Englishman in Beijing

Last night I won a small victory when I got in a taxi to go home, told the driver where to go in Chinese, and for the first time, he understood without me having to repeat myself ten times to get the right tone (for even the simplest of words there seem to be a thousand ways of saying it) or show my bit of paper with it written down on! Even though I’ve been in China for over 2 months now my progress on the language front has been frustratingly slow – I often feel like it’s been designed to be purposefully difficult for foreigners to grasp (and that they’d like to keep it this way!). When I get round to it I’ll compile a “survival guide” with some essential phrases to post here.

If you like your food hot then the dishes of the Sichuan region in China may be just what you’re looking for. Pictured above is a dish I had last week which consisted almost entirely of red-hot chillies with some chicken thrown in for good measure. If this doesn’t blow your head off nothing will! I think this review sums it up nicely:

“There is hot food, then there is scorching. But when it comes to spicy cuisine, China’s Sichuan Province is in a fiery class of its own. Likewise, the mind-numbing flavors of this fascinating part of the Middle Kingdom.”

I literally couldn’t feel my mouth till the next day – I’m still in two minds about whether I enjoyed it or not!!

Every morning I get the bus to work; not because I have to (my company would happily pay for a taxi), but because I enjoy watching the world go by on the 30-minute trip. People precariously riding tandem on the back of bicycles, proud mothers with their single child, old men sweeping the streets, the occasional horse and cart, frequent near-miss traffic accidents, hordes of workers building ever upwards, roadside merchants selling anything and everything, towering housing estates, and a million unintelligible signs all pass me by in a haze.

With such an outwardly facing but inwardly reflecting society, it’s no wonder that privacy is sparse. I still don’t fully understand Chinese culture but one thing you can be sure of is that in 10 years time things are going to look a whole lot different – blink and you’ll miss it!

A few more observations:

  • A green man light at a crossing does not mean it’s safe to cross, just that you are less likely to get run over – look both ways (then check again)!
  • Taxi drivers speak no English – even if you’re confident of your pronunciation make sure you have where you want to go written down in Chinese or someone to ask for you.
  • The locals have a nasty habit of spitting on the street (even though it’s banned), really unpleasant.
  • You can only exchange travellers cheques at the Bank of China, don’t bother with any other banks
  • Some police carry electrified cattle prods – you don’t want to be on the receiving end so best avoided!
  • If you plan to use the subway and buses a lot in Beijing it’s worth buying an “IC card” which works the same was as an Oyster card in London (20 RMB deposit required).
  • When bartering the rule of thumb seems to be to start at 1/3 the asking price (at least) – if you reach a stale-mate in the negotiations walking away usually wins you the deal 🙂
David avatar

4 responses

  1. Shirley avatar

    Congratulations to your small victory David! Yea, it's true that the Chinese language is pretty much difficult for foreigners to learn. It also has many dialects from different regions which we Chinese even cannot fully understand sometimes, seems so sophisticated to grasp… Well, Practise makes perfect, so just keep going and things will improve for sure. It would always be my pleasure to help you with your Chinese:)
    Cool and discerning observations, it just sooo true!

  2. Russell avatar

    wow well done that sounds like quite an achievement :)!!! hav u been forced to do much bartering on the streets of beijing then? that food looks very good, but very hot – how did u ahv to drink with that??
    cya soon russ

  3. Russell avatar

    sorry that shud say: how much did u hav to drink with that food?? cya

  4. You only really need to barter in markets and suchlike – not in normal shops.

    Yes, drink is rather essential when eating this sort of food 😉


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *