Days 3-9 – A Lot Has Happened, Living In China Isn’t Easy

Proper preparation prevents poor performance

I must admit that even with all the preparation I did before arriving in Beijing, I have found myself to be overwhelmed. This feeling tends to persist every day, mainly due to all the challenges I have faced.

I faced my first toilet challenge at a shopping mall, of all the places it could have happened. Even with the time I took beforehand on YouTube to research how the toilets are used here—I still forgot to carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with me at all times. Traveling is comfortable with the internet but, only if you remember what you’ve learned. With that said, there are other subtle aspects of life in Beijing that I still have issues wrapping my head around.

This feels like 1984

Another part of China that I still need to get used to is the sheer amount of cameras that seem to be in every subway station and public vicinity. Even at my job, cameras are commonplace. The Chinese love to take photographs of foreigners (lǎowài/老外) whenever they can. We are an oddity to them, and the concept of privacy isn’t a thing here.

Cameras are used to deter crime (both violent and petty) and to maintain the public order and harmony that ensures a stable society. In one subway station alone, you can find over 40 cameras staring at you from all angles.

I feel as if I am living in Orwell’s nightmare. However, I am not as disturbed about this as I thought I would be. In any given room in the States, there are as many cameras as there are people. Perhaps China isn’t as different in this regard, maybe as time goes on our own concept of privacy will erode as well—we are already used to being tagged in photos on social media without our approval beforehand. In addition to that, we don’t really know how our data is being used to influence our lives (*cough cough* Cambridge Analytica).

Adaptation Comes In Many Forms

My ability to adapt quickly is undoubtedly being tested now. I recently purchased a new phone so that I could have access to cellular data while I’m here. However, I feel like a child with this new phone in my hand.

I have no idea how it works, not only because I’m used to Apple’s user interface—most of the apps on this phone are in Mandarin. Even with all of my language settings converted into English, some of the apps needed to live in China (Alipay, JinShiSong, Didi, Taobao, and Baidu) only have Mandarin or limited Pinyin text. I wish I had the foresight to unlock my iPhone before leaving the States so that I wouldn’t have this issue but, I guess this will help me pick up the language faster.

Another aspect of China I’m still getting used to is the nightlife. There are a large number of bars that cater to expats, and I’ve already learned how to purchase some beer (píjiǔ/啤酒), the hard part is getting used to all of the prostitutes who try to solicit my friends and me. They are incredibly pushy and even when you say “no thank you” or bùyào/不要 (which has become my favorite word since I’ve arrived, considering how many people try to sell me shit I don’t want), they still persist. They think that if you’re just drunk enough you’ll succumb to their pitches—even though the majority of prostitutes I’ve encountered both by my own experience and from stories my friends have told—are all in their 40s to mid-50s. I don’t see myself ever getting accustomed to this aspect of Beijing’s nightlife.

There’s An Economy Based On Illiteracy

Lastly, I was able to see the Great Wall Of China. The experience on the wall itself was terrific but, getting there was a hassle. My friends and I arrived by bus, and we ended up getting lost in a parking lot as soon as we got there. After that, we ended up walking past the main entrance twice. We kept going into a shopping area for tourists and those who have already completed their journey on the wall.

As we were walking, we ended up stumbling into a photo booth/ticket area. When we purchased our tickets, we believed we were being scammed because we were guided into another area to take photos. Since no one could speak English, we were under the assumption that we didn’t need to pay them for the pictures we took. If we had known how to say “no thank you” correctly or “what’s going on?”, we could have avoided the whole awkward moment in the first place.

What worries me is any future situation in which people actually have nefarious intentions. Will I be able to see what’s about to happen before it occurs? It’s a persistent fear that I have right now.

I guess I just have to get used to the fact that I am not as smart as I thought I was back home.

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