I am very excited to have been awarded a place at the Oxford Internet Institute Doctoral Summer School which is going to take place in Beijing this year.
The programme starts on thursday but I flew in a few days early and arrived in Beijing yesterday. Its my first time outside the western hemisphere and learning to find my way around already turned out to be a challenge.It started right after arriving at the airport where I was immediatly approached by a helpful young man offering me a taxi-ride into the city. One of them hijacked my suitcase and quickly moved toward a parking garage just opposite the arrivials hall. My suitcase ended up in his trunk before I was able to stop him. I started to negotiate the fare and he wanted 400 rmb (around 50$) for the trip. The organisers of the oii summer school had recommened us to take a taxi into the city and thankfully prepared us with the information that the fare should be around 100 rmb. After some serious chit-chat my driver finally tossed my suitcase before my feet and went off.
I went back to the arrivals-hall only the find myself faced with the same situation again. This time I just grabbed my suitcase back and told the driver that I will pay him 100 rmb for the trip. He agreed and after a short ride we arrived at the hostel.
The Central Hostel is definitly a place that I can recommend to travelers. Its very modern, clean and well equiped. They offer a wide varity of rooms ranging from 8 bed dorms for roughly 6$ a night to private rooms that are about 30$. Carrying a laptop however proved to be a problem in the dorms, so I decided to rent myself a two bed room for my own. With 17$ per night this is cheap. Unfortunatly I ended up in one of the few rooms located in the core of the building - meaning they don't have a window and the only 'fresh' air supply is through the air conditioning.
Since I only had sleeped very little on the flight to Beijing I tried to catch some sleep in the afternoon. I woke up after an hour with a very decent sore throat. Figuring that sleeping a whole night in that room might ruin my trip I tried to change the room, but everything was booked out. Faced with this situation I decided to stay up as long as possible, sleep very little an get a new room today.
First on my agenda for doing this was getting something to eat. I was told that I should just take any restaurant up on Chaoyangmen Avenue in front of the hostel. There are dozens of restaurants there, from little soupkitchens to upscale tourist traps. I went to a smaller sized place and with my phrase book managed to get some fried chicken in lemon sauce. The staff found a liking in my 'Point-it' book, that I used to get the bill. Its a great tool!
It was 6pm now but my day ended actually 10 hours later at 4 am in the lounge area of the hostel where I had discussed moortcycle desing with an american guy (I don't even know his name). I normally bear little interest in motorcycles, but since he had used to design motorcycles (before going on a world trip) at Honda in Tokyo he definitly had some curios insights. In the western hemisphere transportation needs can be satisfied with cars and public transport, so the motorcycle has become what he called an 'emotional item'. It was very interesting to learn what considerations therefore go into motorcycle design, especially the role of woman in that process. There is the necessity of a second seat on a bike 'to bring her home', there are the perceptions of different riding styles (sport, cruising, motocross) by woman and the roles it puts the men into, he also explained the importance of woman in the success of harley davidson. One could get the impression that motorcycle design nowadays is all about woman;)
We also talked a lot about Chinas consumer goods and them currently switching from imitating to developing an unique design language. This is especially prominent with the omnipresent advertisments for the Olympic games that will take place in Beijing in 2008. The message is we don't just imitate anymore, we set the agenda.
At 4am I finally was tired enough to fall asleep despite the bunker-tantrum in my room and of course I didn't hear the alarm clock going off at ten. I woke up at 2 pm way after check out time, was feeling seriously sick and before even getting breakfast had to learn that no other 2 beds room was avialable. The only other option was a private facilities room for double the price (32$). I took it for the next night, and now have very nice & quiet room on the backside of the building.
It has been exhausting so far but the staff here is very helpful, as well as the other travelers. Its already 6 pm and I will start my first real day in Beijing with a walk to the Tiananmen Square before meeting a couple of other attendes of the Summer School for dinner.