20 Feb 2018

BEIJING: TOFFEE COATED APPLES


As I contemplated how to share our experience in China and Ghana, the smell of freshly baked honey coated flapjack in the kitchen took me right back at the entrance of the Student Supermarket, the first afternoon of our arrival in Beijing. The smell triggered the words.

I can still see a carefully displayed mini toffee coated apple kebabs on the right hand side, the smell welcoming the ocean of students that flood the store soon after lessons or after their evening shower.

But before that moment in the store let's me recount our arrival in Beijing Airport around 2pm, after one hour delay at Heathrow airport. British Airways always delays, eh?

We were greeted by two, maybe surprised to see a black woman with the professor, very polite and kind students, a young man XY and woman ZY. They were assigned to AMI to assist him during his two weeks teaching at Beijing Normal University, to make the experience painless as possible because many student don't speak English and the professor doesn't speak Mandarin.

We greeted each other. Y and X's warm smile made us feel very at ease and welcomed. AOI was shy as usual as when she first meet new people. TOI was taking everything in, his brown eyes wide open to the greatness that is Beijing airport. When planning this trip he was the one I worried about the most because of his three years old self, who doesn't like eating very adventurously but he was genuinely excited to be in China (even now most days he tells me he wants to go back).


The taxi they rented for the afternoon was waiting for us in the parking lot at the bottom of the airport. We were so grateful for all the planning the university did for us. It felt so easy to travel in that way. Before our trip to Beijing I had the pleasure to meet with Erica at thatwhildroad in London, she lives in Shanghai, she suggested I download the google translate app, which is so useful. However Mandarin has four tones and what you may think you are saying might mean something extremely different, so on our first day the language barrier was taken off the plate with the help of XY and ZY.

They helped us check into our hotel. We said our Nǐ hǎo and went into our room. In the hotel there were signs telling people not to smoke however, as I learnt during the weeks, rules are there to be broken by some guests. We walked into the room and the sudden smell of cigarette that seeped from the wall and carpet reminded me of a 1980s Italian movie set in a Roman hotel full of smokers.

The view from the hotel was incredible though. The first afternoon it gave me a quick glimpse of Beijing but as the days went by I started to notice some of the hidden gems that as a visitor, looking at a treasure book, you never notice until you begin to give time to the city to reveal its secrets. That secret that will pull you back again for another look, so you leave the place wanting to go back to find out more.



That afternoon we set our suitcases on the side and went to have a quick lunch with XY, ZY joined by the latter's fiancee and the professor in charge of this collaboration between AMI university in Canada and BNU. A beautiful fair skinned Chinese woman with delicate mannerism. She looks like a movie star to me. I imagined her minimalist lifestyle, a cat owner, single, without children. Her main love is her work. But that's my imagination because apart from telling us that she doesn't have children, and partner and that her parents are from southern part of China, I didn't get to know her much.

After lunch we went to the student supermarket for the first time. It's right on campus about ten lazy minutes walk from the hotel. As soon as we walked in AOI pulled herself onto one side, her hand on her nose. She refused to enter. I could imagine but I still asked her why?

"I don't like the smell."

"You will get used to it. It's strong because this is the first time you're experiencing it. You will get use to it." The smell was that delicious toffee coated apples at the entrance of the supermarket. Now, it's the same smell that trigger the memory of our first afternoon in Beijing.

In this photo little boy is pretending to be a lost bunny and I just found him.
When I travel what attracts me the most is observing how the locals live. I can't understand Chinese so I wasn't going to be my usual adventurous lady and go within the inner city to find out how the locals live but when one has passion the stars align for her. So I found myself living on campus. It was amazing experience observing how the students live, how they get their letters and parcels was find blowing. So this fun rickshaw that reminded me of the Ciao (the little electric car in Italy for the old people) needed to be photographed (by my AOI) because it's one way to get posts delivered (so grateful for these little travellers of mine, I hope they retain the same love and passion I have for discovering different cultures and countries).


The smell of toffee coated apples takes me back to Beijing Normal University campus life. The student life that you won't read nowhere in guide books are bright as the colours that adorn the place. The stream of students walking the back alley that leads to the shower rooms, even in Beijing autumn cold evenings, the freshly showered people in their pajamas that stream into the student supermarket were so alien to me that first few days but right now are part of the beautiful memories we had as a family in Beijing. Couple of evenings I ventured on campus alone with the children as AMI was teaching.

My mini two travellers enjoyed the bright Chinese billboards on campus and after each dinner in the canteen they stopped to look at the moving images. With the privilege to live on campus we mingled with students like real locals.






The similarity between the lifestyle in Italy and Ghana are all other stories to be written. Until then these are some photos that will tickle your travel bug.







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