❝Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.❞ ‒Rita Mae Brown


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I am in constant amazement of the people I meet from other countries while in Beijing. In the community of expatriates, I have found that English is the most common mutually spoken language. Those who are not native English speakers have such an impressive grasp on English as well as their own native language.

For example, I have met an awesome girl who is two years older than I am from Guatemala. She speaks her native language, Spanish, as well as [perfect] English, French, and is on the way to mastering Chinese. She knows four languages! That is astounding to me. My boss at my company is from Denmark and knows Danish, German, English and Chinese. His three and four-year-old daughters are also trilingual. 

This trait of knowing several languages is so common among people from Europe, South America, and here in China. It makes me feel a little silly knowing how to speak only very basic Spanish and struggling to learn Chinese. 

While my Chinese barely at a basic level, I am so lucky to have such great co-workers who are helping me learn Chinese. Our translator in the office teaches me one Chinese phrase each day and I’m hoping this will add up to my being able to communicate in Mandarin.

Wish me luck/ hǎo yùn / buena suerte / bonne chance 🙂

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Peculiarities of China

1. Rain Sweeping

I find great amusement in the people I see with huge brooms made of tangled straw furiously brushing at the stepping-stones at the park. They literally sweep the rocks that are set within the dirt of the outdoor park. The sweepers also emerge after heavy rainstorms to brush accumulated puddles of rain toward…I guess the center of the road.

I’m not entirely certain about the logistics, but I think these people are employed by the city. I can only imagine the uproar in the U.S. if tax-paying citizens found the city was employing people to sweep dirt and rain.

2. Outfit Recycling

When I first arrived in China, the AIESEC member helping me find an apartment wore the same outfit three days in a row.

I remember pointing out his colorful shirt the first day I met him because I liked it. When he wore it the second day we met up, I thought maybe he assumed the same outfit would help me find him in the sea of similar-looking Chinese people. By the third day I was thoroughly confused. When I began work I saw the same oddity. My Chinese colleagues would recycle same outfit about four days in a row, then pick a new outfit and stick with that one for a while.

While out at lunch, a Chinese co-worker told me that he and the others were amazed at how many outfits I must have brought to Beijing. Apparently the limited number of outfits I squeezed into my suitcase has impressed the natives.

3. Fast Food Delivery

McDonald’s and KFC deliver here. Enough said.

4. Squatting Babies

I’ve been told that diapers are a rarity for most people in China. Since most parents cannot afford them, they have adopted an unusual alternative. Their children wear pants that are split so that they don’t soil their pants when they do their *ahem* business.

These pants allow infants to squat down wherever and go to the bathroom. This means on the sidewalk, outside of McDonald’s, or, yes, even on the subway, you will find squatting babies. What puzzles me is that they soil everything else.

5. Cars in Hutongs

I’ve accepted the idea of a hutong, but I’m still baffled the the number of cars that drive down these narrow streets thinking that they’ll make it past the parked cars already crammed into the road. This clip is of a truck and a car trying to squeeze past each other. Astoundingly, they always seem to make it without a scratch.

The Great Wall of China

It often troubles me to think that since I will be in China for a while, I may postpone something until the end of my stay, and then have to scramble to accomplish it. Now I can rest easily since I finally made it to the place for tourists visiting China; The Great Wall.

I must admit, there was a lot more climbing involved than I had envisioned. Others in the group I toured with were much more enthusiastic about hiking than I would ever hope to be, but looking back on it, I’m glad to have been with them. Ultimately, they pushed me to see more of the wall than I would have if I had gone at a leisurely pace. I’ve found that most expatriates I surround myself with in China are pretty adventurous. Some might say overly daring, but I find great enjoyment in knowing that if these people had not been so fearless, I would have never climbed those 8,000 stairs on the Great Wall. Even if I had been cursing those steps the whole way up.

The group

Two of my co-hikers

Celebrating my arrival at top of those ridiculous stairs!

Temple of Insomnia Cookies

This past Saturday I visited the Temple of Heaven with friends from AIESEC. As terrible as it sounds, once you’ve seen one temple, you have kind of seen them all. Since I had seen the Summer Palace temples, these were a little repetitive to me.

The highlight of this trip, though, was making a new friend through our shared love of Insomnia Cookies. Said friend is originally from Hong Kong and studied her four years of college in Chicago, IL. Apparently they had Insomnia Cookies on her campus also, and as soon as we realized our common love of the cookies, we could not stop raving about how badly we wanted those gooey morsels.

Bonding turned into a business proposition, and before I knew it, I was agreeing to a partnership in the cookie industry. That’s obviously an exaggeration, but very indicative of how much I am craving a homemade chocolate chip cookie right now. It was comforting to know that I’m not the only person suffering from the scarcity of decent cookies in Beijing.

Quasi-Adventurous

 

I’ve developed this quasi-adventurous system of exploring in Beijing. I usually head to an area I’m somewhat familiar with and set out a little further past my everyday boundaries. This past Saturday I wound up in a hutong down the street from my work. It was chock-full of trinket shops and tiny cafes. My favorite was definitely a bar that had a sign on the door saying, “Please close door behind you. Large cats inside.”

YOLO: Might As Well Rock Climb

View of the mountains behind a village home in Cuandixia

Friday, my two roommates and I took a day trip to Cuandixia Village, which is just outside of Beijing. The village was established 500 years ago and is located 90 km (55 miles) west of Beijing’s urban area. It was interesting to see the difference in development from the urban area (which isn’t even extremely developed itself) to the ruggedness of dwellings and natives outside of the city.

Red vines covering a mountainside

I also learned a bit about my Chinese roommate, Jake. He grew up in a village, so I guess he felt right at home because when we entered the area, he ran up to a tree and began furiously shoveling the berries from it into his mouth. After Keith and I dragged him away from the tree, Keith decided he didn’t want to pay ¥30 ($4.75 USD) to get into the village, so he convinced us to sneak in. We pretended to be ignorant tourists, but ended up being chased by a security guard. We hid behind a bush to avoid him catching us, and I’ll admit; I had a fleeting image of myself in Chinese prison for illegally entering a village. After narrowly avoiding jail time, we found our way of the winding road leading through the mountains and up to the village.

Jake, the village man

We tried some food and hiked around the mountainside, but the most memorable part of the day was when Jake convinced us to climb up the side of a hill to reach the road leading back to the village entrance. He climbed up the hill made of loose rocks with ease, which made me realize that he must have done this as a kid in his village. At first, I was opposed to climbing, but realizing that I would have to trek about four miles through the alternative route helped convince me to climb the hill.

As Jake was looking down at us from the road at the top of the hill, Keith and I decided, you only live once; we might as well climb this. It was one of the scariest things I’ve decided to do, since these small rocks were not stable and kept coming loose under my hands and feet. I kept thinking the rocks were going to go tumbling into Keith who was behind me. I ended up at the top of the hill a while before Keith, who freaked out even more than I did.

Watch the last part of his climb here.

**I usually avoid the use of YOLO, but it is the only reasoning I could think of for why I climbed that rock hill.