When I arrived in Yantai, after thirty-some hours in transit (and yes, wandering the Beijing airport wondering if I made a huge mistake DOES count as transit time), I was not met by Ji (my new boss) or the promised fluently bilingual staff. Ji had to go to a meeting in Beijing, and so I was met by a girl called Lily holding a paper sign with my email address on it.
We take a bus to the taxi, and in retrospect, I wonder if this is Ji’s inherent stinginess or whether the needs of the disoriented, jet-lagged foreigner just haven’t occured to anyone. The taxi lets us out at my new apartment complex, where it turns out that Lily doesn’t actually know which building we’re going to. She starts to ask passing people and I realize that even when I know she is saying “Where is building seven?”, I can’t recognize even a single word from my Chinese tapes. We circle for a while, pulling my suitcase through the snow, and I’m wondering more and more if I’ve made a collossal mistake.
Lily plunks me in a corner shop to wait while she looks for the building. I sit on my suitcase while the shopkeeper and his wife stare at me. I try out my baby Chinese, but they can’t understand me.
Before I can really wonder if Lily is a kidnapper, she’s back with directions. As we get closer to my new home, a red-haired young man comes out to help me get my bags up the unlit stairs. He introduces himself as Calvin, and, by the way, he’s my roommate.
Lily leaves, and Calvin helps set me up in our apartment. He shows me how to flush the toilet (turn on a tap behind the tank, wait for the tank to fill, flush, turn off the tap) and use the shower (turn on a tap behind the washing machine, wait for the water to warm up, turn off the tap after use) and use the stove (turn on the gas from a can, turn on the burner, give up in the burner, use a match, turn off the gas when finished). We also have a TV screen to show who’s arriving downstairs, an in-building telephone to speak to visitors, a DVD player and the hugest television set I’ve ever seen.
About an hour later, Ji and her husband show up. She tells us she’s just come back from spending Spring Festival in Mongolia in order to meet the new teacher. That’s me, but I tell them that I’m too tired to go to dinner. I mention that it’s over 30 hours from New Jersey to Yantai (Does no one here understand that I’ve been sitting up for over a day?). She says she understands and she went to graduate school in Canada. I ask where, we chat about Toronto for a moment, and they leave.
Calvin and I wrap ourselves in blankets because the electricity went out on the previous day, and the heater is still running overtime to catch up. We lie on the couches — for some reason, we have huge leather couches — like cocoons and talk.