I was really looking forward to going to China to see my son who is studying Chinese in the city of Tianjin, about half an hour from Beijing. It was lovely to see him and fuss and spoil as mothers do and truth be told, he fussed and spoiled me too. It was fabulous.
When I started writing this post I only managed one sentence “China is different”…then I froze…there are so many things that where do you begin…
Everyone has mobile phones, you stand in the packed metro carriage and everyone is playing with their phone just as they do anywhere else in the world. The attire is totally western, young people wear beanie hats and US university sweatshirts. It is clear the young Chinese strive for Western luxury goods wearing “brands” like HUG, Cucci, or Brmani.
I took the express train from Tianjin to Beijing and back and was very impressed by it, the only problem is that it is impossible to understand anything and nobody, and I mean NOBODY, speaks English. The metro and train stations are gleaming and so clean you could almost use the floor as a mirror which is the complete opposite of the streets which are really filthy. Spittle and dog poop abound and you better check where you are stepping…
Christmas Eve we went to a popular bar filled to burst with beer guzzling, chain smoking Chinese and music blaring….I choked on my drink when the Macarena song started. I mean, really? And in case you were paying attention, yes, you can smoke indoors anywhere.
What I disliked the most is that Chinese people do not seem to be the last bit inhibited about bodily functions. I lost count on how many men I saw peeing in the street, and with temperatures of -5C it was not warm exactly. On the metro a young girl was popping her boyfriend’s zit and I spotted a chef picking his nose for a considerable length of time and then examining the loot…lunch turned in my stomach…And while I am on food, yes I had heard the tales of slurping and burping and they are all true. And I am not going to describe the spitting, suffice to say I was gagging for a lot of the time.
My stay was in Tianjin and I never once felt I was in a country were personal freedom was an issue other than Facebook and other social media are banned, Beijing however, was a different matter. Every time you get onto the metro you need to have your bags scanned. Seriously, I mean every time, getting to work must be a nightmare. There was heavy police presence on Tiananmen Square and in fact, to access it you need to go through another bag and body scan. I guess they are not taking any chances…What amused though, is that clearly crime is a problem otherwise how do you explain that most ground, first and even second floor apartments have bars on their windows or that when a bank sends its money away it is under armed guards.
I did not get used to crossing the road risking that a car could come at me at some speed. It turns out that vehicles do not stop at red lights so you, as a pedestrian having the green, means absolutely nothing.
My son told how when he got his mobile phone he translated some of the texts that would arrive, only to find they were civic messages like, give up your seat on the train or do not shout. That tells you a lot about the nation.
There were a couple of good moments like when I was in the pharmacy miming that I needed something for constipation to the 3 ladies at the counter, they got into it and we almost had a conversation! Or finding there is an inherent love to drizzle ketchup on every type of western food, the dishes look like a work of art sometimes. It was adorable to see men drilling a hole on the frozen river and waiting patiently for a fish to take the bait. I loved the Gaudiesque China House in Tianjin, a house totally decorated with ceramic vases and dishes, it was really lovely. Sadly I did not find any fun t-shirts that read It is Mao or never or There is no moment like the Mao. That’s a great business opportunity now that I think about it…