March 2, 2014
We got back today from another good weekend spent in Beijing. Friday afternoon after classes and lunch, we headed to the train station, hopped on a G-train, and quickly found ourselves once again in the capital city and traversing the (still fascinating) subway. This time, however, we were amazed by how busy the subway was. We have been in Beijing on the two biggest holidays in the Chinese calendar (National Day & Spring Festival/Chinese New Year), times when travel is highly discouraged because of the staggering numbers of people migrating across the country, and yet, for some reason we have yet to figure out, the subway in Beijing this weekend was worse than it ever was during those national holidays. It was absolutely packed! Even the security personnel seemed overwhelmed by the crowds pushing and shoving and clogging up the walking space even more with their rolling bags. The crowds were so bad, an old woman and a baby fell while getting onto an escalator and it had to be emergency stopped and the area evacuated while security dealt with the problem (we believe everyone was fine, just stuck on the moving ground and in genuine danger of being trampled). But perhaps the most frustrating part about the subway when it is really crowded is all the rolling bags. It seems like every person in the subway is dragging a rolly bag behind them, unaware or just not caring about whose feet it gets under or very nearly trips or of the tremendous traffic jam they cause when getting on and off escalators because they cannot easily pick up the bag (because of a strength issue) without endangering their own already precarious balance. The subway crowds would be so much better to navigate and so much less frustrating if people carried their bags rather than dragging them behind them and, of course, if there was less pushing and shoving.
We unintentionally stayed in the SOHO district of Beijing this weekend and thus found ourselves amidst the biggest expat population we have encountered during our time in China. It was very strange to see so many foreigners milling about but that also meant that we had a brief escape from the continual stares by Chinese people astounded to see a foreigner in China. Staying in the SOHO area also meant that we felt like we were no longer in China, but in some big city in the West. Several times we asked each other whether we were still in China or somehow had arrived in Dallas or another similar Western city.
The weather was remarkably warm and clear over the weekend and so we spent most of our time wandering around outside and enjoying the sun touching our skin for the first time in several months. I actually got a little color on my face and managed not to burst into flames upon immediate contact with sunlight (probably because my skin is so white I reflect light now). We also returned to the Olympic Stadium area and had a wonderful time walking along the water and really relaxing as we took our time meandering. Afterwards, we even ate dinner in a TGI Friday and enjoyed chicken strips and ribs for the first time in months.
Our weekend escape from Baoding turned out to be better than we could have expected and we are now ready for another couple of weeks of classes. Even better is the fact that we found out at the end of last week that due to a contract revision resulting from the “uninhabitable” smog conditions, we will be returning to the US in May (a month earlier). Though we’re looking forward to springtime in China, we’re also looking forward to returning to our home in the US and starting on the next adventure life takes us on. Ironically, one of the things I’m most excited about upon our return to the US is ordering take-out Chinese food (eggrolls and sesame chicken)!
Recently, I’ve been thinking about how the attitude towards children in China is much different than in the US for many reasons. One of the most interesting to us is the communal take on child rearing. Today on the bus from BaodingdongZhan (the East Baoding railway station) to the bus station down the street from the school, we were standing next to a woman with her baby who was probably about nine-months old. At one point, the baby started crying (as they do) and this middle-aged man leaned over, starting talking to the baby, and then handed her a piece of mystery meat (it looked like turkey dark meat). The baby took it and stuffed it in her mouth and was immediately no longer crying and actually quite content. After she finished her snack, the baby looked at the man and made a vocalization at him while reaching out her hand as if to say “Hey, that was good! Give me some more of that!” The same man, apparently carrying a baby kit with him, pulled out a juice box and handed it to the mom. Can you imagine that situation happening in the US?! If a strange man tried to hand a crying baby food in the US, you can almost guarantee a violently angry reaction from the mother and all the surrounding passengers disgruntled at the mom “being unable to control her screaming child!” But here, in China, childcare seems more like a communal effort. When the baby started crying, people seemed to take the perspective of “well, this is unfortunate but to be expected – babies cry” and then they did what they could to help the mother out whether it was trying to distract the baby or offering her a napkin after the baby silently spat up all over her (again, the understanding nods saying “babies will be babies”). We’ve seen this type of situation play out before in which a child is upset or wandering off or being somewhat difficult for the mom or dad and other people, often strangers, jump in to be helpful whether it is by talking to them, offering small trinkets, or (frequently with elderly people) offering advice (definitely sometimes unwanted but always well intentioned).
This next week we are planning our final trips around the country and our flight plans back to the US. It’s crazy to think that this adventure is now in the final stretch and we’ll be done with classes before we know it (and maybe even before we’re ready). Right now, the thought of saying a permanent goodbye to our friends, colleagues, and students here in China is a very sad one that I don’t want to begin thinking about just yet. So until then, we have a few more adventures to go on and of course the daily adventure of living in Baoding, China.
But for now, thank you for reading and until next time,