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Friday, June 21, 2013

All's well on the Eastern Front . . .

Dusk is falling on my first afternoon in China. The streets are teeming with people eating out and the yard of the China Daily has families playing. A young girl is playing badminton with her grandmother while two small boys play with their trains while their mothers chat – one has the classic Thomas while the other has a sleek hi-tech hi-speed model.

I arrived about 1430 after a mildly turbulent but uneventful two-hour flight from Seoul – probably the shortest distance traveled to get here by any of the foreign experts, I was told. (I’ve gone from being a registered alien in Korea to a foreign expert here and it certainly feels like a promotion, so far.) Jingwei, the admin girl I’ve been communicating with to arrange everything met me at the airport with a car and driver – another sign I’ll be valued more here than at my last gig.

 My apartment is a little tattier than I expected but is perfectly serviceable, once I work out a few logistical problems. The last occupant obviously had a cat and wasn’t too hot on cleaning so my first trip to the supermarket just down the block was to stock up on cleaning supplies. I’m working my way through cleaning the rooms one at a time – the bedroom and spare room/living room/study are reasonable but the kitchen needed a good scrub and all the floors needed sweeping. Browsing the market also made me realize I probably do need to learn more Chinese than I did Korean, just to know what I’m buying.

I’ll probably do a lot of my own cooking once I’m content with the state of my kitchen, and was pleasantly surprised at the variety of fruit and produce available. Lots of amazing sauces, also, some of which I recognize, so I’ll have no problem doing stir-frys that are heavy on the veg component.

I’d been impressed with the professionalism of everyone on staff I’d spoken to and dealt with since I was first considered for the job, and today has only made me more so. Jingwei had stocked the fridge with bottled water, milk, bread, sausage and pears, and also bought some ramen, a toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, toilet tissue and soap. She also gave me “pocket money.” Tomorrow morning she will take me to open a bank account, set up an Internet collection and prepare to get my residence permit. She has made everything as easy as is possible, and I appreciate her care immensely.

After dropping off my luggage and getting my key, I accompanied her back to the office (the building next door, which has a beautiful garden and a wonderful lobby) to get my bearings and say hello, and was again impressed by everyone I met. The chief copy editor (who Jingwei said told them to employ me as soon as he got off the phone interview I had with him) invited me to sit in on the evening news meeting and I was asked for my opinion on the stories discussed. I very much look forward to working with him. The international desk head also seems a highly capable journalist, and the fact she is female makes me even more positive I won’t have to deal with the sexism prevalent in Korea.

The air quality, today at least, seemed better than Seoul, or perhaps it’s just that there are different things that trigger my allergies there. I’ve been warned it won’t stay that way in winter, but will try to minimize any ill effects as best I can. Both the apartment and office building are non-smoking, and I react to cigarette smoke more than anything else.

I’m not na├»ve enough to believe everything will be idyllic, but I’m happy I will be working with people who care about their product and actively want me to help make it better. On top of that, I get to live in one of the most fascinating countries for a writer to be at the moment, as it grows and evolves. Even the stories talked about for tomorrow’s edition excite me, as the country positively and consciously seeks a balance between maintaining its rapid growth and looking after its residents and beauty. Yes, mistakes will be made along the way, but no country is free of mistakes.

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