We have been busy during our first week of China touring many of Beijing’s most famous landmarks, which helped me learn about how the city’s history is ingrained in its culture. However, a unique culturally informative experience that I have had is frequent price negotiation and other forms of ambiguity. In China, it seems that almost nothing is set in stone when it comes to prices, and ambiguity is commonplace. In the United States, people can price haggle at street markets in big cities, but that’s just about the most negotiation that can be done on price for small purchases. During our first week in Beijing, we visited the Silk Mall, which is an official organized indoor mall with many stores that negotiate prices with customers, which is unlike any malls I have seen in the United States, which have rigid retail prices. The negotiation doesn’t stop at consumer goods–I have already had the chance to negotiate prices for a taxi ride and even for a meal. The big picture is that in China, prices, and many other details are often up in the air. For some of our orientation events, last minute changes in time and location have occurred, and we have also had to go with the flow due to a lack of information. In terms of business and lifestyle, ambiguity is common and one must be comfortable with some uncertainty.
My first impressions of China, and particularly Beijing, are different from what I expected. Despite the lengthy history of this city, there is surprisingly a much more clean, modern feel than I expected. For example, I expected to be living in a city filled with smog, where I could barely breathe or see far in front of me. In reality, the air has been quite clear, and I have not felt any difference breathing in the air. There are even many trees spread throughout the city, especially in places such as the beautiful Be’hai Park, which clean the air up even more. Additionally, due to Beijing’s huge population, I expected it to be very dense and walkable, even more so than Manhattan. In reality, Beijing covers a very large amount of land, and the roads are very wide, which is nothing like the walkable, dense city that I was expecting. The city layout seems to favor cars and driving over pedestrians. I have had many other encounters that proved that Beijing was more modern than I expected, such as a clean, efficient subway system and hotels with internet access.
Although I have learned a lot about China during my first week here, my experiences have led to me have more curious questions than answers. I have seen examples of Chinese people implement the concept of “saving face,” or mienza, but I am interested to see how this applies in the business world. It is hard to imagine how things get done in the office when people have been raised to exercise restraint in communication. It seems to me that it would be difficult to communicate in business and get things done with this cultural issue. This is an aspect of Chinese culture that I would like to investigate in my internship. I have a few more questions that I am curious to answer, such as how the Chinese population generally feel about the United States and Americans, because I have received mixed reactions thus far. I am very excited for my internship to begin so I can further immerse myself in this culture and learn more!