I have only been in China for two weeks so these first impressions may change later as I become more adjusted to living here. First and foremost the food is amazingly good and cheap. Portion sizes are just right for a person like me who has a large appetite. There is always something new to try and as an adventurous eater I am always game to test the waters. Every day at work for breakfast and lunch there is a buffet style of selections. I have never eaten so much eggplant, prepared in so many different ways in my life. I also really enjoyed a dish of lotus root, snow peas and gingko nuts, so good! As a side note, the Chinese love to eat pork, so to my friends who disdain the taste of pig flesh if you ever travel here be warned. The Chinese love to sneak pig parts into a variety of edibles like: buns, dumplings, and fried breads as well as mix it with green veggies for flavoring. Despite pork dishes there are still so many tasty seafood, beef and chicken dishes. I can imagine trying something new every day (and I do) and still not be able to hit everything on the menus.
In my past life as a pseudo-hermit, I am making serious effort to transition into the urban world. It is critically important as a planner to be knowledgeable of the intricacies of the city. By looking at the cultural differences of how people live in cities, it can make for fascinating case studies and shed some insights. While I have lived near and in some larger cities, I have never lived full-time in a city as large (area) or as populous as Beijing. The sheer number of people and activity in the city can be quite overwhelming. Old country mouse here has to get along in the city! But the experiences are valuable and it is eye opening to see how much human coordinated effort it takes at this scale to make a city run.
Every morning on the commute to CAUPD we pack onto the subway (quite literally) and head off to work. The trains run incredibly efficiently and there are dedicated “ushers” (not sure what their official job titles are) who inform people to queue up nicely during rush hour at the escalators. Besides yelling into microphones, they seem to keep the general flow of people moving on and off the trains. The automated voices overhead even tell you that if you cannot “fit onto the train, please wait patiently for the next one”. Nick and I were returning from a scouting mission to find a house of board games, when our train arrived so overloaded with people that when the doors opened literally a hundred people poured out of the doors in a fit of shouts and yelling. I have never seen that many people exit a subway car in my life and how they all fit in there in the first place is beyond anyone’s guess.
One final first week observation I find amusing (and probably says more about me than anything) is the readily accessible brooms and mops. You can go just about anywhere and a homemade broom from sticks and twigs is at hand. I walked about 200 feet down a city street near my hotel room and counted six brooms I could have picked up and used and four mops hanging in the trees to dry out. If you need a little gray water they have stations set up outside the stoop. With so many cigarette butts and spit everywhere Beijing has to keep the streets clean.