First impressions of China

Ni hao from Beijing!  I’ve spent what seems to be a whole day flying, plus a full day hanging out in Beijing.  It feels like I’ve seen a today already!  And I’m wiped out.  But I have to write a blog entry to get these impressions written down.

If you’ve never flown to Europe or Asia, it’s quite the ordeal.  My nonstop flight from Chicago to Shanghai was over 14 hours in length.  Not to mention a 2 hour delay due to some plane problem.  Once we arrived in Shanghai, we had a 3 hour layover and then took a domestic flight to Beijing.  Long day!!!  The biggest thing to deal with is the time change.  Luckily (or unluckily), I had so much stuff to wrap up before leaving that I stayed up all night the night before.  This helped me fly, because it made it easier to fall asleep.  The other thing I like to do is carry a toothbrush on the plane so you can sleep/wake up with fresh breath.  Add your ipod and a good book and you’re good to go!

One thing I try to do is understand something about the language of the place I’m visiting.  Three days before my trip, I started learning some Mandarin from the Internet.  There are some nice sites with free mp3s of spoken Mandarin!  Westerners find Eastern languages funky because they are all about intonation/inflection rather than conjugation.  Mandarin uses monosyllabic words consisting of a starting consonant-type sound and a “final” sound.  There are many  sounds, and the phonetic rules are different (but very consistent, unlike English).  Even though I understood the basic structure of the language in theory, I was still pretty useless in practice.  A 50-word vocabulary only gets you so far.  Funny thing was that everyone thinks I’m Chinese so they’d start blasting words at me and I’d stare at them dumbfounded.  I think they thought I was my friends’ tour guide 🙂

A bad stereotype about Chinese people is that they are pushy and don’t care for things like lines or personal space.  It never bothered me before.  But after just a couple days, it has annoyed the heck out of me!  People will just shove past you to get to wherever they want to go.  I thought it was just limited to markets, but I saw it at the airport, at tourist attractions, everywhere!  I didn’t even bother to check out the most crowded parts within the Forbidden City.  Sheesh!

On the bright side, you can’t go wrong with Chinese food.  Chinese food and Italian food are perhaps the only truly global foods out there.  Well, I guess you can count American chains like McDonald’s and KFC too.  Everything has been so good.  Tonight we had the king of all feasts, Peking Duck, right in the heart of Beijing.  Yum!!!  It’s super cheap too.  I think I’ve spent less eating out this whole time than I would have spent in one night drinking in Chicago.

One exception on the cheap front, however, is Starbucks.  In an effort to increase market presence, Starbucks has arrived in China in full force.  Are you surprised?  My grande vanilla latte cost me 33 RMB, which is almost 5 dollars with the crappy USD (7 to 1 ratio now).  In contrast, a whole plate of Mee Goreng at a Singaporean restaurant ran me 30 RMB!

My friends and I went looking for some good nightlife in Beijing.  Apparently, Beijing was a very sleepy city even just 10 years ago.  Since then, bars and clubs have opened up.  We stopped by a couple areas last night and tonight.  The bars are very touristy, and very quiet still.  Maybe we just aren’t going to the right places?  But these strips are supposed to be the right places 🙁  Also, we were endlessly hounded by people on the street to come to “lady bar, lady massage” (for me, it was the same but in Mandarin haha).  It really turns you off from wanting to be in that area.  We did finally enjoy ourselves at a place last night, where it seemed like locals (at least Chinese people) hung out, listening to pro musicians sing cover tunes.  But now we are on a quest to find some hip nightlife.  Any suggestions welcome!

Photos available online here.

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