November Blog

Last week we went to the Scottish Alumni Ceilidh in Beijing. The trip there was a bit of a stress. Me and Alexander travelled there on a high-speed train, splashing out the extra cash for first class (at 30元 extra it was hardly a major expense). In Beijing we met up with Maya and went to check in to our hotel, which it turns out was hours away from anything. Luckily we’d left ourselves plenty of time to get there. As it turns out though, we didn’t actually have a room there, because we had accidentally booked a completely different hotel which wasn’t even in Beijing. In a bit of a panic at this point and starting to run late for the ceilidh, we booked a cheap hostel online so that we would at least have somewhere to sleep the night. 20 minutes later, we got a phone call from the place. The woman said something in rapid Chinese, to which we replied “听不懂” (“I don’t understand”). She kept repeating “外敌,外敌” (waidi, waidi) but we didn’t know what she meant. We decided to go to the place to speak to them in person. On our way there, we got a text from the booking service saying “Sorry, the hostel you have booked is not authorized to host foreigners. Your payment will be refunded”. It turns out 外敌 is another way of saying “foreigner”, which we should have guessed since we already knew “外国人”, which also means foreigner.

By this point we were pretty fed up with the whole situation, so we went to Macdonald’s. Maya changed into her dress and did her makeup in the bathroom while me and Zandy ate lukewarm chips and stressed out. We ended up just giving up and going to the dance, in the assumption that things would sort themselves out as long as we kept a positive mindset.

The ceilidh itself was really fun. Most of the attendees were Chinese people who had studied in Scotland. There were a lot of important people there. The venue was a high-class hotel in the center of Beijing. There was a reception thing, with canapés (fancy rich-people food). I spoke to a few interesting people there. There was one girl who said she played for the national basketball team. I spoke to one woman who had studied maths and philosophy at St Andrews Uni, which is exactly what I want to do. We exchanged Wechats and hopefully will keep in touch. I think I have successfully engaged in networking. There was also a raffle-type thing where Maya won a ticket to the St Andrew’s Ball the next day.

The event ended around 10pm, and then we were out in the cold again. Morgan had told us about a cheap hostel that accepted foreigners, so we set out to find it. We took a taxi, which dropped us off in the middle of nowhere, a good hour’s walk from where we were supposed to go. Also, it was snowing and the temperature was well into negative Celsius. Still dressed up in formal attire, we walked for a very long time and ended up in another Macdonalds trying to not freeze to death.

Around half past midnight, we found Morgan’s hostel. The reception staff were very friendly and spoke great English, which was a relief to us as our brains had more or less shut down by this point and I could not have spoked a coherent Chinese sentence if my life depended on it. Anyway, we booked in, went to sleep, and that was that.

The next day we decided to kick around in Beijing for a while before getting our train back in the evening. We went to Beihai park, a beautiful old Tibetan Buddhist garden and temple near the Imperial Palace. Around six o’clock we got on our train (slow train this time, second-class standing tickets) back to Tianjin and we were back in time for curfew.

Apart from that, a few other things have been going on this month. Classes have become more intense in the lead-up to the final exams. I got back my results from the midterms though, and they were pretty encouraging, so I think I will do well in the finals. My strongest subjects are listening and read/writing while oral Chinese is a bit of a weak point. I think this is because I find it easy to memorize sounds and characters, but struggle with grammar and off-the-cuff sentence formation. Lately I’ve been trying to speak more Chinese in my daily life and I feel this has really helped me to improve my accent and my confidence in speaking.

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