10 unexpected things I love about life here

Lately I feel my posts have had a more negative slant, so in a bid to inject a note of positivity into proceedings (and out of slight fear that I might get deported if I don’t write something nice about the country soon), I present a list of things I actually like about life here in BJ.

1. The rudeness
Surprising, I know, considering I come from a nation famed for its good manners. But actually there is something liberating about people having ill manners. Or, should I say, different manners (let’s not get all colonial now – we are not better, we are just different). I mean, I still get annoyed when people are rude, but I do not often feel obliged to take the moral high ground or be passive-aggressive about my irritation as we tend to back home. I know I can easily get away with being abrupt or curt – it is everyday behaviour, almost expected. I don’t need to acknowledge shopkeepers if I don’t want to (though I do of course, if they acknowledge me. Which they often don’t). Not only does walking into people elicit indifference, it is actually an unavoidable everyday activity and generally requires no reaction except a side-step. It can also be amusing just how bad-tempered some people are, even as they are doing something kind like giving you directions. In short, all the hidden incivility, belligerence and boorishness that I have for so long repressed in the name of polite society is being unleashed by the lack of courtesy from everyone, everywhere.

2. The lack of self-consciousness
A vague link to no. 1, as some of this behaviour can be considered ill-mannered, but I personally love how un-self-conscious I feel here. For example, table manners are very different – non-existent in some cases. So I happily dig into my rice with my chopsticks and eat with gusto, and don’t feel bashful if I accidentally splash a bit of my soup noodles around. I can wear anything at all and it wouldn’t matter; there will always be someone worse-dressed than me, guaranteed. I wish my self-consciousness had dropped to the level where I could burst into song if I felt like it while walking around in public but I’m not quite there yet, though I feel a mixture of amusement and envy when I witness other people doing this with abandon. I also love how I can (should I choose to) amble around in public slapping and kneading my thighs, and that’s normal here. What? It’s good for the muscles and circulation. On the crowded tube people will just loudly say “move down the carriage!” or “I’m getting off now!” unlike in London where we apparently hope to communicate our wishes via telepathy to surrounding commuters as we mutely struggle and squish. People are practical and not precious about their behaviour here, and I like it.

3. When the air is clear
It does happen sometimes. Trust me, when the pollution is bad, it’s BAD, but when I wake up and check the Air Quality Index app on my phone and it tells me today’s level is “moderate” or even “good”, my spirits lift in jubilation and my heart feels lighter (not to mention my lungs). It is hard to describe the suffocating feeling when the air, all around, inescapable and all-pervading, it essentially poison, and likewise the supreme relief when the smog lifts and one can see the sky again. It is like going from apocalypse to paradise one day to the next.

5. The public tai chi/gymnastic ribbon twirling/dancing with swords
I like seeing people, mostly on the old side, unabashedly doing their daily exercise routines out in the open air. Especially when it is cool, choreographed tai chi, or involves props such as gymnastics ribbons or wooden swords. Though I do worry about their lungs, as their aged limbs slice lithely through the smog.

And little kids in general. Cutest in the world, though less so when they are defecating in a public bin or on the underground. Oh, it happens. A lot.

7. The flexibility
Wanna bring your own drinks into a restaurant? No problem! This club says it is charging entry? Negotiable. Too embarrassed to ask for freebies? Don’t be. Taxi won’t let five of you in? It’s ok, this hei che (illegal cab) will! The lack of rules can be frustrating but it can also often be turned to great advantage. Perhaps a legally dubious advantage, but it does simplify things sometimes.

8. The respect for old people
“There’s an old person here, give up your seat!” This is the kind of announcement you’ll hear on the bus by the conductor. I suppose it is necessary when there are so many people all around. In any case, in China respect for the elderly is palpable and very important.

9. The philosophical Engrish
The front of one of my notebooks reads “Pioneer: whatever you can do, or dream you can begin. boldness has genius, power and magic in it [sic]” Truly inspirational words! In fact, reading the fronts of notebooks in a stationery shop provides endless entertainment, not to mention profound insights into life and love. You will find many deep and meaningful messages in grammatically questionable English on stationery – quotes about love and loss, determination, youthful folly, you name it, they have it. I kind of love it.

10. Fwends!
Well of course I couldn’t forget my new dear friends who are my only source of comfort here (apart from Chinese food), without whom I would have no understanding audience for my ranting, railing and ravings about the petty injustices I face everyday, nor people with whom to party and laugh and commiserate our miserable expat lot. Though I do have one (one!) Chinese friend here who is lovely and provides some vital insight into the Chinese mindset, not to mention essential language practice. I have met and hung out with pretty varied groups in my time, but the people here have taken it to a whole new level. My social circle encompasses super-conservative, die-hard Christian Americans (I know you’re trying to convert me!) to über-liberal Europeans, and various odds and ends in-between, and it is a most fascinating social study. Plus of course sometimes one just needs a hug or a friendly conversation while far away from home in a very strange land, and I do love my new fwends for providing.


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