I <3 Beijing

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As my time in Beijing is approaching its end (I now have less than a month left) I’m realizing each day what little things I’ll miss when I return to the U.S. Of course there are things that have bothered me immensely. My close friends and family members are fully aware of these irritations and on bad days, they’ve have heard about them in detail and on repeat. Bless their hearts. Despite the craziness that often seems to occur simply to irk me in this smelly and smoggy city, there are things I absolutely love about it.

The high likelihood that I’ll hear a mixture of English, Hindi, Chinese, French, German, and Spanish during any given stroll down the sidewalk in Sanlitun. The ability to get street food for about ¥6 or less than $1. And then, on the other end of the spectrum, my ability to get amazing Japanese, Indian, or Thai cuisine for a lot more. The subway system that costs $0.32 per trip that will take me to almost any part of the city that my heart desires. My friends I have made here who are always willing to go out and enjoy a drink no matter what their status; single, in a relationship, it’s complicated, whatever. The cozy rooftop seating available in most coffee shops and restaurants. My potential to learn endless lessons from the abundant amount of cultures clustered together in this bustling place. Oh, and of course those T-shirts that declare your love for the crazy city.

It’s a weird mix of excitement and sadness to be thinking about my quickly approaching departure from a place I’ve called home for the past nine months. I fully intend to take delight in the little joys in each day during the rest of my time here.

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Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

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During a recent Chinese lesson, my teacher began explaining the sentence structure to describe going to a local theme park. My teacher, Amy, enthusiastically interrupted her own lesson to digress into a story, as often happens during her lessons. She asked me and my co-worker who is learning Chinese with me to guess how she gains free admittance into a local theme park. My colleague and I shrugged prompting her to explain further. She giggled and exclaimed, “It’s not just because I’m pretty! Well, I could get in for free because of that. But I also work as a tour guide and my tour guide license gets me in for free!”

I obligingly laughed along with my co-worker, but her point was pretty much lost on me after she declared she was beautiful enough to gain free admittance to a park. Amy is strikingly beautiful. She’s extremely petite with enviable cheek bones and a great sense of style. Her beauty is something that everyone in a room undoubtedly notices instantly. Although her blatant remark about attractiveness is common among Beijingers, it remains a cultural characteristic that still makes me uncomfortable.

Within just a month of living in Beijing, the standard of beauty was very apparent. Chinese people are, in general, naturally petite. If someone is overweight, they stick out like a sore thumb. There is an obvious admiration for people who are tall. I’ve been told that there are height requirements for men entering the military and that taller men generally are the most successful in business in China. There is also a general desire for an job that allows the comforts of the indoors. Farmers that work in fields and develop golden-brown tans are stereotyped as lower-class citizens.

Therefore, if you are thin, tall, and pale, you are automatically considered beautiful. This standard of beauty is as rigid as a Chinese gymnastic coach. There is no variety (as far as I can tell) in what the majority advertises as beautiful.

While I can see why they consider women to be attractive who are statuesque and slender with creamy white skin, it makes me wonder why they don’t seek diversity in beauty standards. Sure, the U.S. still has a long way to go as far as equality racial and size equality, but it’s refreshing that North American media praises women across a variety of racial entities like Sophia Vergara, Gabrielle Union and Reese Witherspoon. Not to mention the praise that women like Mother Theresa and Princess Diana received for holding such inner beauty that provided for the less fortunate. I don’t believe there’s one way to be beautiful and I’m happy to be from a country that doesn’t think so either.

So maybe I’ll spend the rest of my time here scratching my head at why everyone is seeking to attain the same look. Maybe I’ll continue to squirm uncomfortably at immodest statements about one’s own beauty. But I’ll know that my country understands me and my zany idea that beauty is not a cookie-cutter definition.

Sage Wisdom From A Man Named Bruno

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This past weekend I relished the opportunity to enjoy one of the most gloriously spring-like days we’ve had in a while. I know Beijing is not alone in this seemingly endless dismal weather, but I must say; the fact that every building’s heat was mandated to be turned off the day before a blanket of snow enveloped the city was simply cruel.

To say that I welcomed Saturday’s sunshine with open arms would be an understatement. It was one of those days where you couldn’t walk outside without smiling a little.

I met a few friends in the park with not much more on my agenda than soaking in as much sunshine as possible. Among one of the several new people I met was a guy from Uruguay named Bruno. We only had a brief conversation, but something he said stuck in my mind even a few days later. He was describing how he had lived in Beijing for a year and was planning on staying for a longer, undetermined amount of time. Someone joked about him wanting to learn more about why Chinese people spit on the ground the way they do and he smiled and responded, “no, I really just want to learn more of the Chinese language and get a grasp on the culture. I feel as though we are visitors here. It’s easy to think that something someone does is odd, but who are we to judge? It may be different to us, but I want to learn more about it.”

