What do you think about when you just hear the word „Beijing“? I think everybody has got something slightly negative, that comes to their mind automatically. For me it was probably crowds of people that can´t speak English very well, the traffic, lots of buildings with little green and of course the smog.
I arrived in Beijing almost three weeks ago and lots of prejudice turned out to be totally wrong. First of all, I was surprised by the blue sky, that we had during the first week. It basically looked exactly like in Germany and my app for air pollution showed a very small level a smog. To be honest, we did have some days of light smog and one of high smog after that, but it was definitely not as bad as I thought.
The considerably bigger problem is the almost never ending traffic jam. I had the opportunity to do some trips with my Chinese University BFSU and a student organization, and it always took more than twice as long going back into Beijing than going out. Traffic jams are a serious problem and it is definitely faster and more convenient to go by metro than by bus or taxi (especially during day time).
Now, what about the crowds of people and the buildings that leave relatively little space for any green? Since I came here, I have already visited various places in and outside of Beijing, went by subway or walked around the shopping district Xidan 西单. So far, I have just seen masses of people when visiting touristy places like the Forbidden City, the Hutong area or when going by a busy metro-line during rush-hours. Other than that, it was not really crowded. Of course, you will not be the only person around and you might even need to wait in line, but for a mega city like Beijing it is not as crowded as you would expect it to be. It is also way greener than I had predicted. Starting from our campus: trees are lining the streets and we even got two parks on our campus, where you can sit and have a chat with new friends you´ve made. Furthermore, Beijing has got lots of green and open spots that will let you almost forget that you are in a metropolitan area with more than 20 Million people. Compared to other cities, there are also less skyscrapers around. Of course, if you go to certain areas like the business district (Chaoyang 朝阳) or Xidan, you will be able to see huge buildings, but as far as I have seen, most of Beijing consists of „normal“ sized city buildings.
And as for the English: yes, most people don´t speak and understand any English (even most of the staff on campus). When somebody walks up to you and starts speaking Chinese, you are welcome to say that you have not gotten any clue what they are saying, but the only response you are going to get is the same monologue (maybe just a little slower or with other words, but still in Chinese). But no worries, even though they might not understand your English, they are usually friendly and will try to help you if you show them some Chinese characters on your phone translator or on a piece of paper. And in case you like adventures and are not afraid of trying something new, you should just go to a restaurant and just point to something written in Chinese.
Well, once more I have experienced, that stereotypes can be totally wrong and that you will have to make your own impressions before being able to judge. I have had a very good time in China so far, made new friends and memorable experiences. I have seen the Great Wall of China, which is really as impressive as you can ever imagine, stood on my first glass bridge, went to Inner Mongolia, tried new food (most of it very good) and got lots of insights of a country that is so different from any country I have been to so far.
I am looking forward to the remaining 4 months here in China and everything that is still to come and I will try to give you more insights of this fascinating country within the next posts.