Living Abroad: Beijing

Raymond Torkelson (’16) and fellow LC students outside the Temple of Heaven.

By Raymond Torkelson /// Staff Writer

TIC” is a favorite phrase amongst many foreigners living abroad in China. It stands for “This is China.” Us “Laowai”(老外) as we’re called — a slightly derogatory Mandarin term that combines the characters for ‘old’ and ‘foreigner’ — might say “TIC” when people walking the streets of Beijing decide to relieve themselves in public, when people spit freely riding the Beijing metro, or when the air is so polluted that donning our standard N95 masks just feels like a nice case of strep throat. I’ve thought “TIC” when I play basketball with some locals who smoke cigarettes in between our games, or when I realized nearly every car on the road in Beijing appears deeply engaged in a sort of ballet characterized by close-calls with pedestrians. Of course, this was just my first impression.

I’ve also thought “TIC” when getting to know my incredible roommate from Yantai, Shandong province who has been paid to teach math, chemistry, physics and an assortment of other subjects since he was eighteen. His major is educational technology and he plans to run an international company that teaches Chinese across the globe.

I’ve thought to say “This is China” when befriending a student of Capital Normal University (the school we attend on my study abroad program) who has committed his life to researching cancer and anti-aging technology. His undergraduate study in molecular biology inspired him to move onto graduate school, and continue his studies with rigorous research that lasts nearly the whole week until he has free time to shoot hoops with me and discuss how his experiments are going. He has traveled the world (roughly 17 different countries), speaks English fluently, and hopes to reside in Boston someday, where he hopes to conjure a pharmaceutical version of the fountain of youth, or even cures, or better preventative methods and treatments for cancer. Moreover, I thought “TIC” when a roommate of one of the other foreign students invited me to her house for a Chinese New Year dinner. Her grandma and uncles drank me under the table and fed me unconscionable amounts of delicious, authentic Chinese food to celebrate the coming of the Year of the Ram.

“I was lost and asked a local policemen to help me find my way. Then he wanted to take a picture with me.”

I think the best way to describe living in Beijing is to compare this new experience with my upbringing. Life began for me in Lake Oswego, Oregon – yes, more or less the location of Lewis & Clark College. After years and years in the Lake Oswego Public School District, I transferred to an urban-based private institution known as Northwest Academy (NWA) in downtown Portland for my sophomore year of high school. This gave me a better taste of city life. Thereafter, I transferred to a boarding school in rural Marion, Montana for the remainder of high school and learned the importance of the bare necessities in life, as well as the beauty of the outdoors since we were based near Glacier National Park.

Diversity in these places can’t exactly be thought of in traditional terms. In fact, without a keen eye one might altogether miss the special kind of diversity that exists there: diversity of backgrounds, life stories, political ideologies, careers and outlooks for the future. The cultural nuances of my predominantly Caucasian hometown are actually far and wide; however, the cumulative experiences I could expect in a lifetime of living in Lake Oswego do not compare to my last month in Beijing. My journey abroad has brought me much needed clarity and space to process where I came from, how I belong in the world, and how my journey will proceed.

Everything from my visit to the Temple of Heaven, a stroll through Beijing’s Summer Palace, bar hopping in Nanluoguxiang, clubbing in Wudaokou and Sanlitun, an enlightening guided tour of the Lama Temple known as Yong He Gong, and classes in Wushu martial arts and traditional Chinese painting, has brought me much needed education about life outside the sometimes limited sphere of America. Although my country of birth is truly a boiling pot of peoples and a place to experience a massive salad of the world’s many cultures, nothing compares to living abroad. I could not recommend the experience enough to any American college student.

Zhaoyu, a medical science graduate student, and I eat burgers and play basketball every Sunday. The people at the “You Can” club are very friendly, and it costs 60RMB (roughly $10) for two hours of half the basketball court.

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