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Reiland: China says hello, sort of

BY JORDYN REILAND | JUNE 14, 2013 5:00 AM

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My plane hovered around the Beijing Capital International Airport before descending, and all I could see was a thick haze covering the sky. The woman next to me opened the screen to the window completely yet only a bit of light was let in. I was anxious to step off the plane, yet I listened intently to the instructions from the flight attendant as this could likely be the last time I heard English spoken for a little while.

As soon as I stepped off of the plane, anxiety set in. I was tired, hot, hungry, and ready to head to my dormitory for a good night’s rest.

Little did I know listening intently to the flight attendant wasn’t going to do me much good once it came to navigating the airport.

The director of human resources at China Daily told me a few days before I left that I was going to be picked up by one of her colleagues and they would have a picture of me to help with recognition. I was also directed by her to wait at Departure Gate 8 and without much hesitation, I assumed I would find it just as easily as I would in any airport in the United States.

That was a big mistake.

Two hours filled with lots of pacing up and down the sterile-lit concourse and one $35 call on a payphone to my parents — the only way I could make communication to anyone at that point due to the lack of Internet and cell reception — finally paid off when I eventually made contact with the woman from HR. I was instructed to take a taxi to the *China Daily* campus.

I was a minority for the first time in my life, and it was completely terrifying.

The taxis flew by the pickup area as workers herded passengers into single-file lines. The taxi waiting area was located in the basement of the airport, and I patiently waited until one pulled up a few feet away from me. The yellow and blue taxi looked pleasant enough, and the woman opened the trunk so I could set my luggage in the back.

One thing I learned while researching Beijing before my trip was that almost all of the Chinese taxi drivers spoke no English. This originally wasn’t an issue in my mind since I didn’t plan on taking one. After realizing that was going to be my only option, I handed the woman a piece of paper with the address to the building on it, and we went on our way.

There I was sitting in the uncomfortable, thin sheet covered backseat clutching one of my two suitcases, my eyes glued to the window looking for clues to my destination. The woman swerved in and out of traffic as she attempted to find a radio station suitable for the trip. Then she started to speak to me in Chinese, and after a few phrases I attempted to tell her I had no idea what she was saying. All she did was look back and sigh.

It was close to 7 p.m. Beijing time when I arrived at the gate of the China Daily building, and I nearly leapt out of my seat in relief. The guard at the front gate had a picture I sent to the newspaper for my ID card, yet he, too, did not speak English so we stared at each other for a while until a woman who worked in the foreign-affairs department of the paper noticed I was standing there. She let me borrow her phone, and a few minutes later I was escorted by the HR director to my room.

I was at the will of jet lag because I woke up much earlier than I needed to, but I was excited to see where I would be working and living for the next two months. A short walk through the courtyard was all it took to arrive to the office.

The newsroom was unlike any other I had seen. The lighting similar to a doctor’s office, covered the ceiling with little to no colors on all of the walls. Rows of cubicles surround the room filled with the sound of typing and a few desk fans. There was no chatter as nearly all of the reporters rely on MSN Messenger to communicate with each other.

This wasn’t the Daily Iowan newsroom.

It was the China Daily — a 32-year-old English daily newspaper with the widest print circulation of any English-language paper in the country. This is where I’ve been assigned to work in the supplements department for the next two months as a member of their staff, writing and editing.

And here I am more than 6,000 miles away from home sitting in my small cubicle typing away, waiting for a story to copy edit.

Each day my anxiety of being away from family, living on my own, and exploring an entirely different country tapers off a bit as I learn something new, and I take each day at a time.

Daily Iowan staffer Jordyn Reiland is spending the summer interning for China Daily in Beijing. Look for her weekly columns each Thursday in the DI.


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