We have a lot to report from Beijing, all of it amazing – don’t be so surprised. After spending three weeks in China and after talking with more and more people, it looks like a lot of our initial shock is just China being China. So I have to dial back some of what I ranted about and I want to fill you in on some things that you should just expect. Once we figured these things out, life has been a lot easier.
Private Matters – In Asia the toilet is provided for free but you’re responsible for your own wipes. Be sure to carry toilet paper. We’ve quickly learned the hierarchy of bathrooms: Japanese-style warm seat > American standard > squatters > hole in the ground > group squatters. Avoid the bus station bathrooms.
Etiquette and crowds – The spitting, screaming, pushing and queue jumping. Get used to it. What we consider normal city behavior is the total opposite of how large Chinese cities operate. Waiting to get on a subway or elevator – pshaw! that’s for fools who don’t want to ride. Standing in line, respecting the personal space of those around you – hell no! How is that person supposed to know that you want out unless you elbow and push them to the side!
Drinking – It exists, just not where, how, or with the liquor that you prefer. People have regaled us with stories of 3 quai Baijiu, telling tales of Irish ex-pats losing their breakfast with one shot, businessmen drinking to oblivion at 11:30am and deals being sealed by the man who hangs on the longest.
Western style pubs are around but they’re expensive and not so easy to locate. Most drinking seems to be at the dinner table or during a business deal. Most of the bars we’ve found have been of the titty variety. There doesn’t seem to be much of a casual social scene with alcohol although in the Northern part of China there are tons of bars and they’re filled with Chinese people. We <3 Northern China.
Construction – Our soundtrack to China is the din of continuous jackhammers. Every city is covered in construction soot and is undergoing massive changes to their infrastructure. It’s not just one area of town: every road, every neighborhood, every house has something being built, repaired, or upgraded. This is happening as you walk down the block.
Food – Remember when I was hating on Chinese food? Here’s the deal: Non-chinese people are relegated to eating at the equivalent of Bubba Gump Shrimp at prices well above those that any chinese person would pay. When we head out with a local, we eat amazing meals for half the price. We’re talking Peking Duck for the same price as a bowl of oily noodles – the price difference is insane. My advice is to hook up with a local and dine like a king.
Prices – None of them are written in stone and for white people they start really high. Haggle and learn to walk away. You don’t need that Mao watch for 50 yuan!
Driving – You will get run over in China. If not by drivers who find it expedient to drive on the wrong side of the road, then by the thousands of silent electric scooters that zip by you in the middle of the night with their lights off. And if you can survive the scooters and the mad drivers, watch out for the bicycles. Oh, and the huge bulldozer driving down the road – he has the right of way, always. Don’t be concerned that your bus is heading off road while the driver is texting on the phone, that’s totally normal. There are just no rules of the road in most parts of China, and it’s every man for himself.
Still don’t believe me? Check out this video from Nanjing: