Shake as many hands as you can

Radhika Sharma '14 is spending her junior year in Beijing and will be blogging about her experience. Follow her at Below is a recap of her first week.

As my first week in Beijing wraps up, I have realized one thing for sure: this is certainly not America. This week, I have met my host family, gone to my new school, visited the Confucius and Lama temples and have gotten lost for my first time! Yaaaaay! Beijing is crazy and hectic and ridiculously hot and completely far away, but I really love it. For the first time, I feel independent without my parents here and it's a totally new experience which I already feel I'm learning from. I haven't really taken that many pictures, but I will post the ones that I have!

On the first night, I walked into an apartment building that looks like something the Ramones would have lived in with graffiti covered walls, a concrete floor and a flickering hallway light that turn on when you stomp your foot or clap your hand. It was soooooo cool. However, when I got into the apartment, the inside was completely decorated and looked livable and there were dumplings sitting on the table. They certainly know the right way to make someone feel welcome!

My days so far have consisted of waking up, eating buns for breakfast :D, going to school, coming home and eating/sleeping/watching Chinese tv. To the sides are two pictures of the river I pass every morning and afternoon in my walk to/from the bus stop. Not too bad of a view ;) Every day, my parents and I watch a Chinese show called 北京新年 (Beijing New Year) and I pretty much have no clue what's going on, but the show is about some people hiking (maybe) in Yunnan (I think) and that is where I am going in October so I'm getting pumped for whatever hopefully is my place!

Today was the first day my "parents" let me go to school by myself, so of course I got lost, even though my home is 2 kilometers away from the school. On my way home, I decided to listen to music for the first time since I've been here. That was mistake number one. I got off at the stop I thought was the one before my actual stop because I wanted to explore the city a little bit, even though, as most of you know, my directional skills aren't exactly up to par. That was mistake numero dos. In reality, I got off at the stop after my normal stop, so while I continued walking farther and father away from my house, I thought I was getting closer. After walking for 20 minutes in the direction I thought my house was in, I knew I completely was not in the right place. Rather than going back to the bus stop though, I tried walking in a every different direction, except the actual direction of my house, to see if that was the right one. That was mistake three. After about an hour of wandering, I decided it was best to just go back to the bus stop and wait for my normal bus. I got on the bus (remember, I thought I was still a stop ahead of the stop my house was at) and was completely confused as to why the bus wasn't going to my stop next and started arguing with the bus driver. That was my fourth mistake. After seeing a map and seeing that the stop I got off at was, in fact, after my home stop, I took the bus to the end of the line thinking that they would let me stay on when they do the bus line backwards. A few more things happened, a few more mistakes were made, a lot more stares were pointed towards me, but after three hours I finally made it back home. All in all, it was a pretty cool experience! I've never been lost in a place where I can barely speak the language, but I did get to meet a lot of new people and see a different side to the city.

Now, I'm getting to the goods! My host dad got me moon cakes today and, oh my god, it was the best moon cake I've ever had. I didn't even know moon cakes could be like this because they were a totally difference style and were filled with nuts and some other stuff but it was sooooo good. Note: moon cakes and red tea are the best combination of things ever.

The other day, my friends and I went to a bun restaurant and right behind the counter, we see this factory-style set up of people making buns! It was suddenly clear why I chose to come to China! Where else can you see this when you're eating!? And the buns were goooooood too. After lunch, we walked around and saw women smoking and playing Mahjong. I didn't even know more than one person could play Mahjong. If these women were men, played carrom board instead of Mahjong and ate paan instead of smoking, it totally could have been Delhi.

So this first week has been quite a learning experience for me. I've learned that if you eat garlic raw, it's actually pretty spicy. If you leave you leave your bus card in your pocket, you will get pick pocketed. If you're stupid enough to leave your robe on the floor of a Chinese shower (which is essantially the bathroom with a shower head sticking out the side of a wall and sprays water everywhere), you deserve to have your robe wet. If you want to get to know people, you should say hi and try talking to them even if you sound like an idiot. If you want to like a place, just make it your home. It's only been four days here, yet I feel so comfortable because I've come with an open mind and an eager mind!

I want to mention the last thing Rishi, my brother, said to me before I left for China. He said that I should shake as many hands as I can and meet as many people as possible. I have really taken that advice to heart and have met so many people, from the American woman on my plane ride who lives in Beijing and has offered to always help me out in any way, to the guy I exchange words with every day who cuts hair in a hair salon right outside my school, to the construction worker who helped me cross a huge Beijing intersection today. By meeting these new people, I'm getting a sense of what the real China is like, and, I gotta say, I'm loving it!