Beijing: facts, observations, and niches (Post #3).

  • Beijing is huge. Including both the inner and outer city, the size has to be the entire LA and Orange Counties combined.

  • The air pollution here is incredible. There’s been a couple times where I couldn’t see past a mile away. US smog levels are at about 30, while Beijing’s average is 339. When it rains, it becomes lower. There’s currently a thunderstorm, and the level is at 268 as of one hour ago. I’ve been here for a week and the temperature hasn’t been lower than 90 degrees each day. The pollution actually lowers the heat by a considerable amount, as I haven’t felt a burning sensation on my skin. I’ve seen the sun only once since coming here, and I was able to stare directly at it, again, due to the smog. I’ve been inconsistently applying sunscreen and haven’t been sunburned.
  • We have to pay for our water and electricity for our suite, as I just found out yesterday night as the hot water turned off within one minute of entering the shower. I had to soap myself and slowly splash cold water to rinse myself off.
  • Beijing traffic is consistently crazy. Key word: consistent. Everyone drives equally “crazy” so there are no car accidents. Traffic intersections have cars facing at least five different directions. Honking isn’t road rage here; it’s signalling to other drivers where you are.
  • The bigger you are on the road, the more power you have. This is how yielding works: pedestrians –> bicycles –> scooters –> sedans –> vans –> buses.
  • Traffic lights don’t really exist. Neither do crosswalks. While vehicles don’t stop on right turns and run almost all red lights, pedestrians cross on red lights and also through intersections. Near accidents are often within centimeters, although I’ve yet to see an actual accident. Our program director taught us how to cross the road: “Find a group of Chinese people and put yourself in the middle of them. They have real talent and will lead you to safety.”
  • Bargaining is part of the culture, and Beijing folks are all about maximizing profit. A few days ago, I bought an umbrella for 10¥ ($1.58). Today, a friend of mine bought an umbrella at a tourist location. The seller started at 120¥ ($19.04) and he firmly brought it down to 20¥ ($3.17) which was still a rip off. I brought a “name brand” coat from 2800¥ ($444.44) to 450¥ ($71.43) and I believe I still got ripped off. The only inappropriate places to bargain are places with price tags and cash registers; all else is free game.
  • Beijing’s public transportation puts NorCal to shame. The subway station has over 100 stops in 10 or so different lines, and it only costs 2¥ ($0.32) to get to any of them, as long as you never exit the subway line. This means that you can transfer around as many times as possible to get to your destination. Instead of waiting forever on each stop like the BART, the subway doors open and close within 30 seconds. Buses cost 0.4¥ ($0.063) per ride. They also accelerate and drive as fast as sedans.
  • People here have a survival of the fittest mentality. They will cut you off or get ahead in any circumstance by any means necessary. This is called “iron rice bowl 鐵飯碗” which was coined during the Cultural Revolution when people lined up to get food. The food would eventually run out, so only those who fought to get ahead in line would get fed.
  • Non-Chinese people are treated like celebrities or aliens. Our black friend has gotten several pictures taken of him, while our white friends break pedestrians’ necks as they stare nonstop while walking by us. Today, I wore a tank top for the very first time and I got a lot of stares due to my tattoos.
When we were singing English songs in a public plaza, a large crowd gathered around us.
  • Our campus housing unit is the only place I’ve seen with toilets. Every restaurant, department store, and public restroom I’ve been to have been squatters.
  • I’m considered very muscular here. A professor working out in the school gym approached and asked me if I took protein supplements. He said that I was very buff. I haven’t seen many people here who look like they lift weights.
  • The moment we present our Peking University student ID cards, we’re treated with respect. We receive student discounts, and peoples’ tones and expressions towards us change.
  • Staring appears to be un-invasive and okay. When my friends and I speak in English in a circle, people stand two feet behind us staring straight into our group. In the subway, they constantly gaze at us (mostly the non-Asian folks). They do it kung-fu style too: feet shoulder width apart, standing up straight, hands linked behind their back.
  • I haven’t received a single bug bite yet. My bug repellent and itch reliever have been untouched.

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