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The Northern Capital July 16, 2013

Posted by samrwor in Travel Log.

I was sitting on the runway at Hong Kong International airport. As we waited for our turn to take off, I sat silently observing the plane and its passengers. the plane itself was older. the fabric on the seats were worn, and the flight attendants talked through the safety procedures themselves as opposed to showing a video, despite the fact that we were on a 747. Only 2/3rds of the seats were filled, however I happened to be surrounded by a group of very loud and rambunctious adults. The woman next to me was middle age and slightly overweight. She kept fidgeting in her seat, moving from side to side so drastically that she kept running into me. Occasionally, she would lean forward and bang her head and hands against the seat in front of her while shouting lightheartedly in what I assume was Mandarin at the girl in front of her.

As we took off, and as the woman began to lean against me, only one thought was going through my head: “Oh my goodness, I’m going to China.”

Now, I’ve been in the capital city for three weeks. Every day, I manage to discover or observe something unexpected. Due to the sheer number of cultural shocks, I decided to compile a list of some of the more interesting and prominent observations for you. Hopefully, based on these, you’ll be able to better picture the culture in the Northern Capital.

Forbidden City from Coal Park Hill

  • Unsurprisingly, the city is dirty. Trash litters the sidewalks, and people regularly spit on the ground. Occasionally, children will pee in the middle of squares and parents will hold their infants over trashcans when the infants do their business.
  • Bikes are a very frequently used mode of transportation. I easily see over 1000 bikes a day, even when going to class. It is common to see a second person riding on the back of the bikes, often sitting side saddle over the back wheel. I have tried this, and even though it is more of a core workout, its very convenient.
  • People don’t seem to believe in lines. Masses that can loosely be defined as lines will form, however your spot is never guaranteed and cutting and pushing is common.
  • The native food is very oily and salty, and their drinks are extremely sweet. Portion sizes are also huge (bigger than America). I always thought America was the worst place for unhealthy food, but China is a very strong contender.
  • There is a surprisingly vibrant ex-pat scene near the University. As a result, its very easy to find safe, western food. There is a restaurant called La Bamba that is very popular, and they serve 18 RMB burritos and burgers on certain days of the week.
  • For the first week or so, the smog was very bad. I desperately wished for rain to come and wash the smog away. When the rain did come, however, we found that it was acidic. Sometimes, you just can’t win.

AQI of over 450 and an AQI of under 75

  • Men and boys, if you thought American women took a long time in the bathroom, then you should visit a Chinese bathroom. Oh, and on a related note, most places only have squatters.
  • When its hot outside, men will pull their shirts up over their stomachs and walk around.
  • While subway traffic during rush hour can be bad, its certainly not the worst I’ve seen. Naples wins that round.
  • Homeless men keep very young puppies with them on the street. While I’m not sure of their primary purpose, I have heard that they are for sale. I do know that you never see a puppy older than about 15 weeks.
  • Tsinghua, our host university, is the MIT of China. When you say you are studying there, people noticeably change the way they behave around you, and tend to look at you with much more respect. (I should note that the acceptance rate is 0.03%).

Well that concludes one round of observations from Beijing. Its been very interesting to see first hand how people live and do business in a country as large and as ambitious as China. I’ve come to realize that, in many ways, they are not so different from Americans, and I’m curious to see how they will grow in the next 50 years.

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