Stages of Expatriation - Excitement (1 of 5)
I had traveled widely as a single person, but travels while Joe and I courted and since we’ve married have become more exotic and longer in duration. That travel now includes a 3-year job-related stint living in Beijing. Since I arrived, I have been documenting what it feels like to live abroad, especially as a black person and especially in a place like China.
Beyond the to-be-expected angst of leaving family, friends and the familiar, I figured making the transition from traveler to expatriate would be relatively easy and painless – and, for me – luckily, it has. Easy and painless means not that all has gone as well as I naively expected, but that the transition has been fulfilling in ways I could not have anticipated.
I arrived at Beijing Capital International Airport late in the evening on October 24, 2015. The ride Chinese Warrior By Night from the airport was exciting and I couldn’t wait to see our apartment and explore the neighborhood. When we arrived at the apartment, we deposited my luggage and I surveyed each room to see how many of the boxes mailed from the States had arrived. Then, we headed out to find a bite to eat. As soon as we crossed street toward the courtyard of restaurants, there stood a giant statue of a Chinese warrior. It struck me as so authentically touristy and Chinese that I absolutely had to have a picture. Yep, this was definitely not America.
We ended up choosing a Mexican restaurant because it was serving dinner. The few other diners were equal parts Western and Chinese. Although the restaurant’s name was in English in bold signage, neither the hostess nor the waiter spoke any English. Joe, who’d spent 10 months learning Mandarin, had to order my beverage and meal, and ask which way to the restroom. The other tables of Westerners within hearing distance were intermittently conversing among themselves, and with the servers in Chinese. The excitement of my first night in Beijing eclipsed a fleeting thought about how handicapped I’d be without any language skills.
View from Our First Apartment on a Clear Day The next morning, I spent a few minutes alone in the apartment with pretty bare cupboards and no coffee in the house, I figured I’d head to the nearby Starbucks and do some exploring. The streets below looked so different in the light of day. As did the giant stone warrior. As I left the apartment, the maze of construction fences surrounding our apartment building made me go back in and ask the front desk staff to confirm my planned route to Starbucks. Although I knew how to say Starbucks in Chinese, and tried to show them the logo on my phone, the ubiquitous brand was clearly unknown to them, and I couldn’t make them understand what assistance I needed. I was surprised, but excited and undaunted.
Between my iPhone map and Joe’s description of his Warrior Statue By Day walk to Starbucks every morning before work, I bumbled my way there. As soon as I entered the Starbucks, it felt familiar; but as I stood looking at the food offerings, only the croissant looked familiar. When the cashier’s greeting and question drew a blank stare, she switched to English. I ordered to a croissant and a latte, and stood awkwardly as the cashier motioned where along the long counter I could pick up my drink. The barista was calling out drinks in Chinese as they were prepared. Not sure whether my drink had been called, I showed him my receipt. He said something I didn’t understand and turned away. Each time he placed a drink on the counter, I’d show him my receipt: six or seven customers later, he handed me my drink.
I sat in Starbucks enjoying my latte and soaked it all in. Within earshot I could discern at least three different languages being spoken--none of them English. The fashions were different, miniature stuffed animals hanging from purse straps, several workmen were splayed on the lounge chairs sleeping, and life size M&M statues in the main plaza.
Yep, this is definitely not America.
Keywords: Newly Arrived in Beijing
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