Friday, July 5th 2002

On Monday I started work at the university. In London I lived 45 minutes away from college, but here I was just five minutes away, which was awesome. The only problem was that Zhongguancun Beilu lay between my flat and the university. Only in the very small hours was this vast highway anything less than pounding with traffic, and so every morning and evening I had a real life game of Frogger to get across. Some mornings there was a policeman to coordinate the flow of people and cars, and I always breathed a sigh of relief if he was there.

During my first week, the mist which rendered the city grey and threatening gradually lifted and the sun appeared. This instantly sent temperatures rocketing into the thirties. I spent my lunch breaks wandering the campus, slowly getting to know my way around. One evening I walked over to the West Gate of the university, outside which there were apparently a lot of bars. When I got over there, all I could see was a vast expanse of brownfield land. The area had been demolished, to make way for new buildings. The pace of change in Beijing was so frenetic that three or four places mentioned in my recently published guide book had disappeared in this way.

At the end of week one, I made a quick trip into town to buy a very important thing: my ticket to Moscow. I wasn't sure if this would even be possible, as I wanted to travel in the middle of August and had heard that tickets could be sold out months in advance. But I was in luck, and got hold of a ticket for the very reasonable price of 1602 Yuan - about £125.

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