“Hey, sorry for bothering but do you know by any chance where the transfer desks are? I have to catch another plane very soon, this one was delayed…” I started.
“Sorry, no clue, but I have to find is too so let’s ask the crew! Where are you flying?” she asked politely.
“I am actually going to Beijing! Total madness! Just got the scholarship from Chinese government to study Mandarin… one year… university called BLCU… but I have no idea what and how and where pffffff…” My verbal diarrhea would probably go on but then she interrupted sharply: “Really?!!! That is………unbelievable! ME TOO!!” Serendipity.
At that moment, I didn’t know that Marl would become my roommate, friend and a personal savior in the world of China. Also, I didn’t know that I was just about to start the greatest 24h of my life, a day I wish I could play on a repeat button. Have you ever watched the movie ‘Groundhog Day’, where Bill Murray is forced to relive one day over and over again until it reaches its perfection?
Well, my day didn’t need any repetitions in that sense, but sometimes I just wish I could turn back time.
The plane is making big circles over Beijing, preparing us to finally meet the Capital of the North, glittering in the darkness. The sun is rising, slowly giving various shapes and colours to the overwhelming black mass.
“Look how it’s built – those are the massive rings around the city. The smallest one is around the center, Tiananmen and Forbidden City. We will use the bigger one to go to Haidian. Metro lines go along, ours is 13, stop Wudaokou.” Marl patiently explains the basics.
She was here before and she can actually speak Mandarin.
I’m nervous, excited and terrified – very dangerous mix for a jet-lagged sleepy human being. Airport, visa, baggage claim, taxi; everything is following the usual traveling scheme, yet everything is so very different. All my senses are on standby, absorbing the new environment like a sponge.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day! Look at that blue sky!” Marl turns back to me, sitting next to the taxi-driver. From their conversation in Chinese, I can’t figure out if they are arguing or having a great time together. Chances are 50/50 and I don’t even want to elaborate how high my chances to learn that language are. “Just take it easy” – I’m mumbling to myself.
The whole day I’m following Marl like a puppy. She is in her element, enthusiastically dealing with our dormitory and school. I get my keys, my books and a Chinese name, also with her fortunate intervention: “Her name is Kasia, not Kata. Katarzyna in the passport, yes, but shortly, 对 , Ka 卡 xia 霞. (…) Nice one! 卡 means card and 霞 can be read as morning/evening glow in the sky, say thanks to your blond head” she laughs. “Ok, let’s go now, high time to show you around Wu!” And so we are off.
Noise is vibrating in dry hot air; bikes and furiously honking cars are passing by countless food stalls (“…try jiǎozi, Chinese dumplings… ooooh jiān bing, now just forget about French crêpes…“); the streets are full, some men having their t-shirts rolled up (“to keep cool“) and women holding their umbrellas against the sun. I’m enchanted.
We eat late dinner at the Korean restaurant where I almost have my throat burnt alive, not realizing that the word “spicy” is so multidimensional. There is a beer-garden next to our dorm so we end up with a Tsingtao bottle to finally relax. Still, my throat is on a hellish fire. I need a cigarette and I need it now.
At that moment, I didn’t know that the fate would intervene once again.
Marl’s lightener is broken, so I’m boldly asking the neighbouring table for one. It’s a small but international group, talking in English, Chinese and Spanish.
“Sure, of course…Where are you girls from? I didn’t see you before…” the table has apparently its own social leader. We are chitchatting from time to time until they leave, saying: “Look, we are going to a bar of our Chinese mate, just between Helen’s and Pyro’s…” – “I know that place!” Marl says. – “…so yeah, come over when you are done here! In the end, it’s your first Saturday, isn’t it?!”
Right, I thought.
Afterwards, since Morpheus wasn’t anywhere around, we decide to look for our new potential friends.
They are there, as promised, and the first Saturday is turning out very well. In the end, it’s always a success story when you have some people to talk to in a new place.
But then it happens – the final knock. A stranger enters the bar and I know immediately.
“Goddamnit, not now…” – I whisper.
“Huh? What?” Marl asks.
“Nothing, sorry, just thinking aloud…” I reply.
There was no doubt though – the butterflies in my stomach. How I wish it was simple food poisoning, but unfortunately no noodles were to put the blame on. The reason was tall Basketball Boy with red jordans and very blue eyes, wearing slightly baggy jeans, clearly American. And clearly making his way towards our group. I put myself back together to act ‘casually’ or at least as casual as I could behave being on a new continent and seven hours ahead of my own biological clock. Take it easy.
When it was time to go home, we realised that Basketball Boy was living close to the campus, so we started to walk together.
“Wow! Kasia, look – the sunrise!” he pointed towards the East. “So did you have a good day?”
“Yes, wonderful” I nodded and laughed “364 more to go!”
“What are you doing tomorrow then?” – he simply asked.