Today at 6 a.m. we left for the train station where we weaved our way through to our gate. When we finally boarded the high speed train for a 4 hour ride to Xi’an. On the train I reflected on some of my experiences thus far.
Beijing was not as crowded as I was expecting. I predicted streets as crowded as New York City, however, that was not the case. The streets were never overly crowded even during afternoon hours. I attribute this observation to the city’s sheer size. The cities in China are far bigger than U.S. cities; you can look out in every direction and still see the city going on for miles. So although there is a dense population in Beijing, people are pretty spread out.
It was also interesting how much care is put into keeping things looking clean. At night, I discovered that the streets and sidewalks are power washed. As Beijing has a problem with clean water access for its citizens, I found this confusing since it seemed so wasteful.
A major difference between China and the U.S. is, in China, there’s no tax or tips, so you always just pay the price on the price tag. Also, prices are usually a flat fee and cents are barely used. Honestly, it’s convenient system because you know exactly how much money you need to pay upfront instead of finding out when you get to the register. Furthermore, prices for goods are never set in stone and one can barter with the salesperson to lower the price.
The bathroom culture is also very different here. A Chinese style bathroom consists of porcelain bowl inside the ground with places for a person’s feet on either side. Sometimes there’s no toilet paper provided and if there is it’s thrown away in a wastebin and not flushed. As a result, the bathrooms do not smell good and aren’t somewhere you want to be near for an extended period of time. Also, little kids are allowed to do their business in public settings. In the span of 5 days I have witnessed three children dedicating in busy, public areas!
Travel by high speed train is a great experience. It took about 4-5 hours to get to Xi’an and the ride was smooth and efficient. They also serve hot meals and have a coffee/snack bar at the back of the train. I wish I could take a train like this to Pitt instead of a sitting in a car/bus for 4 hours.
Once we got to Xi’an we visited the drum and bell towers of the city. In ancient times these were used to tell citizens when to go to work and when the Huns were near. In Xi’an the buildings within the wall are shorter than the drum tower. In ancient times this would serve to not obstruct the view from the drum tower, and today it is simply a matter of tradition. After this visit we had a dumpling dinner in which plate after plate of dumplings were brought out until everyone was stuffed. After dinner we traveled to the Muslim market. It was interesting to see the blend of Chinese culture with Islam. In the market many Chinese women wore hijabs and there were a mix of both Muslim and Chinese foods. There were also a few clothing shops in the market which were fun to visit because the clothes often have silkscreened English words in phrases that are either horribly misspelled or make no logical sense. I think it goes to show how the people in China appreciate western culture although they might not fully understand it.