By: Lucy Dabbs, Georges P. Vanier Secondary School, participant of the 2017 Beijing International Education Exchange (BIEE)Summer Camp.
Have you ever gone into one of those saunas at the public swimming pool? Where you walk in and it's like stepping into, well, like stepping into a room full of hot, steamy air. The air kind of weighs down on you, slowing your breath and clinging to your skin. That's what we are met with as our curious faces emerge from the airplane and step onto the stairs leading to the solid ground of Beijing, China.
Now don't get me wrong, sauna air can be refreshing, for a few minutes. But this is an everyday reality of Beijing, and it is hot here in July and August, a fact I knew all of us would soon become very familiar with during our stay here. After standing on the paved tarmac for a few minutes, dumbfounded at this heat like the cold-blooded, igloo living, frozen maple syrup Canadians we are, we finally find our feet and follow the crowd getting off the plane onto a bus.
Yes that's right, the Beijing international airport is so large that travellers have to take buses and trains, just to get around from one end to the other. My wish to get to know the others better, comes true as we board the train in the airport. I cram in real close to the other BC people, trying to make room for the steady stream of people coming on. The train starts up, backpacks smushed in faces, arms tangled around each other to grip the pole, trying to avoid going flying into strangers as the train lurches to and fro.
After finding our luggage at the baggage claim, we follow flag number 16 carried by the man who would be our guide for the week: Jack. He leads us to our bus which I discover we're sharing with a group from South Korea. Much as we loved the escaping the confines of the airplane, it is nice to get onto an air conditioned bus and relax.
A half hour drive later, we come to the Beijing Royal school. It’s an incredible sight, intricate designs etched upon a traditional shingled roof, supported by massive red pillars. It looked like something out of a history textbook, all except for the electronic gate at the entrance.
We arrive around 6:15 PM Beijing time, which feels like 3 in the morning to us. Nonetheless we don’t refuse a good meal in the cafeteria upon our arrival. I sample some tofu, rice, and roast duck, laid out on my metal tray from the self serve buffet. Without waiting for the others to finish, I head straight for the vending machines in the cafeteria. This is what I have been waiting for 3 months since my last visit and my first encounter with this heavenly beverage: milk tea. My first time in China I had become addicted to the 4 yuan canned vending machine product, and now we finally come face to label once again.
I hadn't realized I had been so tired and worn out until I downed a can of milk tea. It gave me the boost of energy I needed, and took off all my weariness. Now, I was ready to go to the dormitories.
We follow two camp guides through the massive 6 story school, and they lead us to the dormitory buildings. Boys are on the second floor, and girls on the fifth. It’s a good thing I had that shot of milk tea, because I really need it lugging my suitcase up 5 flights of stairs. When we finally reach our floor, we’re led down a hallway of rooms. I read the signs on each door as we pass: France, Germany, Italy, these are the countries Canada will be sharing a floor with. Inside each room are girls from the country listed on each door, avidly having conversations and getting settled in.
It is in this moment I realize just how interesting this experience is going to be. There are hundreds of people here, from countries all around the world speaking different languages. Right now we are sharing dormitories, tomorrow we will be sharing meals and buses, and then doing activities together. Strangers from different countries, all together in Beijing for 10 days of bonding.
I’m in a room with three other girls I travelled with from BC. We examine the facilities: four beds, two locker style closets, and a bathroom with a shower. There is also a group shower room available down the hall, and a washing machine and dryer in another room. We discover that we’ve been supplied with toothpaste, shampoo and soap, and laid out on each bed is an information booklet, and a name tag.
Suddenly, I saw the two orange shirts, folded on each bed. These are the camp shirts, that we’re required to wear during outings. These are the two shirts that have to last the entire week, from our sweat climbing the Great Wall of China to the pouring rains of Tiananmen square. Well, at least they'd given us laundry detergent.
I had just gotten into my pyjamas and was about to go to bed at 8:30 when Gloria, the female camp guide knocks on our door. She informs me that I have a rehearsal for opening ceremonies which are taking place tomorrow. In the opening ceremonies, one person from each country has been selected to stand on stage and introduce their country, sporting the traditional clothing. The rehearsal tonight starts in three minutes.
I follow Gloria down the hallways and to the auditorium stage for a short run through of the events. I survey the people in the room, all around my age. Some are in regular clothes and others are really getting into it in their traditional costumes. My first meeting with the representatives of the other countries and here I stand, in my baggy pyjamas, unaware of the meeting. At least I am representing my country in my red Canada nightshirt, oversized though it is.
The coordinator of our section of the ceremony tomorrow informs us of the order of events. We are each given a number and stand on stage in line, mimicking what the setup will be tomorrow. I am given number seven, beside Costa Rica.
Finally, after a zombie like day with no sleep since we had left Vancouver, I stumble back to my dorm and collapse onto my hard, metal bed.