The first time our family visited Beijing was in 2010. We had already done some travelling back then but it was the first time I arrived somewhere and thought "Wow, I've landed in a different world!"
Since then I hadn't had the chance to explore Mainland China so what did I (and many friends back in Europe) THINK it would be like and what is it REALLY like to live here?
Time for some myths and facts:
Myth: The air quality is so bad that you will have to wear masks every day!
Fact: We've been in Beijing around 2 months now and so far I cannot say that the air quality is turning out to be a big problem! It's perhaps still too early to say but it's a part of life you very quicly get used to. On bad days, we tell the kids to wear masks (we do the same :-)) and they have quickly become used to having one at hand and know where we keep them at home. For more on this issue, see my blog post from 18 January 2016.
Myth: The Chinese are very loud!
Fact: In public spaces such as supermarkets and metro stations you will often hear shouting. Whether it's promoting a product or giving practical information, it's often shouted into a microphone! And I mean shouted! In some chain stores (such as Uniqlo) the staff will welcome each costumer very loudly with a "Huānying kuàlè" (literally "happy welcome").
Check out this short video video on the noise pollution in the street (but must admit that I don't know if it's from Beijing). https://vimeo.com/2738024
Myth: It's dirty everywhere!
Fact: Hmm well I wouldn't call Beijing the cleanest place on the planet but to be fair, the streets are clean! The cleaning truck or a man/woman sweeping the pavement are never far away! For inside spaces (except perhaps for glossy western malls), sometimes it's best not to look too closely at the floor or into the corners. For example: I have stayed at two very typical Chinese hotels in Beijing in the past and cleaning levels were definitely not up to European standards. From the outside and in the lobby everything looked good. But the rooms! You don't easily get over stepping on the previous guests' used condom by the side of the bed 😳...but that was an extreme case!
And then there are the toilets! Ladies get used to 80% of all public toilets being 'squatting toilets' (and bring your own toilet paper). I took this picture at a McDonalds by Ditan Park on Saturday.
Myth: People spit all the time!
Fact: First of all, in China spitting is not seen as something rude or disgusting! It's perfectly normal to spit and both women and men do it. For me, the spitting itself is not so bad but what for me, as a westerner. is rather disgusting, is the...how to describe this...gathering of spit (to hock up everything from your throat) before you spit on the street (or out of the car window). I have failed to catch spitting on video but I found this picture online :-)
Myth: The Chinese are rude!
Fact: Perhaps some things here would be seen as rude in other countries but in general I have to say that we find people here extremely kind and helpful!! You just have to accept that some services (such as the Taxi driver getting out of the car to help you get your suitcase into the boot) are not available here! And forget about people letting you off the metro before they get on!
I hope this has given you an idea about what to expect if you ever travel to or move to Beijing. I hope the above doesn't seem too negative! There are differences, surprises and frustrations but never enough to overshadow the great experience of living in China.