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It all happened so quickly. One day I was applying to teach English as a foreign language in China, the next I was having interviews, signing contracts, racing to get my visa, and then one February morning I was in the airport, ready to fly off to Beijing. It was really exciting, an adventure, and I was eager to keep moving ever closer to whatever awaited me on the other side.
It wasn’t until we were airborne, until there certainly was no turning back, that I realised how nervous I was and how part of me wished that this plane journey would go on forever. I have previously travelled, but trekking through Europe, making your way to the U.S., or even going to Australia or Thailand seem expected. China, however, is not only the other side of the world to us, it is another world.
I landed in Peking airport, a very tired traveller. Have you ever seen that program ‘An idiot abroad’? Well at this point, due to some exhaustion, an embarrassing lack of Chinese and my limited navigation skills, I was that girl. But my first mission was to collect my baggage so i looked around for anyone that could advise me. I became indebted to anyone who could offer me help. Luckily those I encountered, though their language bewildered me, were always willing to assist, or find someone that could speak English. I was comforted by the relative familiarity that Beijing airport presented. It is ultra modern, and the Western advertisements, for Western brands, make you realise you’re not all that far away from home. More importantly, however, is that the signs, though in Chinese (to me a language recognisable from that 90s tattoo fad), are ALSO in English.
I eventually made my way through and was met on the other side by Jessica, admin staff from the school I was to begin teaching at, and Sam, the schools driver, both Chinese. I am Irish, so Sam, who speaks no English, proudly shows me a shamrock on his key-ring, delighted with himself. We made the hour long journey, from the airport to the district in which I was to both live and teach. Jessica eagerly spoke about life in China and it sounded much less foreign than I expected, we spoke about culture, school, social aspects and of course, shopping! It was late when we arrived at the hotel, my first home in Beijing and it was a beautiful thing to simply lie down on a bed, even if it was a bit harder than I was used to, but i really didn’t care.
The following morning I met with more new teachers, two guys, American and English, along with the principal of the school where I was to begin my career as an English teacher. They would play tour guide for the morning. That first day we were driven around Beijing to a sound track I can only describe as varied, from heavy techno to Irish folk, we listened to everything as Beijing whizzed by. We took in the sights, even in our district, on the outer edge of Beijing, there was much to see. It was completely different, and yet it was just like any other city which felt exciting, nerve racking and exhilirating all rolled into one.
Our destination was a park, with a great look-out, from which you can see for miles. On this clear February morning Beijing rolled out before us, a sprawling expanse as far as the eye can see in some directions and curbed by temple studded hills in others. It was at this I looked and realised that I was in Beijing. And it was later that day, when I crossed a road unassisted, and lived to tell the tale, that I knew I was capable of surviving here.
Marie is currently teaching English in Beijing, China. More diary entries to come soon!