One day, in Beijing…
One day you wake up and find yourself in the capital of the Middle Kingdom, Beijing. You find it hard to believe that you are now in the center of what will soon become the strongest economy in the world.
However, despite this new world that you are living in, it seems many people here are still living in the old world. You find people washing their clothes by hand, some who have never been on an airplane and others who have little understanding of what is going on in the world outside of their own country. You see a constant dichotomy between the twenty-something urban youngster sporting Nike shoes and watching The Big Bang Theory on their shiny iPhone 6 and the older generations who wear practical yet mismatched cotton prints and have never seen a foreigner face-to-face before. It is a lot to take in all at once but it's also what makes China such an exciting place to live and work.
The best way to truly enjoy everything Beijing has to offer is to get out and about. This sounds good in theory but you may be initially discouraged at how difficult it is to get around a city when you don't speak the language. The important thing to have when going out is a desire to enjoy the journey and not worry too much about reaching the destination. Hop on a bus, any bus. Get off when you see something interesting.
Buses in Beijing are extremely cheap, usually less than 2 Yuan. When you feel like going home after your adventure look for the nearest subway station on your Baidu map app or show a taxi driver the address of your house which you have printed out in Chinese.
Another reason it's not so easy to get out and see everything there is to see is because this task is overwhelming. It's not only a huge city but you're likely in Beijing starting a new job and/or studying. You're getting used to the new work environment, learning new ways to communicate with people from around the globe and trying to absorb and process a million things all at once.
Going out with new friends or co-workers at night leaves little time for exploring and the weekends are the only time you have to really relax. While it might be tempting to just stay home both days you have off work and talk to friends back home or stalk them on Facebook to keep some sliver of normalcy in your life, don't do it. Fight that urge and keep your calendar booked as much as possible. The more you get out, the more people you meet. These connections will prove invaluable in the future.
It's natural to get in a habit and stick with what you know once you figure out a few things in your new location. You perhaps finally stumble upon a restaurant that has a menu with pictures and you eat there for the next three months straight because it's just easier. You take a taxi to work because it's a lot less hassle than figuring out the subway or bus system and much simpler than finding a bike to buy and trying to survive rush hour commutes where people, motorbikes and cars are coming at you in all directions.
Get out of the rut! Whether you're in China for only a month or ten years, remember to take advantage of every minute.
Once you've done everything possible in the city, start taking day trips outside the city. You'll find a whole different side of China outside of the big cities.
After you've been everywhere with the day trips, use your vacation or public holidays to travel around China. Each province is unique in its own way and you'll never again be tempted to generalize something as being definitively "China" or make a general comment about "Chinese people" once you see the diversity that exists within this huge country.
So what can you do to have the best China experience ever? Don't be paralyzed by your awe of where you are or your exhaustion with trying to process and logically explain everything away. Don't be offended with miscommunication or little problems and frustrations. Laugh about it and move on.
This is your time to create memories, explore new places, pick up new adaptation skills and meet all different kinds of people. Don't waste a second of it.
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