Beijing SpiritJune 10, 2015
Chinese and Westerners both ask, what did I really think about living in China?
The truth is I loved living in Beijing. I loved the people, I loved the food, I loved the sense of possibility there—the feeling anything is possible. Chinese people mostly were warm, honest, smart, and pragmatic, though encounters with uncaring, ruthless, self-centered, or infuriating persons were not uncommon.
I loved feeling anything could happen every day, never knowing what I might see when I rounded the next corner. Surprises were a daily occurrence—sometimes good, sometimes challenging. An invitation to share hotpot was awesome, waiting two hours to exchange money at a small bank less so.
Living in China isn’t for everyone. To live in China as a foreigner requires a certain open mindedness and flexibility–in personality and in ways of doing things. Even more when travelling beyond Beijing and Shanghai.
China can wear people down. Expecting a scheduled event to occur without a glitch was like making a date with discontent whether it was meeting for dinner, picking up train tickets, or taking a late night taxi. I tried to live the Boy Scout’s motto: be prepared. Challenging times allowed me to practice being patient and smiling.
I miss the giggle of one Chinese friend, the sincerity of another, the Chinese accents of one who learned British English and another who learned from an Australian. I miss the smile of my teacher. I miss the sounds of people chattering, chaotic crowds, and shuffling across the street en masse. I miss riding the subway, sometimes wandering around lost yet confident I could find my way.
I miss sharing piles of food at a table of 8 friends, eating, laughing, and drinking for hours together, as well as spontaneous dinners of fiery Sichuan food, giant bottles of beer, steamed buns and dumplings with spicy vinegar, and grilled meat on a stick.
I miss the quaintness of the little hutong (alley) on which I lived, the daily wave from the chubby man, amazed looks when I bartered in Chinese. I miss the joy of blue sky days, the beautiful flowers and parks, the respect shown to elderly.
I even miss the curious stares from rural Chinese unaccustomed to seeing foreigners.
For sure there are things I don’t miss, but no need to focus on that. I love the people, I love the food, I love the energy. China’s spirit and vigor remind me of America’s roaring 20’s. For me, it was easy to catch the Beijing spirit.
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