This was written after my first holiday to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou — I had a really good time then! Obviously, I feel very differently now after having lived in Beijing for a year — it was seriously one of the more unpleasant places on this planet, to put it tactfully. True we were able to live a somewhat extravagant lifestyle because of the relative low cost of living (just going to the movies as well as nicer restaurants much more often and taking the taxi frequently), but it still wasn't worth the daily frustration and a lot of foreigners feel the same way. Despite trying my best to keep an open mind, I can only say that sometimes I didn't hate it as much... so we left as soon as our 1-year apartment lease was up. Just be mentally prepared if you ever decide to move to China to find out what all the rage is about! ( Don't.do.it. )
I have always assumed that China would be really different, but it felt surprisingly familiar, other than a few "minor" details of course. It sure was a mind-altering experience being immersed in the perspective of the "other side". All of a sudden, all previous insistence along with the assumed definition of "country" seemed to be somewhat unnecessary. After all, part of how the general public perceives things is through various sources of propaganda, whether it's media or "education". Throughout history, people seemed to have little choice but to pick sides and agree with the political agenda and interests of a few powerful "elites" that do not necessarily reflect what we believe, even if we actually have no opinion or preference. It is interesting how history shaped us all in big and little ways, whether we like it or not and regardless of how much we know about it.
Being there sure helped to understand how both "accurate" and misunderstood stereotypes came about. One thing that initially surprised me was how direct and "concise" people generally are. For example, when asked for directions, locals usually just point in a seemingly random fashion without uttering a word or they snap two or three-word answers as if saying anything more would simply be "too much". I wonder why that is... I guess even without the sugar coated "politeness", it doesn't mean they are rude because they do respond and are essentially helpful that way. Attitude is just attitude - it's neither good nor bad. It could be an endearing quality even.
Also, I found that people tend to throw things at you, even (or especially?) if you are the customer. That is a strange strange thing to observe, but I guess it's just how people are? I was at this barbeque street vender in a market waiting for my pork-on-a-stick to be roasted by the owner lady when her little boy behind the stand asked her for 1 yuan to buy some watermelons... Without even looking or saying a word, the mom suddenly tossed a coin backwards in that general direction... like she knew kung fu! haha! ... the coin bounced off the low table onto the filthy market floor. It appeared to be so "rude" but it really was such a loving gesture! To me, that explained a lot, told me not to take things personally, and even made me laugh when clerks threw tickets, merchandise, or change my way. Whatever, tourists are also rude, in their (our) own ways.
I guess if you grow up somewhere where practically everyone throws things at one another and there are just so many people competing for space amongst other things, it is not really surprising that some people cut into the line like it's perfectly normal to do so. I might even have cut some people off without intending to simply because I was confused by the sheer number of people and crazy traffic that did not seem to stop for anyone or anything. What was particularly memorable was seeing this traffic police guy having a shouting match with a pedestrian all the way on the other side of the intersection, over the crazy street noise... it was awesome! I have not seen that kind of passion in a long time! lol
Considering how many people are present in the country, it is a miracle things appear to be as "orderly" as they are. Yes, what's really shocking was the sheer number of people. I mean, it shouldn't be shocking but it sure is quite a powerful awakening. There are so many people everywhere at all times. It's madness! I suppose because of that, many things are incredibly convenient but can you imagine the stress of having to deal with constant noise and crowd all the time? In the drugstore and supermarket chains I visited, there were 2 or 3 clerks at almost every aisle ready to jump in and offer "help", even if it wasn't required. It's all or nothing I suppose! lol.
Even when people decide to litter, there's always someone to sweep/mop up the mess within seconds! Perhaps it is to change the image of the city for the expo or it's always been the case, but throughout the city there are so many slogans and rules reminding citizens to act in a "civilized" manner and such. There are so many modern facilities and fancy buildings in sharp contrast with the rest. It sure made everything very very interesting. I was impressed and deeply humbled though I sure am glad to be in the position of looking at this whole thing a step outside instead of being right in the middle of it. phew...........