Tuesday, May 12, 2009

二胡(erhu) - Dongwangzhuang

(Writer's Note: The following blog is the first part in a series of entries that will summarize my life as a student at the Inter-University Program at Tsinghua University (IUP). In this entry, I will talk about accomodation in Beijing for Light Fellows.)

Tsinghua University offers dormitories for foreign students around the campus's northeast corner. Foreign students are still not allowed to live with Chinese students. The dormitory offers singles and doubles. I selected the single, but the living conditions were far from ideal. My single was right next to the laundry room, which forced me to bear quite a few sleepless nights listening to the washing and drying machines go off. The walls and curtains provided by the dormitory services are both thin. I wake up to small sounds and small rays of light, so I bought some dark bedsheets, punched holes in them and hung it over the curtain to block out light. After a few weeks, I realized that my ceiling was leaking water from the broken air conditioner, which after a few repair sessions still was not repaired. Eventually the damp ceiling tiles turned moldy and began to change the air quality inside my dorm.

Near the end of my summer term at IUP, I saw an ad up on the school bulletin of an apartment in Dongwangzhuang.
Dongwangzhuang (东王庄) is located east of Tsinghua University, south of the Forestry University and north of the Language and Culture University. The former resident, Wiley and Richard, wanted to keep the apartment for IUPers because it had already been passed down by IUPers for many years. After meeting up with Wiley, seeing the apartment and meeting with the landlord, I decided that looking at other apartments was a waste of time and agreed to sign the lease agreement.
Fortunately, I found a wonderful roommate, Jillian, through IUP's group email before I signed the lease to split the rent. I packed my luggage back in Tsinghua's moldy dorms, hired a "black car" (黑车, the driver who was so nice that he helped me with the luggage throughout the move and had white liquor
(erguotou 二锅头) with me), and moved in early August. A few nights later I invited IUP students for a housewarming party, wine and snacks complimentary of IUP.
Dongwangzhuang is a cute neighborhood with just the right amount of conveniences and culture. During early morning, street stands sell meat-stuffed buns, bowls of spiced tofu, strips of fried dough, seaweed soup and egg pancake sandwiches. Old ladies practice their sword or fan dances in the concrete parks while the men waddle around or play ping-pong.
During the evening, the street stands are stocked with meat and vegetable shish kabobs, boiled, grilled or roasted. A supermarket is available for people who enjoy cooking (I like to watch people cook and help peel onions). There are as of late May four fresh fruit and vegetable vendors. Back on the concrete yard, the red ornament lights and Chinese ballroom dance music are turned on. Couples young and old practice their swing, waltz and salsa at the same time. I've seen an American couple do some southern ditty to some classic Cultural Revolution tune. The old men crowd around tables smacking cards onto crude wooden tables, waddle around or play ping-pong.

Outside the neighborhood gates, Korean restaurants line the streets. Wangzhuang Street has perhaps three Chinese restaurants, total. The rest are all Korean.

For Light Fellows who will study at HBA, PiB or CET-Beijing, accomodations are provided by the programs.
Fellows who elect to study at IUP have the option of living on campus, but I strongly suggest living off-campus simply because there is much to see beyond the campus bubble. I've heard complaints from previous fellows that they haven't been able to see the cultural phenomenons described in their textbooks. I've also heard previous fellows wail that they haven't been able to really connect with the people who live in Beijing except through language partners and teachers.
They all usually say this while sitted in a coffee bar tucked away on campus.

Dongwangzhuang is by no means the only place to live in Wudaokou. The Huaqing Jiayuan apartments, the Xiwangzhuang apartments, the Dongshengyuan apartments are just a few neighborhoods in which IUPers have lived. Some students commute from districts as far as Sanlitun and Dongzhimen. Generally speaking, the apartments further from Tsinghua are cheaper and less furnished. Huaqing Jiayuan Apartments are perhaps the most expensive apartments in Wudaokou because of its central location, close distance to Tsinghua University and to all the shops, restaurants and bars on Chengfu Road.

For IUPers - Don't panic about housing. There are plenty of apartments that can be found. Many IUPers before or after finishing classes will post ads on the IUP panlist to ease your search. Some will even post gym memberships and bike offers. You can respond to ads while still in the States or another country, but I strongly recommend that you apartment-shop once you get to Beijing. You can personally observe your future housing conditions and choose among many selections rather than binding yourself to a place that does not satisfy you.

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