When I first came to Beijing, I expected to find a city packed with people and chocking on the pollutant fumes of its own success; in fact when I think of it like this I wonder why I came at all. However coming here has opened my eyes to the wonders of Chinese culture and the joys of Mega city living. Yes, there is smog (although it’s not nearly as bad as you think), it is crowded and the incessant beeping of car horns could push you over the edge if you were having a particularly bad day; but, the city is charming, it worms its way into a place in your heart and it never leaves.
Beijing is the setting for a war between history and modernity, a city fixated on the goal of progress but anchored in the past. It has ultra-modern, westernised area’s such as Sanlitun and areas which would not look out of place 500 years ago. In the centre of the city there is a sprawling network of shanty houses called Hutongs which are the heart of Beijing’s character and charm, here one can wander for hours constantly discovering new places to eat and drink.
The people match this description also; it is not uncommon to encounter an elderly man or woman staring into the screen of a brand new IPhone or a young couple playing Mah-jong on the street. Perception is a dangerous thing here as what you perceive to be the truth is not often the case and city life moves along guided by subtle societal norms which only become apparent after living here for some time.
One is example is the oft overcrowded but amazingly efficient subway system, from the outside looking in it is difficult to imagine how the Chinese can fit so many people onto their mass transit systems, but once you get used to it, you realise that everybody on the carriage needs to get somewhere and to do this in a timely manner they collectively sacrifice some of their personal space (something which is already at a premium in Beijing), this idea of collective sacrifice for the greater good is almost wiped out in the west but here in Beijing it’s second nature.
Day to day living in Beijing is like living in a pantomime where none of the actors know they are actors and the audience is uninterested anyway. Right next to a bastion of western culture like MacDonald’s, it is likely you can find a farmer selling fruit or a vendor selling delicious street food.
It is a different world to back home, a city which runs on its own time and to its own unique beat. If you are the type of person who enjoys a challenge in life you will love Beijing, it is an amazing place with all the creature comforts of home, plus a few new ones to discover.