Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Monday, January 2, 2012

The Christmas Journey Part III: China: Part I!

So after a nine-hour night bus ride, numerous taxis and four aeroplanes, I finally made it to my final destination: Beijing. Well, that wasn’t quite the end: my friend Claire, who I’m staying with, lives in a city called Tianjin, two hours south of Beijing – so one more bus ride on top of that and I was ready to settle into my new home for the week!

Meeting Claire's friends!

After a few days in China, there are clearly some pretty tangible differences between mine and Claire’s situations. In terms of where Claire lives, our two situations don’t really compare: people in Tianjin don’t think of it as much of a big city, but compared to Johen, it’s huge. Twelve-million people huge, to be precise. And there’s a pretty big foreign community here too – again, not that anyone in Tianjin would refer to it as “pretty big”, but from my viewpoint of “the only gaijin in the village”, it’s big. More generally, I also think that people in Japan are much more openly friendly than the people I’ve met in China. I’ve definitely been touched by the friendliness of some of the Chinese people I’ve met – giving me seats on the bus and helping me find the right subway tickets without even asking – but as a whole I feel a lot more like an unwelcome outsider here. My Japanese experience, on the other hand, has so far has been defined by the friendliness of the Japanese people, so I imagine that if I lived here I’d be having a completely different adventure. Because of that I think although city life in Tianjin seems to be a lot more convenient in a lot of ways, I can imagine it’s a lot harder too.  And, of course, life’s definitely much more fast paced here in the city compared to the sleepy countryside I’m lucky enough to call home. In Tianjin especially, it seems like there’s not an hour of the day when the cars aren’t furiously tooting their horns from the streets below. Too much like stress for me (...and yet more evidence that the transition from City to Country Boy has been fully completed).

On the issue of politeness, I guess I should concede that, in fairness to the Chinese people, we’ve hardly been saints over the past few days, either. Our taxi driver home on Christmas day certainly hadn’t taken his dose of Christmas spirit that morning, and when we were counting our notes to pay him, he impatiently demanded we hand him the money. I was pretty sure it wasn’t enough, so asked for a moment to carry on counting, but he was insistent he just couldn’t wait a second longer and angrily motioned for it. Well, I thought, if you’re going to be that rude, you can suck up the consequences. So I gave it to him. By the time we were a few feet away from the taxi, he’d realised why I’d been asking him to wait, honked his horn and furiously shouted at us to pay him the rest. Too little, too late, Rude Chinese Man. “Run!” Claire shouted. So that’s what we did. Later, loser.

To get a sense of just how big Tianjin is, me and Claire took a night ride on the Tianjin Eye where we could see all the city lights below. Usually you’d have to pay to hire your own private capsule, but luckily for us, I think we were the only people on it!

Less fortunate was the fifteen minutes we spent devising our escape route when we genuinely thought the Eye had stopped moving (“I’m just not climbing that ladder down.”). Awkward.

It’s been pretty cold here too. Temperatures have been hovering around zero for the majority of my stay, which is apparently pretty mild by Tianjin standards – I’m not usually a fan of the cold weather, but I think it’s going to make the Japanese winter I’m returning to seem much milder.

... not that I’m planning on hanging up my Rilakkumma onesie anytime soon.

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