In Paradise Lost John Milton writes, “I’d rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.” Apparently my boy, John, was alluding to his raging times in Beijing because this best embodies my time so far. The following post will be more of an aperçu of Beijing life so far, since I’ve had unreliable wifi this first week. No specific day to day stuff to bore you yet.
First, my paleness, which life on the beach couldn’t even fix, height, and blonde hair, are ingredients for a Sino-ethnic wet dream. Almost all things western are adored, but the aforementioned traits are the basis of all Chinese idol-worship. I’ll take my fifteen minutes of fame.
Secondly, everything is incredibly cheap. Most things here are about 1/5th the price they would be in the US. I can buy my Taiwan Pancake, my afternoon 包子 (dumplings for you non-Sino-philes) and my 牛肉面 (literal translation: cow meat noodle) and still have time to make it rain. That’s a joke mom. Some of the cheapest things are electronics (no promises on reliability) and clothes (probably too small). Knock-off stores are blatantly placed on most heavily trafficked boulevards. There is nothing convincing about them. Typically, the name is completely butchered, and the logo is could’ve been made on MSPaint. Fake Apple Stores are in every district, but it’s almost if they want you to know they’re selling fake knock-offs as opposed to the real thing. Apple is actually more expensive in China than the US.
Some other Western things are not widely used in China, so they’ll be more expensive. Transportation is dirt cheap. A cab ride is typically 10 块，less than $2, and the subways and buses are 2 块。
Nightlife is as backwards as it gets. In 五道口, the area near campus, a white male can get in with no cover charge. That’s right. White males are a sought after commodity in the club scene. Once in said club, everything is pretty western. All the music is from the US, with the exception of Gangnam Style. The alcohol is typically recognizable brands, but the Beijing signature drink is 白酒, something along the lines of industrial bleach. 三里屯 is an ex-pat heavy area that makes you feel like you’ve been transported out of China. You’ll hear more Russian, German, and English than Chinese. The club scene is also a little better, but more expensive. My theory is that the club scene has alway strived to be so western that there really isn’t an authentic Chinese club. I’ll have to do a bit more scholarly field work on this thesis.
If you’ve ever been witness to my dance style (Moment of silence for that poor, poor Theta), akin to a Dee Reynolds and Wacky Wavable inflatable tube men, you’d be happy to know it’s alive and well. The white people are typically clustered in one spot on the dance floor. At one club, the Chinese male to female ratio was so bad that most Chinese men just watched. If you look closely enough you’ll notice a keen-eyed Chinese people mimicking a few American dance moves. We can only hope none adopt any of my moves.
Another one of Beijing’s attractions is the plethora of historical sites. Despite their backwards Commie ways (‘Murrrrrrica), the Chinese people are the kind of heartless capitalists that only Cornelius Vanderbilt could love. You typically pay to enter the grounds, but then you have to buy more tickets to enter the actual sacred and historical places. Beijing’s history and electric atmosphere make up for the lack of natural beauty. I’d really like to go see a living tree, but I don’t want to be making ridiculous demands. On a serious note regarding Chinese milieu, China is just as, if not more, capitalistic than America once you get beyond the facade of the state. The lack of regulation, crippling tax codes, and work-ethic create a wild-west of business opportunities. America’s Main St. is alive and well in China.
My other form of entertainment is watching the CRT TV in our room. I can either watch state-run news in Chinese, the occasional table-tennis match, or the Chinese Basketball Association. It’s widely agreed among analysts that the CBA skill level is something like that of a 6th-grade girl’s B-Team. Fans are abuzz about the introduction of weak-hand dribbling in the coming season. It’s worth mentioning that the highlight is Stephon Marbury literally running train on his opponents. Averaging over 40 points in the playoffs, Stephon Marbury must feel like Kenny Powers in gym class.
If you thought Beijing was all fun and games, you’d be sadly mistaken. For travel abroad, it’s more academically rigorous than your typical program. I have 9 hours of Chinese a week, an internship an 18 hour a week internship that ends up being 24 hours if you factor in a commute, and 3 3-hour once a week classes. Don’t pity me though; pity the immersion kids. They have something like 8 hours of class a day, five days a week, with a chinese-only language pledge. The inner-masochist in me really wishes I had done immersion, but thanks to USD’s absurd core requirements, I’ll just have to watch from afar as a few of them flirt with the slippery slope that is insanity.
If any of you immersion kids are reading this, save your limited time of english exposure and read something worth your while. Go.