Happy Friday everyone! As I heard about snow blanketing the midwest as we approach the month of May, I thanked the Lord that I’m not there. Not to rub it in, but the 70ºF weather here was so enjoyable, that these local Beijingers found any and every location suitable for some outdoor, mid-afternoon naps…
As implied by the open-mouthed gasps I received when I told people I had not been to the 798 Art District, I had to go. An autumn leaf scent so crisp that it made me long for hot apple cider filled the sunny Saturday afternoon. It was perfect for wandering through the graffiti-ed back alleys, colorful art galleries, and quaint knick knack shops.
As I wandered through the exhibits and stores with my British friend Katie, I was consistently yelled at for taking pictures. Apparently I have no shame in pretending to be a clueless foreigner. In most of the shops there were signs, written in both Chinese in English, clearly stating you shouldn’t take pictures, but I was scolded on multiple occasions for ignoring them. So many cat trinkets and quirky displays made it difficult to fight the urge to take pictures. It became somewhat of a game to feign innocence about my ability to read the signs. At one point, Katie and I pretended not to speak Chinese nor English and she began speaking German, as I responded to her in Spanish.
We ended up sipping coffee in a small, dark restaurant booming with Spanish songs from a live band. The band members sat next to our table after their performance and I asked them about where they learned Spanish. “Spanish? Oh, we don’t speak it…we just sing it.” Oh, right. Only in 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.
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.”