I woke up at 6 this morning. For America-Maria, this is really early, but for China-jet-lagged Maria, it actually represents a PR for first day wake-up times. 3am is fairly standard for me.
The first week of the EAPSI program in China is an orientation program in Beijing. The first few days begin with language lesson for a half hour in the morning. We’re divided into two groups, beginner and advanced, which are pretty big buckets; I’m in the advanced group with about 10 other students who range from those who can’t really read pinyin to a guy who teaches Chinese. The first part of the lesson was learning (slash practicing) how to introduce ourselves and then some food words, which was not very helpful to me. But at the end, the teacher threw in a couple of “popular phrases”. The best one,
apparently means something like, “I don’t really get it but I think you’re terrific”. This is my general attitude towards China (something like “smile and nod”), so I am all about this new phrase. I can’t wait to try it out!
Following language class, we had an opening ceremony.
There were speeches from people at NSF Beijing, the American embassy, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the Chinese Science and Technology Exchange Center, welcoming us to Beijing and giving some context for the program. The most interesting part to me was learning that the 1979 Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement between the US and China was the first agreement between our two countries. Today, we are each other’s most important scientific partner (as measured by co-authored papers).
We’re on our own for meals during orientation, so at lunch one of the other girls and I set off on an adventure. I wanted to go to a Bank of China to see if my bank account still existed after five years, and Rebecca wanted coffee from the Starbucks next door. Her errand was successful; mine was not. Then we got egg-and-tomato noodle soup from a Chongqing noodle place; it was perhaps not the meal that I had been fantasizing about for the last five years, but it was good.
In the afternoon, we got dressed up to go to the American Embassy. We got to hear from several people in different sections of the embassy talk about politics, economics, science, citizen services, and security. Highlights of this included getting a piece of Beijing pollution to take home with us!
There’s a monitoring station at the embassy, and every circle on these strips of paper shows the particulate matter filtered out of the air during one hour. There was something so beautiful about the gentle gradients and surprisingly wide variety of colors . . . but when I thought about what the colors represented they started to look a little bit like “these are your lungs on Beijing air” PSAs or something.
Speaking of air quality, today was about what I had expected/feared. The AQI was around 160, which is solidly in the “unhealthy” range. The sky was the same color gray from the moment I woke up to about 8pm – perfectly uniform, with light coming from no particular direction identifiable as the sun. Is this my life now?
For dinner, a few of us adventured to a place recommended by one of our guides for 小笼包, Shanghai soup dumplings. I had a weird moment in the restaurant when I smelled something like a sewer and thought, “wow, that smell makes me hungry.” I couldn’t quite place it or figure out why I had that reacion for a few seconds – it was 臭豆腐, or smelly tofu, a stench I associate with street food and the promise of [other] delicious things to eat.