In the homeland, far from home

So here I am in Beijing, capital of the most populous country in the world, where I shall be living and studying Chinese for the next five weeks on an intensive course at Beijing Language and Culture University. I have been put in a class with a load of fellow bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside); in other words, people like me, who are ethnically Chinese but grew up in other countries and languages. What with going to class every morning and my own en suite room on campus, it’s just like being at university again… except I have an actual television for the first time in my student life, and a midnight curfew (!) for the first time in my entire life. More about that later…

China is big, to put it mildly, and though I come from a big city myself, Beijing is of ridiculous proportions: the density of the population is unimaginable. It does make one feel rather null and void as a human being, particularly a Chinese-looking human being. There are so many other people that saying one feels slightly insignificant doesn’t really begin to cover it.

Yet there is something comforting about looking around and seeing a load of other people who kind of look like you; it’s not a sensation I’m used to. You feel less unique, but more at home. It’s the white people who stand out here, though there are a lot of foreigners in Beijing, particularly the university quarter where I am staying. Anyway, it’s not that easy for me to blend in seamlessly with the locals when I am speaking English and/or French in a group of foreigners and people just want to take photos of them.

Though I am here to learn the language, with only four hours of class a day, a hugely diverse student community and a great big historical Chinese city to explore, studying is already starting to slip further down the agenda, and I haven’t even been here a week. This is not my first time in China, but I am still European (read: whitewashed) in many ways, so there are various amusing/confusing/surprising things that occur most days; I don’t think I’ll be short of blogging material.

Week one, and I can’t read or write Chinese, though people keep asking me to read things for them. Most of the non-Chinese students here seem able to read more characters than I can, though none of them can speak Chinglish quite like I can. It’s a start.

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