I touched down in Beijing. I was tired and hungry, ready to be taken back to a dormitory.
But, as they tend to do, things did not go as planned.
There was no sign reading “CSR Student from America” as I walked out of the arrival corral. No sign arrived for another half hour before I borrowed a cell phone and called the transfer service. “Oh, a mix-up, you’ll have to take a cab.”
I found dormitory #9 on Beijing Language University’s campus with the help of a Swedish-born Chinese girl. After I registered the receptionist handed me a hefty wad of cash out of an envelope and had me sign a receipt. “Your allowance. Keep it safe.”
The room was tiny and my roommate was an 18-year-old Grenadian. He showed me tourist pamphlets and urged me to visit his country. “It’s very beautiful. And cheap.”
The only thing I wanted more than sleep was a plate of dumplings. I found my way out of the labyrinth campus and onto a busy street. Many small eateries and food stalls lined the street, but they all sold Korean or western food. I asked a vendor where I could find some dumplings. “No dumplings near here, maybe down the street.”
I walked three blocks in the direction she had pointed me in, past more Korean restaurants, a KFC, McDonalds, and a pizzeria, and finally came to an intersection full of fruit/vegetable/trinket vendors. A man standing next to a small cart with an electronic scale and a hot, smoking metal can (imagine an oil drum with a grate on top) was selling grilled sweet potatoes (one of my staples during the 2006 Beijing winter). I bought a potato for 30 cents and asked the man where I could find dumplings. “Down the street, two blocks on the left.”
I finally ate a heaping plate of dumplings and, satisfied, proceeded back to the dorm. When had dumplings become so hard to find in Beijing? It had to do something with the character of that particular area, Wudaokou, which was home to many foreign students.
The transfer service failed to procure a ticket to Chongqing the next day so I was able to spend an additional day and night in Beijing seeing friends.