Rather than the huge Forbidden City or the gorgeous Temple of Heaven, what I found to be the most culturally informative during my first week in China was the hutongs. Hutongs are like small villages but more industrialized. Yesterday, Jason took me into a hutong to buy a jianbing, which is like a breakfast taco commonly served by food carts there. To me, that was the most authentic side of China. If I had visited China by myself without interning and without Jason, I would have visited the tourist spots but wouldn’t have ever ventured into a hutong.
The hutong was somewhat representative of the average street in Beijing as well. There are a plethora of scooters and bikes zooming past you (usually accompanied with a honk). Many Chinese people will set up tables and sell jewelry or knick knacks or any kind of random object. Today I saw an old woman selling balloons outside of an art district and I wondered if that was her full-time job. On the other side of town, there are enormous malls, clubs, and karaoke bars. All in all, I feel China has matched my expectations over all. I expected the traffic, the fancy malls, and the great food.
However, I still have only experienced the surface level of China’s culture. I honestly haven’t bonded yet with any Chinese people, barring the Chinese nationals on our trip and the future UF students we had the opportunity to meet. Some things I would like to discover would involve the transitioning nature of China’s current culture. When I spoke with the Chinese people my age, they told me that the younger people in China have a more Western style of living and certainly don’t expect a Westerner to maintain Chinese cultural practices. They seemed to understand our culture quite well. They said, however, that the older people in China do maintain the traditions and might have trouble relating if we don’t manage our expectations of them and their understandings of Western culture. How has this transition impacted Chinese people’s opinions of foreigners? How do the middle age people of China feel about their traditions?