Autumn is rather chilly in Beijing and one has to dress warmly especially if the invitation is to have dinner with a friend. Shaolong, a classmate and friend, has invited me to meet up at a local mall. Shaolong has an English name as well. It is not only in Africa that people have an English name in addition to their own name and, as with many languages, but Shaolong also has a special meaning. The Chinese just think it more practical to have English names, as China grows faster and faster into becoming a leading country in the world.
We must meet at the mall. Invitations to people’s homes are rare, if not non-existent. Maybe because space is so limited in a city that plays home to 25 million people. Most social gatherings, therefore, entail a meal at a restaurant or karaoke spot. As a result, eating out is relatively cheap. Of course, the fancier the place, the more delicious the cuisine, the more you pay. Again, as in most cultures, Chinese people have a deep appreciation for sharing a meal. When invited out for a meal it is because they value the friendship and the company.
Traffic in Beijing is a nightmare compared to South African cities. You have to plan an hour for travelling and punctuality is a must. Do not arrive too early, lest you be thought of as starving. Never arrive late, it is an insult to the host. The bus works better these days. In my first semester, it was by the underground metro to go anywhere. Yet by metro one does not get to see the city and it is a bit more expensive with a bigger crowd.
A bus ride generally costs around R2 with a normal journey entailing no more than two bus rides. The transport system is integrated which means you can use the same card on the metro and the bus. We thought of having this idea back home. Sadly, as with so many great ideas it became stuck in the political will phase.
As one who has lived in Europe as well, public China is much more like Africa. We do not mind bumping into each other nor do we hesitate to ask people for help or people providing help. Chinese people are friendlier and always willing to help. The older ones will assist you in improving your Chinese while the younger ones will want to practice their English.