So I’m going to borrow this phrase from a fellow friend; ‘Be an onion’ and I think this can be applied in a number of ways, physically and mentally…
First let us apply it in the simplest way. Be an onion with layers and be ready to peel them off. Here in Beijing the weather during winter is cold and according to my BBC weather app this morning (08:00am) on the way to work it was -8 degrees and now at 09:21am it is -2. Many of the interns, me included wear a number of layers; thermals, tights, vests, jumper’s coats etc. but actually only face the cold weather for a short amount of time. My time outside consists of me walking to and from the station however, short 5 minute walk is enough to send you into shock. Coming out of a fully heated apartment or office, your body does jolt at the temperature shift but quickly adapts. So your wardrobe here in Beijing is key. Layer up, be ready to put layers on and then peel them off again.
Public transport is another aspect of Beijing you will experience on a daily basis but hopefully not at peak hour. Every morning to get into my current placement I leave my apartment around 8am, slap bang in peak hour when everyone is rushing to work. Here is where you need to put on some layers. The personal bubble you are used to does not exist here in Beijing. You will see people spit, maybe pick their nose if you’re lucky you will have someone next to you cough in your face. Perhaps even hear the delightful sounds of something snorting their snot or trying to yack it up. You will become accustomed to it but it does take time. But be warned, while on the train you will feel like packed sardines. While is China, do as the Chinese do. Be prepared to push your way on…see a tiny gap? Squeeze on; it could be your only chance but the price is you will be pressed against the door or some local Chinese person. Also it is normal for people to push. For example this morning I was pushed on the train by a guy and his trolley! Not the best first thing in the morning but at least I caught my train. But honestly, you may imagine this scary tidal wave of people but it isn’t anything to be afraid of. Take this with a pinch of salt, it’s an experience and you will never complain about your respective mode of public transport. I know full well once I return to London, I’ll appreciate it all the more.
Another important tip, be prepared.
When in Beijing, being prepared is always handy. Know where you are going, plan it and just in case learn some emergency Chinese. Not all Chinese people can speak English or are willing to help. So just having a screen shot of an address you want to go to will be handy.
I am going to combine the two tips, be prepared and be an onion because you are a foreigner. I mean this is the least harsh way, I myself am one too. I mean, if you look foreign just be prepared to receive a number of stares and photo requests. There have been a number of times when I am out and about with my fellow interns and they are snapped either willingly or not. I’ve seen a few sneaky people just snapping at them while on the train. It’s normal and you will become immune to this quite quickly. However, if you are like me with Chinese heritage with limited working Mandarin be prepared to also have stares and strange looks. They often mistake me for a local or assume I will speak fluent Chinese but when I don’t reply or tell them I don’t understand they become annoyed and confused. To them in their mind, I am Chinese and should speak Chinese.
Unfortunately even my host company are like this. Once my supervisor said to me, ‘Every time I see you I think you are Chinese but you’re not.’ He even asked if I eat Chinese food and if I could use chopsticks. Even though I think he didn’t mean any harm it just makes me think he is slightly closed minded, which is sad.
But don’t despair China is still an amazing country! I have had a number of amazing experiences. On the weekends or days off I travel around the city with friends. We just hop on the train and we’re at Tian’anmen square or at Chaoyang Park. Beijing is definitely an amazing city to be in. There is such a contrast of old and new. Even though there are negative aspects, there are positives to balance it out!! The food is good and shopping in markets is fun and cheap! Surrounded by an amazing group of friends I can take the negatives on the shoulder and enjoy the diversity and excitement Beijing has to offer!