East meets West in Beijing
Huge billboards and Western-style malls dwarf the historic hutongs in Xidan
I've decided to be the new David Letterman and post weekly top 10 lists. Next week's will be a guest entry by none other than Fernanda! But for now, lest you think from my previous list that I have only negative views of BJ, here's my list of the best things about this hilarious city (top 10 funniest things is coming soon):
1. The subway system, despite stoping early, is really extensive and awesome. You can zip to all corners of the city for only 2 yuan (about 30 cents US/CDN) which is amazing. Plus it's modelled after Hong Kong so you KNOW it's good.
2. The people are REALLY friendly. Even though we don't usually understand eachother, people on the street always try to be as helpful as possible. And at restaurants there are LOTS of laughs as we try to order our food. I'm sure in a lot of other cities people would just be pissed off that we couldn't communicate but not in Beijing!
3. The street life. People are always out and about just doing whatever - playing mahjong, sitting on the street, having a beer. Which means lots of eyes on the street, which means...
4. It's really, really safe here. In terms of a size of city to safety of city ratio I think you'd be hard-pressed to beat Beijing. I have never felt unsafe.
5. It's CHEAP. Especially on the West side. Dinner is like 20 yuans which is about 3 bucks. Things are different on the East side, where all the foreigners and ex-pats are, but here in the REAL Beijing (have to say that after some ex-pat asked 'is that even in Beijing??' when I told him where I live) it's sooo dirt cheap.
6. Everyone is very relaxed. They just siesta whenever, they walk slowly, the sit outside on curbs. Sure this can be annoying, but it's also a nice change from, say, LA where it sometimes feels like it's GO GO GO all the time.
7. The fashion. It's just something else.
8. The Chinese workplace is so funny. They have nap spots and people just conk out in the afternoon. At my office, there's an exercise time at 10AM every day where they play music and people just do tai chi in the halls. That's pretty damn cool.
9. There's something for everyone. Over here on the West side, life is calm and very Chinese. Out on the East side, it's much more dense and Western. There's apparently even a subdivision in the North based on Orange County, California (http://www.good.is/post/welcome-to-the-oc/
). Which means on a given day you can pretty much find anything you're looking for, whether it's hanging with fellow ex-pats that share your culture, or eating in a totally traditional Beijing noodle house. Granted, most cosmopolitan cities have this same experience. But there is something much more pure about areas like mine that even the most WASP areas of Toronto or LA don't have. Considering China's only been "open" to the world for about 20 years, it's not too surprising that it hasn't quite become an international city yet. But it's getting there.
10. It's kind of the land of opportunity. It's really exciting here - everything is new and everyone is still getting used to the crazy change. Because they're growing and building so much, there's something for everyone to do.
Hope you enjoy the list! I'm sure in a few weeks I'll have different things to say but it'll be fun to look back at some of my first impressions.
PS honourable metion to the Chinese government for this: http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/05/26-5
We all know the US has human rights issues but it's interesting to see a government publicly list them all. EDIT - changed the link, that one doesn't have the full text cause the last one stopped working. So it's not as good.
There are lots of problems with the original (definitely don't appreciate the mention of the USC student killings in light of how the Chinese media demonized the victims) but it's one of the ballsiest things I've ever seen a government do ever.
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