There is an internet cafe/coffee shop close to where I work. It's in the north end of campus in a commercial complex of a few stores, servicing the hordes of dorms up the street. There's a beauty shop, office supply, mobile phone. Upstairs is a bookstore and pizza bar, featuring coffee, beer, American style sandwiches and pizza with indoor and outdoor dining, which will be great when the weather warms up. I made a new friend here, a professor of the Philosophy of Science from New Zealand. Nearby is an ancient garden with a monolithic rock of river eroded limestone, riddled with holes and grotesquely misshapen--gorgeous.
Saturday morning I break out of my mold and buy a darling cell phone, the kind that slides open to reveal a keyboard. My first call is from my boss, Ms. Chen. She picks me up and we go to a jade market in her car.
Inside a warehouse style building are shops filled with every kind of stone, carved on stands lke fish or food or fruit, figures, mountains with colored veins suggesting flowers or clouds, snow or water. Chen is looking for a tea mug. We enjoy ourselves at one shop where the owners make specially scented tea for us. I get a tea mug with a crouching tiger on the lid and a hidden dragon on the tea strainer, ingeniously fitted inside. As you drink down your tea, the dragon's eyeballs and then foot and then entirely is revealed. So cute.
In the afternoon, I try meeting new friend at Starbuck's just off campus. First, I go in the wrong direction toward Peking University--across the boulevard from Tsinghua--where I get turned around with the help of a friendly European student. Then I pass it by a mile in the other direction. Thank goodness, the man was patient and texted me directions. Can you see me, straddling my bike in the middle of massive traffic and TEXTING? I can't believe this is me anymore.
Once I get settled into Starbuck's, looking like any Starbuck's anywhere in the world, it is pleasant, chatting with someone who speaks English, on earthquakes to chaos theory, finally a short ride back to my apartment building, Puji. He points to where I can get a good foot massage in a strip mall nearby.
That night the wind picks up. It blows the row of bicycles over near the entrance to Puji Building 1-1. A cold draft starts blowing things off the window ledge in the kitchenette and finally wakes me. The wild cats stop their yowling and everything runs for cover. It's cold in the morning. And cloudy.
It seems warmer when the sun is shining, and so it is today. After a surprise visit this morning from Ms. Chen's boss, Professor Boss, a party guy with a gold pin, and a couple of his minions, I bust my butt re-tooling an important speech for the university president Gu and finish it by lunch. I'm getting satisfaction, inserting edgy and progressive words when given the chance. Gratifyingly, they love the tone of my rewrite!
Late afternoon, I stroll to the coffee shop for cafe Americano with nai, milk, and tang, sugar, and a wedge of cranberry toffee cheesecake. The tables are occupied quietly by serious students with their laptops or netbooks open. One girl has two! 1940s mellow jazz fills the empty corners. I blend in, observing over the top of an English version of Beijing magazine, scanning what's hip and delicious in this amazing city.