First Impressions of China

As a graduation present to ourselves, Nicole and I spent the month of May travelling around China. Over the course of the month, I had the opportunity to experience a culture so vastly different from my upbringing and as such, have a great many stories to share with you. I wish that I could have posted these live, but it was difficult to access foreign websites in China, and so I will be gradually releasing my posts throughout the month of June. Enjoy and feel more than welcome to comment!

Raphael in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

After a long journey, almost 20 hours in total, our plane finally touched down on the runway of Beijing’s Capital Airport. Flying over the surrounding area revealed a great many installations, likely factories, clustered together throughout the rather plain landscape. The day we landed, there was a bit of a haze, which gave the impression of a rather smoggy place. We exited into Beijing’s new Terminal 3 building, which was completed several years ago to accommodate a great many travelers for the 2008 summer olympics. Needless to say, the terminal is a testament to China’s incredible growth in the past years. It is certainly an impressive structure providing a modern and open space to greet its visitors. We were met at the airport by Nicole’s cousin and Uncle, who had been anxiously awaiting our arrival. I was a point of fascination for Nicole’s younger cousin who was particularly amazed by the geometry of my nose and the shape of my head, as well as how big my eyes were.

As we drove through the city to the village where Nicole’s family lives, there were two things worth noticing. The first is that traffic in China is best defined as utter chaos. It is a miracle that I have never been in or seen an accident occur, because it is a common occurrence that cars will cut each other off and pass within inches of the other car. In China, the horn is used as a form of communication, rather than waking up a driver who fell asleep in front of a green light. The most common uses of the horn are to warn pedestrians that the car is not stopping for them and they should run out of the way, or to tell surrounding cars that they are merging into traffic whether they like it or not. Safety is certainly never a top priority in Chinese cities, and this is evidenced by the fact that nobody wears seat belts (in fact, taxis have seat belts, but no latch for you to insert the buckle). The second thing I noticed was the incredible development of Beijing. Imagine the central business district of a typical North American city (like Toronto or Chicago) and now multiply it by 10 or even 20! From end to end in Beijing, there are massive buildings! It provides a new meaning to the phrase urban sprawl, whereby Beijing sprawls into the sky as much as it sprawls over land.

At last our journey was at an end, and we settled down into a rather large restaurant in town where we were staying that night. Most big restaurants in china occupy multiple floors and have several dining areas. The fancier ones also have VIP rooms, which is where families and parties dine, as if it was their own home. Eating out is very affordable in China, and therefore it is more common for working-class people to dine out rather than eat at home, at least in the cities.

Next: Beijing in 11 days.

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