Beijing? Meet Guide.
Trip Start Jun 14, 2012
11Trip End Jul 02, 2012
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Culture clash began for us when we started lining up to board our plane in Seattle. The terminal was packed with Chinese citizens heading home, and this subtle change in atmosphere led to one of my first epiphanies about Eastern living.
...Don't cut in line.
Chinese culture is heavily based in order, reason, and honor between human beings. While we were filing into our boarding line, I realized that I was in a different section than the rest of my group. I stayed behind at the gate, looking back an the extensive line that was actually my section. When the crowd noticed a person hanging around the front of the line but not in line...Things quickly went downhill. I noticed a few intense stares and glances, which I didn't quite understand at first. After three seconds of standing near the line, a gentleman pointed to me and in clear but deliberate English told me to get in place at the back of the line. I quickly realized the whiff in manners and apologized as I walked away, to which I received an incredibly indignant 'Thank you very much!'.
Originally, I was going to pretend this never happened and continue to declare myself a culturally savvy individual. However, apparently multiple members of our group ran into this same situation throughout boarding, customs, immigration, and baggage claim. If you appear that you are ignoring a rule such as a line or an assigned waiting area, you are personally insulting the individuals nearby. While this can be true anywhere if the act is particularly disrespectful, in China it appears to be critical. American courtesy is based heavily in language and tone, our lack of polish when it comes to moving around in groups is one rough edge that needs to be filed down when traveling in these parts.
Besides my talent of offending people in every walk of life, our first steps into Beijing have been absolutely Amazing. Few things can compare to seeing the mountains of China from above, with the small villages tucked into the valleys with sparse roads connecting them all. The city itself is not the paved metropolis I pictured, my mental image was closer to Tokyo. In reality, Beijing is a pleasant mix of natural forests crossed with highways, clusters of high-rises, and spacious alleys filled with shops and cafes. It's a Friday, the worst day for traffic but the most active day to observe. Hundreds of people walking, biking in lanes, hauling groceries on scooters, all with that distinct 'It's Friday, I'm not walking any faster than this' gait. Many familiar chains and brands are heavily promoted, we were greeted in the airport by a KFC and Starbucks. To those surprised by this, realize that KFC currently makes more money in China than most other countries combined. As for Starbucks, those are naturally formed by a combination of tectonic plate pressure and a public need for overpriced caffeine mixtures.
Our hotel is an absolutely gorgeous building built like a luxurious maze, plenty of high walkways and quiet lounges scattered around. My home for the next two weeks features basic accommodations, but also some amazingly elaborate decorating themes such as a sunken ceiling with thatched wood accents and beds that aren't high enough to reach my knees. Relying on a slow connection via ethernet to post this, the search engines were predictably limited but I'm able to access my email accounts and of course this blog. I...sort of forgot a power outlet convert so I'm relying on this netbook's remaining hour of battery life to complete this entry, but otherwise we're extremely comfortable. My main complaint is that the apparently abandoned pool table costs 30 Yuan an hour...For reference, a meal from a basic restaurant costs 5 Yuan. Pool is one of my few joys in life, but it's not worth six meals.
For our first in-country meal, our guides walked us literally two doors down to a street cafe. Nothing but stools and tables sitting on the cobbled street, an outdoor grill, an occasional server in street clothes bringing out trays and giving change out of their pocket. Every few seconds a car or scooter would tear through, beeping away pedestrians. We declined a round of drinks from some gregarious locals who simply laid eyes on our group and walked over with drinks in hand. While eating in an alley may not disturb some readers, you weren't there to understand how great the food was. I could pay ten times as much to eat it inside an actual enclosed building with novelties such as plates, but that's not the Beijing I'm looking for.
Tomorrow is a slow day for everyone to adjust to the time schedule. We are thirteen hours ahead of Chicago time, while some of you are reading this over your lunch break I'm about to pass out for the night. Will be updating this blog with pictures as soon as I find a way to power this laptop, until then just hang tight while I collapse onto this...shoebox-height bed and get some much needed rest. One day down, only so many more left before I'm back in DeKalb getting on all of your nerves. Enjoy the break while I explore the other side of the world, one awkward moment in line at a time.