My Ritz-Carlton

By Ben Weymiller, Foster Undergraduate who is participating in an exchange with Peking University in Beijing, China

Welcome to my humble abode! It’s not all that shiny, but for $9 a night, it feels like The Ritz. It is the attic/loft space of an architect professor on Tsinghua University’s campus (the MIT of China). The house is in a converted traditional Beijing housing complex called a siheyuan, where the living room was once a large courtyard that is now covered (there are still three trees growing in the courtyard through the roof!). Many small single rooms surround the courtyard on three sides, each now converted into one of one of 9 Airbnb units, or one of two bathrooms, or the dining room/kitchen.

The house is located on an adjacent campus to Peking University, Tsinghua University (China’s MIT, compared to Peking as the Harvard). Living here allows me to see the beauty, history, and differences in each campus. These schools are considered the two best universities in China, and the Zhongguancun district (pictured to the side) that houses them has developed into a tech hub similar to Silicon Valley, which is now home to the Chinese offices for large corporations such as Microsoft, Google, and Ofo.

My room is quite cozy with all three beds full, but for a couple of weeks at the beginning, I had the place to myself. I have had several travelers come and go and it has been fun meeting with some people from all over China. For one young traveler in his late teens, I was the first white person he had talked to, so on his last night, he crawled in my bed while I was on my computer and took a selfie with me to prove it to his mom. Oh, and don’t be fooled; my mattress is one inch thick. One inch. There is a two-inch stack of bamboo mats under the mattress acting as a bed-spring. I now know why massages are so cheap here…

Now I have two roommates that are in it for the long run with me- one is a recent economics grad studying English and applying to grad schools, and the other is a computer programmer who owns his own business. Although it is tight on space and privacy is now a foreign concept to me, living in this house has helped me improve my Chinese and understanding of modern Chinese culture from my peers in China.