Posts Tagged ‘China’

Observations in China.

Written on my phone.

  • Talking to your phone is acceptable. Even a social norm on some level.
  • Mobile payments are everywhere. Ali Pay, Wechat Pay, Baidu wallet and another one I can’t remember the English name for.
  • Vexting? (short voice messages via Wechat) is how everyone communicates. They don’t call or text. Everyone from teenagers to their parents and grandparents is doing it. Wechat actually works pretty well for it. I’ve only tried it once and I felt weird. WhatsApp offers voice texts too but it doesn’t seem normal. Perhaps because no one is doing it.
  • Between Guangzhou, Beijing, Nanning, Chengdu and Ping Xiang, Chengdu wins the award for most honks per car. It’s noisy and halfway between a modern condo jungle and a developing city. The historical sites and temples are well preserved and amazing.
  • There are no ghost cities. Only over developed condo complexes scattered across the cities that lay barren. More condos are being built. I thought Toronto had too many condos.
  • Sichuan food can be so spicy that it makes you light headed. It was a culinary spiritual experience.
  • Taxi cabs in Chengdu have Didi (ride-hailing) app ringing the whole time. They get a ride notification almost every minute.
  • Uber is present but they slashed their prices drastically for gain market share and the Uber X driver I spoke too wasn’t too happy about it. He said he makes more money from Didi just because there’s 10X more people using it.

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The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s not a particularly pleasant smell nor is it unpleasant. It simply is. It’s the post industrialization; factories and gasoline, it’s sharp and it pinches the throat like a cheap cigarette.

The second thing is the scale. Just the sheer size of the city itself even as your stuck in the traffic after a 12 hour flight. Your cab driver decides it’s a good time to trim his nails. Neon lights blazing at your from the numerous banks dotted around the 4 lane road.

Motorcycles are not allowed within the city confines of Beijing so the electric scooter rules. Walking down one of the side streets, I notice a big box that looks like a generator. Sophie points out its a public charging station for electric scooters. I flash back to Better Place for a second, perhaps not a fair comparison but the band aid solution is functional for all intents and purposes.

The lack of my language skills in Mandarin and Cantonese have left me being a passive observer trying to guess at what the conversation is about. It is a game that I am not very good at. We meet Sophie’s friend for dinner. The restaurant is empty but its noisy. A lady pushes a cart selling pickled vegetables. Her friend is politely curious about me. Do you eat alot of lamb in Pakistan? I nod in affirmation and smile. It’s a interesting dinner with limited conversation from me. The pattern continues as we meet friends and family for dinners and lunches.

I am a curiosity from a foreign land.

Beijing interweaves with old world and new world. The Forbidden City is a enormous complex of 980 buildings that sprawls across a chunk of the city. While strolling through, it’s hard not to be intimidated by the power and influence this place accumulated through its 500 year history. Even with thousands of tourists trotting through it a day, its clean, well restored and clearly preserved with great care. It pains me to think about some of the cultural & historic sites in Pakistan and the gross negligence they are suffering from at the hands of our elected officials. The Forbidden City has its modern counterparts, imposing government buildings that always seem to be omni present in every corner.

Sophie is spending a day with her friend from Shanghai, so I take it upon myself to play the brown tourist. I walk through malls and an seemingly endless street shadowed by giant Audi, Prada and Gucci stores. Clearly with the new economic reforms, some people have enough disposable income to splurge on luxuries. Yet others are not so fortunate; the majority of people working in Beijing come from smaller rural towns in the suburbs, the rent here is to steep.

I wonder if I can manage to buy a coke without saying a word. It’s a hot day and I’ve been walking on strange crowded streets for hours. When my turn comes at the Mcdolands counter, I hear the woman at the other end saying something. I assume she’s asking me what I want, so I point at the coke machine at her back. She blankly looks at me. I splutter out ‘Coke’! She grins, ‘Coca Cola’? As I walk out with the Coke in hand, I am amused at how some things transcend language and cultural barriers — even for a mid aged Chinese woman at a McDonald’s.

Thanks to my family and especially my dad for always reviewing my drafts.

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