After one full day in Bejing, it felt like we have never been away. We arrived about 5:30 AM, right on time after leaving Vancouver one hour late. We were greeted at the airport by Alex, a delightful young man who was our lifelong friend after the first hello. Alex worked with us as a facilitator for the June session and we were definitely glad to know him! When we arrived at the campus, right outside the gate was a delightful array of breakfast treats to buy -- freshly cooked on the street. We had eaten on the plane, but that definitely was a stop later in the week.
As we were walking through the campus to our buildings, we were greeted by a number of the workers Paul befriended last year. The maintenance man/cleaning supervisor for our dorm was delighted to see us and we now expect "extra special" service. Of course, that only means vaguely normal cleaning/maintenance help in real life. Things are relative in China.
We were taken directly to our home for the next two months -- right next door to where we stayed last year. As expected, things have changed a lot. First of all, instead of cement, the halls and rooms have beautiful white marble tile floors. Unfortunately that, like many things at this campus, is only a skin deep change. We were delighted to have a private "suite" this year instead of having to share our bathroom with 20-40 others. That was a major improvement and a definite answer to prayer. It also meant our "room" had expanded to the area originally built as an apartment kitchen and we didn't have to stand in line for the bathroom we were assigned. A good thing too, because Paul could not figure out how to get the bathroom door to close. The solution to that problem was to leave it alone. Chances are good that if we could get the latch to close, we could be locked in the bathroom forever. :-(
These pictures show our dorm room and private foyer:
Last year, we were treated to life in a construction zone almost the entire time we were here as they worked frantically to get our dorm ready for western occupants. Basically, they were putting private bathrooms in 17 6-person dorm rooms right next to our "apartments". That meant jack hammers in the room next door as well as all up and down the hall and wheelbarrows of cement rolling by throughout the day. Needless to say, we were very curious about the results of all that work. These sterile dorm rooms have been turned into 2-person rooms with potentially nice private baths. We were told, however, that the Chinese idea of nice isn't quite the same as ours. The bathroom is in two parts -- the toilet on one side in a little room as you walk in the door and the sink/shower on the other side. The shower is not separate from the sink, and when in use, sprays water all over the entire area, including the fiberboard cabinet. We were also told that this is a normal Chinese style shower and that people just wipe down the entire area when finished. The problem, in American minds, is that you can never get things completely dry in this humid climate, and things get ruined very quickly. Also, the water runs under the door and towels to contain the water are lying around wet all of the time. Our bathrooms, by contrast have exposed pipes and drains that don't always work, but have a seal around the door and an indented floor in the shower area to somewhat contain the water. Oh, but did I mention that the door won't close? Shower report: Fortunately Paul tried it first and discovered how to unplug the drain. He then showed me how to adjust the hot water from "boiling" to comfortable and I was good to go.
The new western style dorm rooms are used by the year-round facilitators and many of them will be here during the summer sessions, so most of the summer facilitators will be housed in the Chinese style dorms on the second floor of the building. Their living situation will also be similar to those who were here last summer, so as much as things change, they stay the same.