I realize I've been terribly negligent of this blog recently. This is probably partly because a lot of things I've been doing are things I also did last year, so I haven't felt too compelled to tell the same story twice. It's also because I feel like I've been keeping myself busier on weeknights. My job is way less demanding this year than it was last year, so by the time I get home in the evening I'm way more likely to meet other for dinner or drinks, which results in less time sitting in my apartment catching up on blogging.
I'm going to try my best to catch up on everything (which includes yet another trip out of the country), but I there are just a few more things I want to say about my time in China. In the interest of time, I'm just going to list my overall impressions from my short trip in Beijing.
1) The people--Korean people have never seemed friendlier than they did after getting back from Beijing. Sure, we met a few friendly people during our trip, but the pushing and shoving was unlike anything else I've ever experienced (and I've experienced quite a bit of pushing during my time in Korea!) I'm sure this is a cultural thing (like it is in Korea), and isn't really the result of any kind of ill will, but people really weren't very willing to help us throughout this trip. In Korea it's not uncommon for people to be curious about where you're from or what you're doing in Korea, but in Beijing we just didn't really experience much warmth from the people we met.
I should also note there was also a pretty big language barrier. There was far less English than in other countries I've been too. Obviously it's China, so I wouldn't expect to have everything in English, but it did make things more difficult than they've been in other Asian countries I've visited.
2) Hygiene--If you're the kind of person who needs everything to be clean, Beijing may not be the place for you. Most people are aware of the poor air quality in China, but the places we went in general just didn't seem all that clean. I've been to other countries with questionable hygiene, but I think it was the bathrooms that really put us over the edge. Add in the constant spitting everywhere (another thing that happens in Korea, but happens WAY more in China), and we were a bit out of our comfort zones.
China has developed extremely quickly, so I think some of the culture just hasn't quite caught up yet. I'm sure that even within ten years Beijing is going to change tremendously in this department.
3) Government restrictions--Nothing makes you more aware of how much freedom we enjoy in the US like going to a country where those freedoms don't exist. When I was volunteering at Big Brother Mouse in Laos, I was talking to one of the teenage boys and he told me he wanted to work for the government. I asked him why and he said something along the lines of he wanted to make a difference. Naturally the social studies teacher in me kicked in and I started to ask him about what he wanted to change about his government. He replied that he couldn't say because if someone found out he said something bad he could be in trouble. This response was a little shocking at the time, I guess because hardly anyone in America ever has positive things to say about the government.
Although people in China have certain freedoms (this isn't North Korea we're talking about), their lives are far more controlled than what we're used to. Sites such as facebook, twitter, instagram, and google are all blocked in China. Sure people still find ways to use them, but when you're in a country where there are picture of Mao Zedong everywhere and people need very specific government permissions just to have more than one child, you realize you're in a very different place--one that kind of has a weird and less than comfortable vibe.
I wasn't in China long enough to really get to know the culture in any sort of depth. When you visit a country for such a short time you really only have enough time to pick up on some general vibes. I'm so glad I had the chance to go to Beijing, but it definitely is not at the top of my list of favorite cities. I had a blast with Jen, but I don't think I'll be going back anytime soon.
Jen and I talked about how things like the freezing weather and Lunar New Year craziness probably didn't help our experience, so that that is something that still lingers in my mind. Would I have liked Beijing better if I had gone in the spring and not in the winter? Probably yes, although I can still say with complete certainty that I wouldn't choose to live in Beijing, and in fact I am extremely glad that I chose to come to Korea and not China.