Picture of Rocky

In Beijing No. 1: 生病了(shēng bìng le)

As you may or may not know, the name of the capital city of the People's Republic of China, 北京(běi jīng) is composed of two characters. The first, 北(běi), means North. The second, 京(jīng), means capital. As such, Beijing could be called the Northern capital. It is thus named to distinguish it from 南京(nán jīng—Southern Capital), which was at some point during some dynasty (and around World War II) the capital of China.

Trivia question: 东(dōng) means East. Where is 东京(dōng jīng)?

Most people who know where Denver is (but haven't been there) consider it to be a cold place. As you know, Denver is situated in the mountains and from time to time is subject to snowstorms. Denver, however, is not a cold place. Even when it snows on one day, the next day the snow melts and the sun is out. The sun is almost always out actually. Sometimes it is even sunny when it is snowing! Winter temperatures vary, but can get as high as 20°C (around 70°F). Denver is just not a cold place. Though I have come to understand this and have experienced the very vivid counterexample of Warsaw in January, I let myself be convinced that Denver was a cold place. Despite having been informed of Beijing's terrible winters, I felt confident that I comfortably move from Denver to Beijing and be prepared for this Northern capital's climate.

Nobody told me about the wind.

Wind in Chinese is 风(fēng). In Chinese, complex characters are often composed of other simpler characters. This is sometimes to indicate as to the meaning of the more complex character. Other times, it hints to the pronunciation. It is no coincidence that the first character of 疯狂(fēng kuáng—crazy) contains 风(fēng—wind). I am certain that the Beijing wind drives people crazy.

I had the occasion to meet a lonely American on the subway one day (omg the subway!!!). He seemed to be starving for some small talk in English and took it upon himself to explain the wind. Apparently, just beyond Beijing is a vast wasteland known as the Gobi Desert. The Gobi Desert, as far as I am concerned, is two things: windy and cold. Beijing has no natural protection from this wind and it is slammed by the wind as it leaves the Gobi Desert.

While the winter temperatures in Beijing are comparable or even better than in Denver, the perceived temperature as I feel it on my skin and in my bones is much lower. The wind chill—a concept that I have never understood growing up in Denver—combined with the higher level of humidity in Beijing factor into this cold.

生病(shēng bìng—to fall ill)

Cold, wind, and the newness of a new city combined to cause me to fall ill. I entered in an unwilling contract with something resembling bronchitis. I did not plan to spend my first week in Beijing in bed, yet there I found myself, reading. My eyes, instead of seeing the sites of Beijing, were observing Pip's less-than-fulfilled expectations. My mind, instead of being lost in Chinese characters and Chinese smells and Chinese foods, was off experiencing the grimy streets of Victorian London.

感冒好了(gǎn mào hǎo le—to get better after getting sick)

After 多喝水(duō hē shuǐ—drink more water) and visiting the doctor, I am recovered to my happy and healthy state. I am no longer restrained to my bed and I am out to explore Beijing.

2012-03-20 Update:

Fixed tone on běijīng.