within  juggling 12 months of learning and consulting work. I can definitely do another city for just 3 months!'. Oh no, how could I ever be so simple minded. Everyday in Beijing was an entirely new eye opener, before I left a lot of people have told me to be careful of the pollution, the food is not so good or even be careful of the road traffic. I arrived Beijing with thoughts running my mind to always be careful but it won't be difficult. 

But, I didn't let the warnings/advise take the better of me or scare me from going. I still decided to go and experience this city myself. For that, I am ever grateful that I would have one on my bucket-list checked. I have always been interested in learning new cultures and languages, thus all the travelings. 

And WHY Mandarin out of so many other world languages? I have always wanted to learn Mandarin Chinese particularly because I am surrounded by so many business people, or encounters in my life that needs me to be a Mandarin speaker considering business partners, colleagues or places I would go to would speak Mandarin or Cantonese. And being a Malaysian that lives in this multicultural country, I have so many Chinese friends, teachers, colleagues, and neighbours included. Thus, I would always be intrigue to know what they are speaking about and wondered if one day I could reply back or have a conversation with them too. And WHY NOT? China is a major economy power, and continues to grow at 7.2% rate according to China central Bank.  

I started learning Mandarin since I was 6 years old, my parents sent me to a kindergarten that had Mandarin class included, I went to a primary school that had Mandarin extra classes, and I continued learning Mandarin on my own with private tutoring in high school, I went to a language college while I was pursuing my Degree in Sydney, and even when I started working continued in Inter-Cultural Language School (ICLS) Uptown Damansara, every weekend for 2 hours classes. Yet, I have always been a Basic-Intermediate level at best for conversational. And when I met an inspiring lady that told me she learned her basic Mandarin in Beijing Language and Cultural University for 6 months, I told myself that I would do the same! It was her strong influence that made me wonder if I could one day achieve this and finally master the language better in the mainland. 

And I chose Beijing out of all the cities, as it offers so many things I have always wanted to see or heard of so much, especially the Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Bird's Nest stadium, and the Beijing Old Hutongs, and experience the modern yet filled with so much history. Having said that, I have never been to China (Hong Kong with exception visited before they join China).  While Beijing is China's preeminent city, hosting more traveler than any other city in China- and for a good reason, all in I was intrigued. 

The day I first arrived Beijing, I could tell that I was in for a challenging 3 months. From the moment I needed to speak to the driver which hotel I was going to, or what are our plans for the week. Despite having the basic 50 words or so in my Mandarin vocabulary. We still managed to go about the first week, looked for accommodations, registered in the University that I have always wanted to go - Beijing Language & Cultural University (BLCU). Which I had an offer 2 years ago but did not have the courage then until I graduated from HULT that had given me all kinds of experience and confidence to take on moving from one city to another. 

I was blessed with so much last year, and achieved so many dreams at once. Syukur Alhamdulillah (Praise to God). It was all in good faith that I did everything with good intentions and with the best support system, parents, family and good friends. And managed to pull through the challenging 3 months, that I am happy to say I could at least have a decent conversation with a restaurant/cafe owner, taxi driver, or buy anything at the convenient store. Bought my travelling bullet train tickets with ease. I completed the Level A Mandarin intensive course, we had daily 8am-12pm classes, with listening, writing, speaking all included. Learning a new language which I thought I had the basics. As the last 10 years was not enough, I always had to learn everything from the start as I did not practice or was too shy to try to speak. 

Thus, making the decision to be in Beijing was a good one to pick up the language quickly, I was forced to speak. I was in the learning environment. Making a mistake was okay, as I was learning, (so the Chinese would forgive me I hope) and I had no choice, I could not give up. I had to look up any word that I needed to say in a sentence, ask my Chinese friends who could speak English or look up in my digital dictionary what was the word on the signage. And having the supportive and fun classmates that always had me excited and happy to get up at 6.30am and be in class at 8am every Monday-Friday.

And some days I had to go through smog (some days had bad pollution up to 540AQI - the worse I had to experience), which I would check my Air Quality Index application every morning before I leave the room and the bad road traffic on foot for 40 minutes from my room to the class. That took a lot of my mental power, to wake up and forced myself to be strong and GET TO CLASS! Despite the culture and environment shock, I was always happy to see new things, learn new words, meet new people, and most importantly eat really good Chinese halal food. I was really surprised to see HALAL (food permitted to eat according to Islamic guidelines) signage within the University compound there was one Muslim restaurant, and within my home vicinity I found 5. And I know exactly where are the best places to eat in the city(I will have to write a different post for this #MyFoodHunt in Beijing). 

I have so many things that I miss about Beijing now, and everyday I do. I wish I had more time to explore other cities too, and I managed to visit Shanghai and Xian (travelling in China post will be up later too). I would have to catch up on my blog postings huh! 

All in all, travelling in the city was so easy, taking a taxi was so cheap, the subway train only costs 2yuan (equivalent to USD$0.30) and there's an app that assisted me (Beijing Subway Guide). And although the block  no access for Facebook, Instagram, Google, you would need VPN access to unblock which I willingly paid $8.99 monthly to get a good access from ExpressVPN provider, or you could find free ones but I could not be bothered when I first tried, I was kicked out every 3 minutes it was not worth it as it added to my stress (Mainly because I need my Instagram access at all times haha! Social media addict problems). 

Other than that, I could go on and on about my challenging experiences or moments that I would have been scammed but was lucky to get out of it. I will save that for Part 2 of this post. And more of my learning experience, the must visit places because this post is getting on too long as I had so much to write every day, but was not able to since I had to focus on learning and exploring the city! Only on good blue skies kinda day which was on average 2 out of 7 days a week. But it still got me so challenged to wake up and grab more of the cities vibe. Till the next post!  再见 zài jiàn Goodbye! May peace be upon all of you 

Xoxo, one and only Msorangelisa 

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