Long Live the PRC!
I stood in the subway car, listening to the lady speak over the intercom. I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying.
“blah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blahblah blah blah blah blah”
And following the Chinese, comes the English:
“The next stop is: Chong Chun Jie”
I thought to myself: Either Chinese is a very inefficient language, or she said a lot more in Chinese than she said in English. So I’ve been trying to figure out what she says there for the past few days.
And yesterday, I met Brad – a Chinese guy studying English here in Beijing. He has a room for rent in his apartment for 1,100 yuan (about $130 USD) a month and we met yesterday to go check it out. On the way to the apartment, after listening to the subway message, I asked him what she was saying – and thusly was enlightened.
“Well, she starts off by saying that you must follow the laws and regulations. Then says that you should respect the older generation. Also, that you should keep the facilities clean and tidy. And lastly, that the next stop is Chung Chun Jie.”
And thus is the life here in Chinese. To the westerner, everything seems normal. So I’ve been told, if you were to never leave downtown Beijing, you would get the impression that everyone has a great job, and lives in a nice apartment. You don’t see any organized police force like you saw in the video of the Tiananmen Masacre on CNN several years ago. Lots of signs and notices are in English and Chinese. No one is protesting on the streets. Respectively, I see significantly fewer poor people on the streets. There seems to be very little crime here. It seems like a standup operation.
But let’s look a little closer. Ask someone about Tiananmen in public and they get a little nervous, only freely speaking when away from the masses, even in English. Venture down the alley ways here and see the poverty first hand, with loads of people sitting in front of their (literally) sewage smelling holes in the wall doing nothing, or perhaps asking for your water bottle so that they can refill it with tap water and sell it to some unsuspecting tourist. You might go see a movie, and not realize that some of it has been trimmed out until you talk with someone back home who has seen it all (they have a tendency to take those sex scenes out). Although many newspapers are available, the opinions section is suspiciously missing. Several websites (Voice of America) are blocked for everyone.
But from what I gather, the encroachment of Western civilization is changing all, little by little, and liberties are being granted slowly and cautiously after examining the benefits. For instance, one year ago, foreigners were allowed to stay anywhere in China they pleased and not forced to live in approved (and expensive housing). We can also buy anything from anyone, and not be limited to the “Friendship Store” for our purchases. There is a Mc Donalds on nearly every corner and a Starbucks on nearly every other (comforting, eh?).
“BUT CHINA IS DISAPPEARING! WE CAN’T SEE IT ANYMORE!”
No, this is China. A dynamic and ever changing and evolving country of lots and lots of people and lots and lots of resources – albeit a little behind, it is slowly picking up speed and one can feel the groans of its growth like a lumbering mechanical dinosaur waking up and standing on its feet. Indeed, so is the world. Evolving…and sucking in western culture like a sponge. I haven’t been able to escape the Top 10 American songs since I left home 9 months ago.
So anyways, I checked out the apartment with Brad and it looks cool. It’s a bus and train ride from the center (that ought to make it interesting) and is a typical Chinese apartment (squat toilet and all!). My room is fairly big with A/C and a balcony and I’m pretty sure I’m going to get an authentic Chinese experience there. I should be moving in early July.
After the tour, Brad and I went to the market to haggle for a sim card for my phone, which would enable me to use my cell phone here in China. $15 bucks later I had a card and 100 yuan credit and was ready to go. I got a lucky number too. Here in China, you pay different amounts for phone numbers depending on how lucky (or unlucky they are). For instance: you don’t want a number that ends in 4, because the word for 4 sounds like “death” in chinese. But, having two 4’s would be okay, because two of any number at the end of your phone number is considered lucky. The luckiest numbers can cost many many many times what an unlucky combination would cost. Here in China, if you are rich enough, you can also choose the bed you get put in when you go to the hospital. That would suck to be put in number 4, eh? It gives new meaning to the phrase “death bed”.
Later, we had a traditional Chinese dinner at a restaurant called “Hot Pot” where you sit at a table with a big hole in it where a pot sets above a propane flame. The pot has a soup mixture in it and you are brought out a variety of vegetables (cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, etc…) and raw meats (chicken, beef, crab, squid) and you drop what you want, as you want it, in the boiling soup in the pot and wait for it to cook (it usually takes about 2 minutes). When done, you pop it out into a thick peanut sauce and then transfer it into your mouth. It was really good. On cold days, you can then drink the soup for a grand finale.
This place is by no stretch of the imagination an easy place to travel in. But, I can already see, the rewarding treasures that China has to offer are going to take effort to enjoy and appreciate. I am here for this experience. I don’t envy those who’s experience is a brief hostel stay with a few rushed trips to the Great Wall and a jog through the forbidden city. It would be like enjoying a fine wine by sniffing the uncorked bottle.