So far I’ve only been here a week and spent the majority of it in Beijing and to be honest – I’ve loved it. Maybe it’s because we had such a rough start in Russia, we were used to not being able to get around. Maybe its because we left the frigid cold of Mongolia and were greeted by sunny skies and warm weather in China. Maybe its because you can buy amazing and delicious noodles and dumplings for mere dollars in the Beijing Hutongs. Whatever the reason, after only a few days in the city, we found ourselves extending our stay another three nights.
We visited all the major sites, took a trip to the great wall, and ordered random things off all Chinese menus in tiny alley way restaurants where the owners drank rice wine with us and brought over their new puppies to play. (I assure you they weren’t dinner, the puppies were being treated very much as pets).
But despite my love of Beijing – I have to admit there are certain quirks to the China that I have noticed.
1. Westerners are either celebrities or freaks.
Everywhere we went people seemed to be fascinated by us. They starred at us, they took photos, they even filmed us. I went back and forth between thinking they really liked us and wanted photos of us and thinking that perhaps we were so weird looking that they took photos to prove it to their friends.
Either way, I must have ended up in 1000 people’s photos – and I have brown hair and a similar build and skin color of most people in China. Shannon, Tejal and Marten ended up with a lot more attention than me.
It was strange enough when people would ask to take photos with us or of us. But the scenarios got even weird:
1. Sometimes we would all pose for a photo and have a friend take the photo. Then some random Chinese person would just get in the photo with us. Sometimes we didn’t even notice until later when we looked at the photos.
2. Other times, when we were posing for a photo with a friend snapping the shot, a random Chinese person would just stand next to the photographer and start snapping away. On more than one occasion they would follow us to the next photo op and get some more shots.
3. Other times, people would just try and be sneaky and film us on the bus, while we were eating and as we walked around. The interesting thing is that when you catch people filming you, they aren’t at all embarrassed. They usually smile and waver or offer to show you the photo. At the great wall, we caught a women with a giant camera and a tripod snapping photos of us as we watched the sunset. She showed us the photos, and they were so cute that she agreed to take our email addresses and send us the photos.
Most of the time however, they would just politely ask to take a photo with us and we would alternate posing and snapping photos with our new “friends”
You may ask how I know this – after all its rare that I go around checking out the local children’s diaper situation. The answer is simple: instead of wearing diapers, children simply wander around with holes in their pants so that if nature calls they can take that call wherever they happen to be standing.
Luckily, the ground is not covered in child potty breaks so its not as bad as it would seem. The only thing you notice is that the majority of small children are constantly mooning the world. Question still unanswered: what happens in the winter?
3. China is both very clean and very dirty
One of the reasons why I think the no pants situation is not an issue is because China has got to have some of the cleanest cities I have ever seen. There are constantly people cleaning, sweeping, emptying garbage, etc. The place is spotless.
On the other hand – the air is horrible. On certain days, a cloying smog would just hang in the air for hours. Obstructing the sun and blocking the view more than 100 meters away. It was disgusting.
4. They are serious about security
Really, really serious. Ever metro or large tourist site has metal detectors and bag scanners. There are cameras everywhere. Sometimes more than seem strictly necessary. I thought the US was security conscious, but China has us beat hands down.
Check out this picture from Tiananmen Square.
5. It’s a country of contrast
Never have a been to a country where things change so quickly. China is the true definition of east meets west, new meets old. In Shanghai, a 10 minute walk can take your from ritzy shopping and expensive cocktails on the bund to 1 RMB dumplings and street markets. Glossy high speed trains zip across a landscape dotted with rice patties. Small, hunched over old women sell frogs and live ducks amongst business men in smart suits rushing to work. Its crazy and amazing all at the same time.
Seriously, so good. And for some reason I thought it would be awful. I kept telling myself that I would loose soooo much weight in China. Actually, all I’ve done is eat. Eat. Eat. And eat some more. Dumplings. Noodles. Other things that I have no way to identify.