U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University

China Experience Blog: Summer Internship 2011

Jason Fortin

May 26-29

Getting There is Hard Enough

Hello all! At this link you will have the pleasure (at least I hope so) of following a young American man—who speaks virtually no Chinese—while he spends the summer of 2011 in Beijing, China. This blog will ideally be filled with excitement, happiness, sadness, stress, and a few good adventures. I’ll be honest, this first entry is pretty sorrowful, so do not let it hamper your dreams of travelling halfway around the world to experience the Chinese culture. Oh yea, and in case you are wondering, my name is Jason Curtis Fortin. I am going into my senior year at Bryant University in the Fall, where I major in Economics and Global Politics. This summer I was graciously offered an internship at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Global Policy Center in Beijing, China. 

For background purposes, this center is a new partnership between Tsinghua University’s School of Humanities and Social Science and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Fun Fact: Current President Hu Jintao graduated from Tsinghua University, and the University celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year!) The Director of the center, Paul Haenle, aptly noted of “an urgent need for the United States and China to enhance its mutual understanding and to increase its cooperation on a range of critical global issues, to include preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, resolving the global financial crisis, addressing climate change, and dealing with regional challenges such as North Korea, Afghanistan, and Iran.” It was in this spirit that the center was founded—a unique partnership dedicated to developing cooperative policy on a variety of issues between two crucially involved countries.

Enough about the center, let’s get on down to what I have been up to. Originally I was scheduled to fly direct out of Hartford, CT to Chicago O’Hare at 2:00pm on Thursday May 26 th . However, this flight was cancelled and I was then rerouted to fly BDL to Pittsburg and then Pittsburg to Chicago. But, I was then bumped off Pittsburg and flown to Washington DC, from where I was then flown up to Chicago. I made it to Chicago with about 40 minutes to spare before my flight (mind you I originally was supposed to spend five hours at ORD on a layover, but all the flight rerouting ate away that free time). 

I boarded my 13.5-hour flight to Beijing and touched down at 11:30pm local time. Next problem: my bags were not on the plane. So I reported them missing and a kind gentleman had me write down the address of a hostel I was staying at for the first few days and told me they would arrive on Sunday. I then joined the line for a taxi which was about a 40-minute wait. Once getting into a cab I showed the driver the address of my hostel, but he did not know where it was. It then took me about another 30 minutes to find a driver who could call the hostel and get directions on how to get there. 

Around 3:00 am I finally walked through the doors of the glorious Heyuan International Youth Hostel. I spent Saturday and Sunday morning at this place, living in a four bed dorm style room and soon realized how much I did not miss bunk beds. Saturday I explored the surrounding part of the city and bought a bunch of local food—which cost me about $2—but cost my stomach a little more a few hours later.

The weekend was a nice adjustment phase, a time to work off the twelve hour jet lag and get used to some of the local food and the abundance of noodles and dumplings. I primarily spent the weekend trying to rent an apartment, but soon realized that I could not rent an apartment without a cell phone (needed to contact the person leasing out the place). I had brought a cell phone that I could drop a SIM card into, but of course, the cell phone magically stopped working. The charming lady at the Hostel desk advised me not to purchase a cell phone from one of the neighboring shops and told me I should purchase one from a mall near the Zhongguancun subway stop—about 7 kilometers away from that hostel. 

I decided to wait until Sunday when I would receive my bags and head on up to the Peking University International Hostel. This hostel, recommended by a lady from the center, is only about a ten minute walk from the center. I have decided to stay here for three days so I could find an apartment in the area and have an easy commute to work. Once arriving at this hostel, after a short nap—still getting over that jet lag—I walked to the mall and purchase a cell phone and SIM card. I ran into a really nice woman named Rose who helped me with the purchase and insured I was not ripped off.

Tomorrow (May 30 th ) I will start my first day at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy and will look at my first apartment at 6pm after work! I hope the center has an abundance of coffee available as I do miss the sweet taste of Folgers… I am also hopeful to find a great place to live for the next two months. 

Conference room and view --Tsinghua University to the right 
and Beijing University to the left

Most things are incredibly cheap in Beijing, but housing in the Wudaokou area (where the center is) is certainly not as cheap. This area is home to a few shopping malls, a multitude of restaurants and bars, and the two pre-eminent Chinese universities--Beijing University and Tsinghua University. In a sense, it’s almost a larger more city-esque feel of Georgetown in DC. That is, it’s still in the capital, but has tons to do and is more expensive than the rest of the city. Once I can get settled in an apartment, I will be able to spend more time enjoying the city than trying not to get lost or sleep in the streets. 

To be sure, try to have as much of your trip planned before arriving into a country without linguistic capabilities, or at least have a contact in the city that is readily available and bi-lingual. Yet, as wonderful as it would have been to be picked up in a black limo and chauffeured off to a fancy hotel right near Tsinghua, these past few days have been an experience I will never forget. I am almost happy so many things broke; because it helped me learn how to communicate without superb mandarin capabilities (essentially pointing and using thumbs up or thumbs down to convey my satisfaction with a particular issue). Those that speak English here are quite kind and really eager to help out us silly foreigners, so do not be afraid to ask for assistance!

With those thoughts in mind, I will close my first blog post. I had originally planned to incorporate a number of pictures to better detail these past few days, but of course, my camera broke as well. I hope to be getting it fixed this next weekend so I can add some color to these mildly mundane words. Cheers mates!

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