Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Hood Rats Thoughts on Beijing

Beijing really blew my mind. I came in with no expectations, other than the city was smoggy and had the Great Wall. Even with the smog indeed being unbearable at times, I still loved Beijing. How unbearable was the smog, you ask? A friend told me that teachers get paid 50 percent more to live in Beijing than elsewhere in China because of the smog. I already covered Saul the Smog in my last blog, so let's talk about something else. First and foremost, there is a crazy energy that you get in China. I think the energy is a mix of hope and fear. China is growing really fast and there is a lot of opportunity for the middle class. They're major consumers now, which is something that is relatively new and very pervasive (Malls, Malls, Malls - sung to the tune of "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Motley Crue). One example of this phenomenon in action - as recently as 15 years ago, if you wanted to buy a washer, you would need to enter a lottery to get a ticket to buy one. Now, you can simply go to the store and buy it (and many, many people do). There are still some restrictions on purchasing power, particularly around cars. You can easily buy a car, but there is a bit of a wait to get your license plate. The government is doing this to cut down on pollution. There seems to be, at least on the surface, the ability for folks to move up the socio-economic food chain. However there still seems to be a healthy degree of simmering fears just underneath the surface. Information is not freely exchanged, and people who were raised during the ill-fated Cultural Revolution, in which Mao essentially tried to purge the country of all Western influence, still carry painful, vivid memories of that traumatic time. Sorry to start it off so darkly, let's get back into Beijing. Again, there is so much growth here. About eight years ago, there were only two subway lines in Beijing, now there are up to fourteen and they are expanding rapidly. Same with the train system. There are a ton of new high-speed rails that were created two years ago. BART, please step up your game. People have been incredibly friendly to us here, and many have asked to take pictures with Matt. Yes, Matt! I have been pushed out of pictures on more than one occasion. There are a great deal of historical relics in Beijing, each of which have been beautiful to see and well worth it. If you guys want me to describe in more detail the Forbidden City or the Great Wall, just let me know and I will do a more detailed post on it. China also takes karaoke to the next level. My friend invited us to a karaoke night with his friends. We went to a huge palace-type complex. Prior to entering the karaoke room, there was a grocery store where we got our beer and snacks. Matt quickly found a friend who loved rock music. His name was Rock. They sang Sweet Child of Mine and Don't Want to Miss a Thing. Actually, Matt sang most of the song. Usually you exchange the mic, but Matt really is a solo act. Also for those of you thinking of venturing to China, you must go bargain shopping. In Beijing the big market is called the silk market. They have everything you want and more and they all try to trick you into paying too much. Luckily, I was with Matt who fancies himself a connoisseur at bargaining. At first I was a little skeptical of his claim, but let me tell you, the man has style. At one of the shops the woman bargaining with Matt got all huffy and yelled, "Why you so tough?" Telltale sign that we had won that round. Moral of the story? When in Beijing, if you leave a vendor close to tears, it means you were not screwed.

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