First Impressions

Yesyesyesyes my luggage is here! Thank God! And thank you to all of you who have prayed for its arrival. I’ve had the feeling for quite awhile that I am here by the grace of God alone. So many answered prayers: essays in the middle of midterms, admission, finances, loans, tickets, luggage … and that list will probably grow over the semester.

Some notes from the last few days:

30 July 2007

Stuck in NYC.
Jamaica Center – Archer Ave. Bus Q5 to Target.

After realizing that my luggage was not going to make it in time, I had a bit of an adventure riding the bus through Queens in search of a Target, where I purchased two shirts, a pair of jeans, and a few other necessities. I guess I’d always thought of New York City as a glass-skyscraper, high-stress, busy-people-in-suits kind of place. I guess Manhattan is like that – maybe – but the Jamaica area is most definitely not. I may have more to say about this later.

31 July 2007

Well, I’m finally here. And I don’t know how I feel about it. Maybe slightly lost.

Fortunately most people I’ve run into speak a little English. And there are a lot of American students here, though I haven’t met any yet. In fact, there are some partying/hanging out (rev: actually just partying) on the floor below mine. I suppose I’m at a slight social disadvantage, not having come on the group flight and also having arrived a day late. Not to mention that I’ll be wearing the same three T-shirts for a few days.

My dorm room has a tiny kitchen with two gas burners, a tiny wet bathroom, a bedroom with two beds (with foam matresses), two chairs, two desks, and some shelving, and a balconyish area with a refrigerator and windows with no glass, but slats that you can flip open or closed. No air conditioning, so keeping the windows open for airflow is important. I also don’t have a roommate yet, which from my point of view is a good thing. This is where I go off on my little loner spiel.

The hallways are almost open hallways, with concrete blocks staggered to let the air in. Kind of like Lovett’s hallways, except that these dorms, two streets away from the university, don’t look like a toaster. Otherwise, it’s very humid right now, but not too hot, and there’s usually a breeze. More like Malaysia than Houston. We had wet bathrooms in Malaysia, too.

Other than that, need to get my mobile tomorrow. And find some people to hang out with. But shop for things like food first.

01 August 2007

My baggage hasn’t come yet, although it’s reportedly at the airport here. I keep getting put on hold when I call. I went to the university today to pick up my rental phone. And then shopping. The mall (bleah) is just across from the other dorms, and its like a western mall, with a lot of American and European brand names. But there is a drug store and a supmer market, so I was able to get some stuff. I need to go again tomorrow and get some other things. I tried to get good deals in the stores, but it’s a little hard when I don’t speak the language. So it becomes a matching game with the items and the advertised sale.

In the afternoon I didn’t feel like doing anything, so I didn’t. That makes a nice change. I couldn’t work on my computere, because I don’t have a converter, and couldn’t do much of anything else because – well, no luggage. I have to get used to the humidity after a summer in dry California.

For dinner I ate at a coffee shop on the university campus. Pretty classy actually. But I don’t think I’ll be eating there too often; I can cook more for cheaper. I had a salmon wrap – I admit I didn’t expect the fish to be raw. It was good – save for the excessive amounts of mayonnaise – I just didn’t know they were into raw fish over here.

I also get the feeling that cucumbers and nuts and grapes are big local products. Tomatoes not so much, nor apples. The ones I saw in the store looked somewhat sickly.

Speaking of grapes, when I was in the supermarket picking some out, a woman came over, popped some in her mouth, decided that she liked them, and then put them in a bag for purchase. I definitely haven’t seen sampling like that in the States! But apparently it’s pretty common with unpackaged foods; I saw a mother tear a small loaf in half and hand it to her child while shopping.

Anyway, we had two meetings this evening, one for internet acess in our rooms – which I won’t be getting because I’m cheap – and one for security and dorm rules. Yeah, they are pretty strict about security here. Even the grocery stores inside the mall, which already has its own security, have guards. The university and dorms have guards. Bag checks are routine. There’s a bomb shelter on the first floor of the dorms, and our rental phones are required so that we can be texted in case of emergency. But all in all, these precautions are just a fact of life.

Today (03 August 2007):

Last night, before the luggage arrived, I was getting pretty desperate to get on the internet and check my email, so I asked one of the counselors if any of the computer labs on campus were open. He said, no, not at this time of night, but there were computers at the other dorms. Where exactly? In the bomb shelter.

I was slightly surprised, but realized that it was actually a very sensible place to put them. If you actually need to use a bomb shelter, it’s nice to have a means of communication with the outside world, with the phone lines buried under ten feet of concrete. I went over and found a regular little computer lab, like those in the colleges at Rice. Well, not quite regular. The ones at Rice don’t boast a steel door that a bank vault would envy.

Yesterday I again went shopping, in the morning, for more kitchen supplies. I never thought I would see a soldier in BDUs with a shopping basket in his hand and an M-16 slung over his back, nonchalantly selecting vegetables.

The afternoon was taken up with an organized trip to a beach about forty minutes north of the city. Absolutely gorgeous. Warmer than the Pacific, and less salt in the air. And hot! I slathered on the sunscreen, but my shoulder blades are somewhat crispy.

“Unpacking” is a beautiful, beautiful word. “Cleaning the kitchen-that-is-more-like-a-galley” is a less beautiful phrase.


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