The next blog posts from the IPS team in China will come from a place called Chengdu. Amy Wackerly and Chris Collier provided these final thoughts about Beijing.
We reflected on the sights of Beijing and some things we noticed that took us by surprise. We share them here in no particular order.
Umbrellas – Most of the women and even some men, carry parasols when in the sun. Our teacher guide, Frank, told us it is not that their skin is too sun sensitive but that they don’t want the sun on their head for health reasons.
Healthy lifestyle – We observed less than 2% of people with issues of being overweight. For the most part, everyone is in shape. We attribute this to the healthy eating (no processed foods and many vegetables), lots of walking and biking, and few elevators! Walking and biking are modes of transportation not an after work exercise routine.
As Ann shared in her blog, the park is filled with people of all ages exercising through meditative martial arts and ribbon dancing, However we were dismayed by the number of smokers and that smoking is allowed in almost all public places. Ashtrays would be at each place setting in restaurants and in our hotel rooms. One of our teacher guides told us that smoking is more prevalent in people over the age of 30. The younger people have now been educated about the dangers of smoking.
Language acquisition – Most people over the age of 35-40 speak little to no English, as it was not taught in school when they were growing up. The younger people can converse enough to hold conversation, especially if Americans avoid slang and explain some terms, as there are things we say that don’t have an equivalent Mandarin word.
Sports – Ping-Pong is a national sport and we saw some matches on TV. The other favorite sports are badminton, basketball, swimming and soccer. The school in Beijing had an area the size of a football field filled with basketball hoops. The elementary students take swim lessons.
Masks – Although we have seen some people wearing surgical masks, it was much less prevalent than anticipated.
Fires – There are no fire hydrants. The water is carried on the fire trucks. In ancient China, at the Forbidden City, there were large black cauldrons filled with water. The buildings were all wood so when a fire broke out, the workers would all run out and throw water from the pots onto the building.
Housing – In the city, there are no single homes or “flat” homes. Everyone lives in apartment buildings that range from 3-story to a high-rise. Some people buy their apartment and it is then called a condo. Housing can be very expensive…1 square meter would cost $10,000.
Greenery – There is very little greenery. We only saw grass near the Forbidden City and the park next to the hotel. However there are trees along the walkways.
In front of the hotel and at Tiananmen Square there were beautiful annual flowers but they were not planted in dirt, instead grouped tightly together, each in their own plastic pot.
Transportation – the large number of cars surprised us, especially since there is a bus and subway system. Deliveries, be it furniture or cases of beverages, were on carts attached to scooters and we were amazed at the heavy loads pulled behind the scooters and bicycles. Cars often pulled up and parked on the sidewalk.
We also found it difficult to hail a taxi even though they were abundant.
Safety – As safety driven as we are, it was more than a little disconcerting to see the non existent traffic patterns that have bicycles, scooters, cars, buses, and pedestrians all in the intersection at the same time, cutting each other off at the pass.
Cars seldom stay in their lanes and pedestrians don’t have the right of way. To add to our panic, we saw no one except a McDonalds and Pizza Hut delivery person wear a helmet. Parents would have small children on their bike or scooter with no helmet and not strapped on in any way.
Shopping – You can haggle prices with all shops that sell trinkets to tourists, whether it be a street vendor or a factory shop. Items were reduced by as much as 50 to 75% when we said no to the price or the item.
Dress – The women wear dresses often even when biking, shopping, and even climbing the Great Wall! If they have on pants, the top is dressy. The men dress much more casually than the women.
We rarely saw tennis shoes except on children. We only saw one male with sagging pants. Pants tended to be at the waist or higher. We also only saw one person with visible tattoos.
Pharmacy – The pharmacies are stand-alone shops and the pharmacist and workers all wear white medical garb. We found no English-speaking workers, which was challenging when asking for certain over the counter medicines or creams.
Food – The American fast food restaurants seen were K of C, Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Subway.
We enjoyed most of our Chinese cuisine but did not sample the innards or organ meats or the scorpions on a stick.
Fruit (watermelon and cantaloupe) is often served as dessert. The food is healthy even the street vendor selections. Their carts sell boiled corn on the cob and many fresh fruits like watermelon on a stick. You won’t see cotton candy or elephant ears around here.
Beverages – The drinks are often served at room temperature. It was sometimes hard to find a cold soft drink or cold water bottle.
We were the only ones requesting a beverage with meals. Our hosts seldom had any beverage and if they did, it was warm tea, wine or beer.
- There are few African Americans (but our guides tell us there are many Chinese in Africa).
- People stopped us in the street, at tourist attractions, and even the airport to be photographed with us.
- We saw homeless people especially near tourist attractions. We learned from our guide that there is no service provided to them such as food banks or shelters.