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Scrubs in Beijing Fourth year medical student from Houston, traveling to Beijing to study Chinese medicine and Chinese beer

Beijing Airport

CHINA | Tuesday, 1 April 2008 | Views [814]

When we landed, it took surprisingly little time to deplane from the 747. I think everyone was just desperate to get the hell out of there; I know I was. My Chinese seatmate was actually leaning on me in her haste to get out of the window seat, even though the line wasn't moving yet. She then pressed against me on much of the walk out of the plane and up the ramp, then cut around and in front of me to get onto the escalator. I noticed similar behavior all around me, so I guess waiting in lines in China is different than in the US.

We made it to Customs and were greeted by large flashing red signs directing "Foreigners" to certain lines. Another sign said "Special Lane: Beijing Olympics". When I got to the head of the line, a smiling woman took my passport, looked at my face, then looked shocked and gasped. It took me a moment to realize she was gasping at the man in the line next to me, who apparently didn't have a visa. She eventually gave my passport back, I pushed the button that said I was satisfied with my service, and I walked through an arch.

On to baggage claim, where I had the usual (ungrounded) fears of my luggage getting left behind, then out through an archway that said "China Customs" where no one spoke to me. I came to an automatic door that opened into a sea of shouting people, most of whom were holding signs for arriving passengers. Exhausted, confused, and alone, I made my way through a rope maze, surrounded by people, until I saw Henry, our trip advisor, waving at me. He grabbed my arm and directed me to a group of classmates by the Starbucks. Oh thank God, I'm not lost! I made it to the Starbucks, had an iced tea, and visited the ladies' room, only to be amused by the signs on the stall doors. One sign had a normal, sit-down toilet; the other showed a hole with a footprint on either side. A woman was waiting by this second door, and allowed me to enter the open stall with the Western toilet ahead of her.

Outside for more waiting, currency exchange, and awe at the massive (and brand new) terminal at Peking Airport.

Finally, we were all present, received our room keys, and were herded out to the bus area. The bus ride to Capital Medical University probably took an hour in rush hour traffic, but I was so stuporous I couldn't pay much attention. By now, it was 1500 local time, but it was the middle of the night in Houston, and I hadn't slept much the night before. I did get glimpses of an unusual skyline: some strikingly modern highrises, interspersed with towering skyscrapers of ugly Soviet-era apartment buildings (massive complexes of 10-14 towers) with air conditioning units hanging from most of the windows. We gaped at the car dealerships and the vehicles on the road, and marveled at the seeming lack of traffic rules here. We witnessed our bus cut several cars off by only inches, and many cars simply drove down the freeway in two lanes at once.

After our safe arrival at CMU, we hauled our luggage to our rooms (on the fifth floor--only the luggage came by elevator) and headed to dinner. It was our first of many experiences with the Tourist Restaurant, as the dorm cafeteria at CMU was mysteriously closed (some said broken oven, others said failed government inspection). The food was excellent, and we had a chance to talk with some medical students from Buffalo, NY who had been here 10 days already and knew all the ins and outs of Beijing. I miraculously stayed awake through this, walked back to the dorm, took a scalding hot shower, and was in my pajamas ready for bed when Henry announced a meeting. Damn! I trudged down the hall to watch everyone drink beer and listen to Henry pontificate over things I'd mostly heard before, then was finally able to go to bed.

Our mattresses feel like plywood, but that night I didn't care. I curled up on my airport neck pillow, tucked in my fleece sweatshirt, and passed out.

Tags: beijing airport, capital medical university, first week, tourist restaurant

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