Friday, September 12, 2008

Beijing and Children Schools Settling In

The good news: we already call our apartment "home." Beijing is huge, as in big, massive, sprawling, rambling. Three folks had told us Renmin University was "small," but that is only by Beijing standards. It takes us 20 minutes to walk from the east to west gate. A few nights ago Anna and I took a walk around campus. We were out an hour and had only made it halfway around. We did stop at some of the markets and stalls that we found tucked away in nooks and crannies of the campus: shoe shop, vegetable and fruit stands, bike repair shops, photo shop, several cafeterias, mini-marts; computer and copy shops tucked into buildings that you wonder are about to fall down. The campus has two worlds. Sections are bright and modern and could be transplanted as part of NYU or any urban campus. Other parts feel like you have stepped back 50 years, with darker, more run down buildings. You see elderly folks and children around campus, although students are the overwhelming majority. Apparently some of the housing is for retired faculty and staff. You do not see many westerners.

Last week was the first full week of school for Elizabeth and Anna, and my first week of teaching. For the first week we were all are up by 7 am, so that we can walk to the west gate of Renmin (Ren DA, SHEE men), just 2-3 blocks away. Because I was getting ready for class, Rick rode with the girls to school in a cab. During the Olympics the government has put private cars on an every-other-day rotation (i.e. even numbered license plates on one day, odd number the next). Traffic has been lighter than normal, we're told. It can take 15-25 minutes to travel the approximately 5 miles to school (22-25 yuan, about $3.50). After dropping the girls off Rick walked to the subway, about a 15 minute walk, and taking it home (2 yuan per ride, or 30 cents). He has been having a ball navigating through sign language, maps and postcards.

The BISS school is off the Third Ring Road, which is a massive 14 lane road through the north of the city. The girls have settled in quickly and are very content. The school is truly international, with multiple languages spoken at the lunch tables. There is more homework, but we're not sure if that is a product of 6th and 4th grade, or just the school. Last Sunday Elizabeth spent about 3 hours of homework that had been assigned for the weekend; Anna had about an hour of weekend work. This week the girls began riding a small school bus (i.e. van) that carries 5 children from the Haidian district (in the Northwest) to school. Thankfully the bus picks them up at the West Gate at 7:30 a.m. We now need to leave by 7:15 because our apartment is on the 17th floor of a graduate student dorm and students are streaming out of the building for breakfast and their 8 am classes. It is not uncommon for the elevator to stop on 10 floors on the way down.


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