Three years ago, my bestie, someone I talked to nearly every single day, someone who was there to hear my life frustrations and excitements, the person who was always up for a run or a drink after work and dancing on Friday nights, told me he was going to move to Shanghai, China to teach. I first reacted from a completely selfish perspective and was sad for myself and what I would be missing. It took me awhile to get over myself, but when I finally did, I saw things from another selfish vantage point and decided this would be my opportunity to travel to Asia.
This was my second trip to China. On my first trip, I visited Shanghai. My friend had warned me that Beijing was not going to be as “Western” and things may be a little “rougher.” I was not quite sure of what to expect, but I went with an open-mind and ready for an adventure.
I loved Beijing. So much more than Shanghai.
Beijing felt more “Chinese” to me. There was more history in the city and pride in the culture. I remember at one point, while drinking at a rooftop bar above Houhai Lake, I looked out over the winding streets and saw the drum tower in the distance that was used to send messages, I truly felt like I was in China and could sense the past surrounding me.
In Beijing, I experienced much more staring and picture taking from the Chinese due to being a foreigner. I was constantly stared at and would frequently catch people taking my picture. On more than one occasion, someone would come up and take a picture with me. At a bus stop, a woman grabbed my arm and drew me close to her, so I could take a picture with her. At Lama Temple, a family thrust their baby into my arms so I could take a picture. Poor little guy was not happy about the experience with this foreign dark girl.
Although these experiences were incredibly bizarre, it gave me such a good perspective about what it is like to be a foreigner. I think of students that come to my school from other countries and how they must feel as a novelty to other kids. The encounters I had were always silly, but friendly. I found the Chinese to be incredibly kind and displaying a great sense of humor. I cringe to think how unfriendly some of the encounters other foreigners may have had in my own country.
My friend prepared me well. Beijing was definitely a little “rougher.” I never quite got used to how much people spit, picked their noses or coughed without covering their mouths. I did however, get used to the crowds, pushing and running for subways, busses or open doors, along with groups of other people. At first, it felt very awkward to push someone out of the way, particularly if it was a child or elderly person, but then I realized I was never going to get anywhere if I didn’t so I joined in. It became easier to navigate crowds and I caught myself in Japan having to hold back from pushing or rushing, since there it would be considered rude.
The bathroom situation was also something to get used to. I got pretty good at remembering to bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer everywhere, since neither are provided in most bathrooms. I also got used to using the squat toilets. I was very grateful for my yoga muscles that helped me not fall right into who knows what filth.
I never did quite get used to some of the food items sold on the streets. While walking, we saw this bag of bullfrogs that would soon be for sale. I remember in Shanghai, seeing a bullfrog sold and immediately beheaded with kitchen shears. I tried not to scream.
Another food adventure was through Wong Fu Jing, a street that Westerners have termed “Freaky Food Street.” We found starfish, sea horses, scorpions, snakes, etc. all ALIVE and waiting to be ordered and deep-fried. It was pretty horrific, but interesting. I wish I could transport the smell here in these pictures.
Even with all the interesting things to get used to, I truly enjoyed Beijing. I found the people to be incredibly nice and playful. I was laughed at many times throughout the trip, but in a good-natured manner. The food was amazing and I am glad we walked so much. I gorged on dumplings, steamed buns and noodles (post on food to come!). I saw such amazing sites and cannot wait to share moments of standing on The Great Wall with you.
I guess I have finally forgiven my friend for abandoning me. I absolutely understand his need to travel and experience this great world and I will continue taking advantage of his whereabouts to see more of Asia.