My family and I have been officially living in Beijing, China for 4 1/2 months. We have learned so much being here and are still learning more everyday. I have already written a post about some of the culture shock we had been experiencing a few months ago. However, since then I have seen even more examples of how different things are in China! As I go out and explore more, I keep seeing things that I have never heard or seen before. I hope you enjoy! Please keep in mind that these are my personal experiences (both good and bad) in China and only reflect occurrences in the major city of Beijing.
Recently, I went shopping with a few friends to a mall that focused on clothing and accessories. I have been to many malls in China, but this one seemed to have an extremely large amount of counterfeit goods! Imagine, floors and floors of fake designer purses, shoes, sunglasses, etc. I am not typically shopping for designer brands anyway, but I was blown away by how many counterfeits there were….and how bad they were. Gucci, Supreme, Louis Vuitton, etc. There are fairly strict laws about counterfeit items in the United States. You certainly wouldn’t see them in public malls or in such large quantities. I had heard about this kind of thing while living in the USA, but figured most of this stuff would be found in an underground market, like where you might find these items in the states. Certainly not out in the open where everyone has access to them. I asked my supervisor who had lived in China for a few years and he said that China doesn’t have counterfeit laws! It is known as shanzhai, or copycat. Anyone that is familiar with the brands (or spelling) can see that the items are not the real deal. However, that certainly doesn’t stop some sellers trying to convince you otherwise. I just kept wondering why they don’t check the spelling before making thousands of copies of the same items. I guess it doesn’t matter in a country where most of the population doesn’t speak English! Sopurme, anyone?
Even though the weather is below freezing everyday now, I still see groups of Beijingers hooking up and doing their favorite outdoor activities. Living in the extreme heat of Arizona most of my life, I am not accustomed to seeing people doing much outdoors with the exception of early mornings or twilight hours. Not only that, but it seems that Arizonan outdoors people are running or biking solo, very rarely in large groups. I have written about the sword-wielding grandmas before in one of my blogs, but their numbers have more than tripled in the past few weeks. This is an older age group and I am not sure how well they are acquainted with one another. But they are out there every morning and running through drills with each other, weekdays and weekends. In the evenings, the family and I will walk across the street to the mall to eat or buy groceries. Usually while we are there, we will see a dance troupe of 10-15 younger people dancing in matching Supreme sweaters and sweatpants. Their music is played loudly on big speakers and they are all perfectly synchronized with their complicated dance movements. They invite people passing by to join them and often repeat the same dances so that others can learn the dances a little easier. Calvin can’t even stop himself from doing a jig when we get near them. It is really nice to see such camaraderie with the different age groups. It is not something I am familiar with and it is extremely refreshing.
Unfortunately, there are many stories about driving in China. Also unfortunately, I can see why. In the time I have been here, I have seen SO many unbelievable things on the Chinese roads. Keep in mind I have never lived in a city like Los Angeles or New York City, so this may be normal for some people that live in crowded areas. In a city of 20 million like Beijing, I expected traffic, etc. However, the stuff I have seen is insane. Extreme traffic, scooters weaving in and out on sidewalks and streets, cars driving the opposite ways on roads, AND cars driving on sidewalks. I am sure some of it stems from there being so many cars on the road, but holy cow. If there are laws about this kind of stuff, it is not enforced. I once saw a van slowly driving down the wrong side of a 3-lane road. A police van drove right past this spectacle and did not address it at all! I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head. Another time, I got so angry when I was walking home after school with my son on a sidewalk and heard something behind us. I turn around and there is A TAXI BEHIND US ON THE SIDEWALK ( ALSO GOING THE OPPOSITE WAY WITH TRAFFIC). Sure, he wasn’t pestering us to move faster or anything, but sidewalks are for pedestrians! It isn’t just cars either, scooters are encroaching on everyone’s space and causing trouble. They can park anywhere, don’t have to be insured, and zip around regardless of lights. I have a co-teacher that bought a scooter shortly after moving here. A few weeks ago, he was driving his scooter the right way and an older fellow on a scooter (going opposite direction) drove into his lane and hit him head on! He suffered a few broken foot bones and his scooter being completely destroyed. The guy that hit him had no insurance and my friend had to drop the claim because his scooter was never registered properly by the scooter shop. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that with so many people, everyone is just making their own paths to avoid the long wait. You would think this resulted in a ton of traffic deaths, but people literally CAN’T drive as fast on the roads as we do in the states. There are just too many people and vehicles to have many speeding issues.
Another thing that perplexes me is the clash between old and modern architecture. You will have buildings that are a few hundred years old directly next to a giant, fashionable mall area. We don’t usually see this type of dynamic where I am from and it is interesting that there are so many places where they are in conjunction. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the old architecture and really like the new architecture. It is just a little funny to see examples of them together and it catches me off-guard. You will see a one-story Hutong next to a 15-story apartment building or mall. I am sure there are many places in the United States like it, I just can’t really think of it right now. China is going through a major shift right now where they are tearing down buildings and quickly building new ones in their place. I am not sure how they select these buildings (because some buildings need to come down sooner than others) but they are steadily making progress through Beijing and I have seen quite a few things demolished since I got here. You may think it is a strange thing to be shocked by, but if you ever visit I think you will see what I am talking about.
When I originally moved here, I expected that the Chinese people did not eat as many sweets. I wrongly assumed this because I hadn’t come into much contact with Chinese desserts and assumed many/all would be green-tea flavored (that does happen a lot, though). But we have been to bakery after bakery in the short distance around our apartment because sweets are such a big thing here! In fact, my favorite bakery has these chocolate cupcakes with liquid fudge in the center! YUM! Remember, I lived in ARIZONA and we didn’t have this many ice cream shops as this freezing cold (right now) city does! They take sugar to a whole different level here. Giant and amazing desserts are found at every restaurant, snack shack, etc. Not only that, but their sugar needs to be cute. Their donuts, lollipops, candy, cupcakes, etc. have to have faces and be absolutely adorable. Calvin and I had duck and bear cupcakes the other day, we only purchased them because they were so precious! It had almost an INCH of sculpted frosting before I finally got to the cake. I had to tap out and give my husband the frosting because it was all too much. The franchise chains got wind of this secret early it would seem. Every Dunkin Donuts, Starbuck, etc. has jumped on the ‘cute sweets’ train and has some charmingly cute dessert that you would rather take home and raise as your child than eat. I will be honest and say that I did not see that coming!
The last thing I will touch on is pollution. I am sure many would think that I am about to throw major shade right now, but it is actually the opposite. We have only had a few really bad pollution days here in China and my friends all say it gets better every year. In fact, the sky was a clear blue today and almost made me forget it wasn’t winter time. I am told by my friends that the pollution is usually at its worst in the winter time due to the cold. Winter has only begun, so it is possible it may worsen. With the filters at the school and our masks though, I don’t think it is affecting us too much in our daily lives. I will keep giving you updates as we progress through winter but so far we have been fine!
Well that is it for now, I will update you if and when I experience more examples of culture shock. We do have a few fun things planned out though! We are heading to Thailand for Christmas and just purchased tickets for a trip to South Korea in March! Please like and follow our blog to see more of our adventures!