🇨🇳 First Two Weeks at UIC

September 12th, 2016

Here's a look at a typical day during my first two weeks on campus.

My day starts around 6:45am. It's a little earlier than normal, but I've been naturally waking up at this time and I enjoy having a few extra minutes to snooze or leisurely welcome the day. I typically check email and my social networks right away. Partly because I want to know what friends and family are up to, but also the internet works better early in the morning.

I take short showers here. The water starts ice cold, then gets scalding hot for a few minutes before going ice cold again. I'm not ready for cold showers yet. I make toast and drink a little "coffee flavored milk tea" which comes in a packet from the store and would be more accurate if it was called "tan water, kind of milky, was once in the vicinity of coffee." I have a small jar of peanut butter and Jelly. Peanut butter is a little expensive here, but worth the cost.

A dark red coach bus shuttles teachers from Horizon Cove to the UIC campus at 7:25am, 8:05am, and 8:45am. The trip takes 15-20 minutes depending on the traffic. I usually take the 8:05 bus, since I have to be on campus for a 9:00am class. I spend the bus ride talking with other interns or reading on my Kindle. I got some really good book suggestions and I'm enjoying this chance to read each day.

If I had to describe UIC's campus in one word I would say "Stairs." UIC's campus was designed to look artistic and unique. It forfeits many conveniences for the sake of aesthetics., which is a nice way of saying "why on earth did they build it like this?" My office is on the first floor, in building F. It's a small entry room in front of the equipment room. It's reachable only by going up several flights of stairs and then back down a long ramp. Alternatively, I could go up even more flights of stairs and take an elevator back down. Or, if building A is unlocked, which it occasionally is, I can go down a flight of stairs, through building A, and then up a long ramp. I don't think they would approve of me scaling the 12-foot concrete wall and guard rail.

The campus is built on a hill and there are lots of switchback ramp ways, steps which are tall enough to double as amphitheater seating, and small steps which are usually built on the sides of the large steps.

My office door is a large pane of glass with a brushed metal handle. It swings freely inward and outward on hinges set into the top and bottom. A decent half inch gap surrounds the door and the thick glass is usually covered in condensation. The inside is kept air-conditioned to help preserve the equipment. The outside is, well, always humid. Above the doorway faint green colorations can still be seen on the white painted concrete. The mold/mildew has been scrubbed away recently, but it will be back soon. The mold is so green and vibrant it looked like someone had painted it in place.

My job as a Teaching Assistant, or TA, mostly involves being a glorified presentation remote. Controlling Power Points (or ppts, as they call them), opening documents, and double clicking on movie files from the teaching station in the back while the professor lectures. It's good to know my BA in communication and five years’ experience in managing professional level broadcast gear is going to good use.

This has only been the first week of class and things should get more interesting as the semester picks up, but I am happy for the downtime right now. Besides turning technology on/off and unlocking classroom doors, I occasionally have been given tasks labeling SD cards, checking over camera lenses for missing covers, and resetting locks that hold the Protools software dongles to the iMacs. As students start doing projects I'll be checking out equipment for them to use.

Classes run in three hour blocks and only meet once a week. When the first morning class is done it is usually time for lunch. We are given an hour for lunch, but there's no time clock to punch in or out.

UIC is located next to Bĕi Shī Dà or Beijing Normal University. There's three canteens (basically food courts) within walking distance, the closest (Canteen 2) is a 10-minute walk from UIC campus.

A collection of small food places ring both floors of the venue. Several let you pick out the veggies and meat you want, then cook it for you. There's a dry-hotpot place which I like, though the food is sometimes a little spicier than I wish It would be. They weigh the bowl and tell me what I owe. If I had my card setup, I could press it to a reader and they would deduct the money from my account, but I don't know how to do that yet. Instead, I go over to a ticket booth and tell a lady how much I owe. I give her money, and she gives me a receipt. I take the receipt back to the shop. They have already taken several more orders, I don't know how they keep all the dishes straight, the place is a zoo. She gives me a small card with a number on it and I wait for them to call my number. If I get rice my meal is around 20 kuai. (The Chinese currency is called Renminbi, colloquially we refer to it as kuai.) It might be less if I only get veggies, meat costs a little extra. There's another hot pot place which is a little cheaper, but it's more soup-like and takes a while to cool down. (They'll also take cash there, which is nice.)

A booth is setup in the middle of the room where a lady will make fresh juice. I can point to kiwi, apples, bears, dragon fruit, watermelon, carrots, cucumbers, or several other types of fruit, and she'll blend it on the spot. It doubles the cost of my meal most days (15 kuai) but fresh juice is awesome.

The walk too and from the canteens involves crossing a 4 lane highway. Fortunately, there's a stop light and crosswalk. (Which isn't always the case here.) Cars have 60-90 seconds of green light, then pedestrians have 15 seconds to cross two lanes. The wide brick median is waiting place since the stoplights for each direction are not synchronized. Plants with large leafs lines the road and walkways. Some of the leaves are larger than my t-shirts.

On rainy days large puddles form in the streets and cars, trucks, or buses will spray pedestrians as they motor through several inches of water, not bothering to slow down. Umbrellas are a must have at all times. On sunny days many Chinese use umbrellas to provide portable shade while walking around outside.

(I want to make a belt and a sheath for my umbrella, so I can pretend to be a Knight of the Water Table! I'll go around, saving damsels in distress from the dampness of the sky water. Or maybe I'll just write a short story about it.)

I'm free in the afternoon, unless I have class. I usually check email and if I have time, write in my journal. The days pass quickly, for the most part.

From the 5th floor of UIC, I have a great view of the mountains. Tall hills? Not sure how they are classified. On rainy days the low clouds will cover the tops and swirl down around them. To the south I can see a half dozen apartment towers still under constructions. Cranes top each of the buildings.

Buses shuttle Horizon Cove residents from the main entry back to home at 4:30, 5:45, 6:30, and 7:15pm. (Or something like that.) I usually can get on the 4:30 bus, except for the days when class goes until 5:00 or 6:00pm.

Work hasn't been terribly exciting yet, and perhaps it won't be, but I'm adapting pretty well and taking advantage of the slow times to journal, take photos, or think about life. I'm getting to know my coworkers and my fellow interns better. In many ways it's just fun to see how a different school operates and I'm glad for the opportunity this will provide.

Chinese Class begins this week (September 13.) We'll meet on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday for an hour in the morning. I'm eager to learn a little bit of Chinese so I can understand a little more about my surroundings.