First Night in China

When I got here, I was dropped off at an upscale hotel in the afternoon. I woke up in the middle of the night not knowing if I was in the city center, the outskirts, or what.

I went to the lobby and got a drink at the bar. There was a courtyard outside but they wouldn’t open the door to let me go out there. Too late, I guess. The bar was about to close.

I went to my room and got a cigar and left the hotel through a side exit to find this courtyard myself. I cut through some hedges and scaled over some kind of concrete structure and found myself in the courtyard. It was dark. I could barely see anything, only able to make out shapes. I sat on a bench, lit the cigar, and enjoyed the hot night, looking at the buildings and smelling the nighttime garden smells. There wasn’t anyone else around. A good way to ease into a very different land. By myself, for now, somewhere in the land’s immense, crowded capital.

I sat down on a bench and looked up at the dark shapes of the skyline looming up around me. Red lights on two tower poles rose straight up from the top of a nearby skyscraper. I paid them no mind. A normal thing to see atop a tall building. Some moments later, my eyes fell back on them. It seemed they had moved. Unlikely, I thought. Antennae atop buildings don’t move around. A moment later, it again seemed that at least one of them had moved. “Now they’re a little cocked to the side, like antennae on a bug, yes?” I thought. I resolved to watch them closely, focusing on the distance between the poles and nearby tree branches as reference points. “By god, those are cranes,” I said. They were moving very slowly, at a moon’s pace. “This building is still being built!” Then I saw the flashing of welding and sparks falling down from high up the building’s side.

A day or two later I saw that I hadn’t been as sneaky as I thought with my daring break into the courtyard. There is a landscaped path going right into it from the public sidewalk. All I’d done was take a needlessly laborious path through shrubs and trees and over concrete walls. Perhaps I’m not well-equipped to handle life here, I thought. Barely out of the confines of a hotel set up specifically for international travelers, and already I can’t identify basic things around me.

This post is part of the Moving to China series, documenting my transition to mainland China in 2015 and 2016, when government-operated broadcaster CCTV flew me over to work as a news editor at its Beijing headquarters. The channel is now known as China Global Television Network. It is a soft-power endeavor of the country’s Communist Party-ruled government.

In this Series

1. First Night in China

2. China Consulate Trips

3. Life in the Leadup

4. The Storage Yard Routine

5. First Days: Life in the Hotel

6. Getting an Apartment in Beijing

7. Reality Sets in the International Era