After spending a week in Beijing, my expectations of what it might be like were completely wrong. Beijing is definitely adapting fast to the Western influences. When I walked down Wangfujing, I passed multiple high-end retailors; when I toured the Forbidden City, I saw women wearing heels and spaghetti straps; when I looked around the “empty” metro car, everyone else was looking down at their smart phone. I used to think getting around New York City was rough, but Beijing is much more congested. Twenty-two million people in one city…well now, twenty-two million and one… it is insane! (But I am enjoying every moment!)
While there was a shock to the Westernization of Beijing, I also have gained a greater appreciation for the traditional Chinese culture during this first week. I was consistently in awe as I walked through ancient buildings with much attention to detail and meaning. From the different roof colors, to the number of arches, to the type of post in front of a Hutong, I have never been to a place with so much symbolism.
Going to the Forbidden City was one of the places I was the most excited for. During my time there, I kept trying to imagine what it would be like to be an emperor who lived and ruled there. The tour guide, Serah, provided us with so much knowledge about the Forbidden City. She explained the center arches only allowed for the emperor to pass through, with the exception of the empress, who could only go through once in her life (on her wedding day). The number 9 (九 jiǔ) was mentioned a lot. There are two main reasons as to why it is valued. First, being that it is the highest, single digit number and second, 9 has the same pronunciation with 久 (jiu) which means everlasting. The Forbidden City, as well as the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven heavily incorporate the 9.
One similarity I have noticed between the U.S. and China is how much people care for brands. People from both countries want to distinguish themselves as being high(er) class. One difference between the U.S. and China is how much the place where you were born affects your life forever. In America, it is more fair to people looking to change social classes, providing them with more accessibility and opportunities; where as in China, you could have a great education, and still not get in to the best universities because you are from a rural area.
One thing that I have just learned, whether I am in Gainesville or Beijing, I need to always have and umbrella on me.