The way he said it was so free of judgement–of either the Chinese culture or the person mocking that spit is a common occurrence in public. It was one of the most open-minded statements I’ve heard since being here and sometimes I just need an obvious statement like that to remind me to be grateful of where I am and how much I get to experience while here.

My friends saving a kite from a tree

My friends saving a kite from a tree

Saving Face

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I had read plenty about the cultural tendency toward “saving face” before arriving in China. Now that I’m here, I definitely see the far lengths locals go to in order to avoid looking silly, uneducated, or unsuccessful.

This accounts for the frequent occasions I have enlisted the help of a local on the street to help me find a place and instead of saying outright, “I don’t know,” they ponder the location I have shown them on a map for several minutes. They, then, point me in a direction, whether they know it’s the correct way or not. They simply don’t want to be caught not knowing something. I have also heard scandalous stories of ex-girlfriends seeking extreme variations of revenge on the men who jilted them because of the shame they faced after being rejected.

Just recently one of my favorite colleagues told me in confidence that he was leaving our company. To my surprise, his last day was the next day. He explained that the company simply didn’t have enough work for him to do and he didn’t want to waste its time or money. He also told me he didn’t want any other people in the company to know about his leaving, so I kept quiet. A few days later, my supervisors explained why the company let him go. The discrepancy in stories led me to believe he was saving face by omitting the fact that he was most likely fired.

It’s interesting to see this tendency in action, but it also makes me wonder how Chinese people view me. I’m great at making a fool out of myself, and even more so while abroad. Professing how terrible my Chinese is, admitting my lack of direction, and wandering into areas I obviously don’t belong, then sheepishly retreating are all things I do daily. I’m either amusing the locals or reiterating a foolish foreigner stereotype.

Gun Control

Hearing about news in the U.S. while currently outside of the country leaves for unique outside perspective. After hearing about the school shooting in Connecticut, I received my daily Chinese news to which I am subscribed. The author had a very interesting insight to gun control in the U.S., pointing out the fact that the extreme gun control China enforces may just be a smart idea.

“Guns don’t attack children; psychopaths and sadists do. But guns uniquely allow a psychopath to wreak death and devastation on such a large scale so quickly and easily. America is the only country in which this happens again — and again and again.”

[http://sinocism.com/?utm_source=Sinocism+Newsletter&utm_campaign=9b70772c8b-The_Sinocism_China_Newsletter_For_12_15_2012&utm_medium=email]

Something to ponder…

Turning Mayo into Lemonade

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As you groggily stumble down the steps into the subway station to escape the frigid wind howling outside, the woman in front of you comes to a complete halt to check her phone. You grumble and swerve around her only to become stuck shuffling slowly in wave of black haired commuters. After waddling in sync with the crowd, you wait for the subway and yawn as the guy next to you sneezes. Rather than covering his mouth, he intentionally shoots snot onto the ground. You shudder, imagining how many germs are infecting the surrounding air. Once you have finally shoved your way onto and off of the jam-packed subway, you seek happiness in ordering your favorite cup of coffee. To your horror, instead of receiving said coffee, you hear, “mei you” (which sounds like mayo and means we don’t have it). There goes your day.

Everyone has those days during which it seems that everything that can go wrong does go wrong. While being abroad, those days are amplified by such foreign and unfamiliar surroundings. It doesn’t help that “mei you” is one of the most frequently used phrases in Beijing. I’ve found that pushing myself to learn background about Beijing’s culture, studying the language, and having some Chinese friends helps to turn lemons into lemonade.

The English Christmas songs and strings of lights that have popped up around Beijing don’t hurt for a mood boost either 🙂

Inspirational Thought of the Day

Right before leaving the U.S. to come to China I was really skeptical of what would come of the trip. I drove myself crazy, taking every single quotation or piece of advice I came across as a sign telling me I should or should not live abroad. Needless to say, that became quite mentally exhausting. I remember reading a blog that had a wonderful quote that stood out and, unlike the other “signs,” it has remained in my mind since arriving. It exemplifies the reasoning behind my curiosity and desire to live abroad.

Pretty lights illuminate a street in Beijing

“We live in a big world, capable of great love in varieties far deeper than that between two souls: the love of self, cultures, worldly beauty, language and how the human mind can unravel marvels once thought impossible.”

{Quote source: http://www.lovetwenty.com/2012/08/miss-independent-dont-let-her-disappear/}