Communication is, of course, the hardest part. We have been amazed at how many people here speak some English, but that Englsh is usually specific to their job. For instance, the Subway sandwich people know “italian bread” and “mayo” but if you were to ask them directions to somewhere, well, you wouldn’t get anywhere. Hand signals and pointing can get you a long way though, and when that fails, there’s always Google Translate. (Thank goodness for my iphone!)
Chinese people pay all the same bills as we do in the States, but they pre-pay for everything. This is a cash and debit card society (take note credit-ridden USA). So we have debit cards for gas, water, and electricity. For the water card, I have to add money to three different accounts: cold water, kitchen hot water, and bathroom hot water. These cards are then inserted into slots near the pipes, and the money is converted into cubic meters of water. There is a similar process for gas and electricity. I need to monitor the meters to determine when I need to purchase more, and, of course, all three are purchased at different places. The gas and electricity have to be purchased at the bank, despite assurances that the automatic machines in the complex would take our debit cards. It is a pain!
Because we are in a big city, it is very easy to get around without owning a car, which is a good thing, because there is NO way I would drive on the streets of Beijing. For one thing, they do not respect lanes or any sense of right-of-way that I can tell. People just push their way in. There are always pedestrians, bicycles and scooters coming out of nowhere, and they don’t respect the lights. And…if you do get an accident, the outcome is resolved on the spot in what amounts to an argument between the two victims. I have a feeling that I would get the raw end of that deal!
The fruit here is cheaper, fresher and tastier than in America, but the grapes and the watermelon have seeds and the pears are crisp like apples. There are also several kinds of fruit that we are unfamiliar with including one very impressive large, spiky fruit that is called durian. I have heard that it’s terrible, but I’d give it a try, if it wasn’t quite so enormous.
Kids come over and play, just like at home, but they call trash “rubbish” and ask me where the “loo” is.
Many packaged foods that we get in the States are available here in China, but most are a little different than we are used to. I was excited to find a bag of Cheetos at the Jingkelong (local grocery store.) They looked like the ones we love, but when we got them home and tried them, we discovered they were “steak” flavored. We have found other common snack flavorings around here to be salad, cucumber, italian meat and tomato. Cheese is repulsive to some Chinese, so you can forget nacho cheese Doritos (except from the Western market where they are $5 a bag.)
Since I consider cheese to be one of my reasons for living, I went out of my way to find and order locally made cheeses. I had an assortment of 9 cheeses delivered to our apartment from Le Frommagier de Pekin for the very reasonable price of $70 (with delivery.) I would love to say that the cheese was fabulous, but, unfortunately, I can’t. It was different, and I think that I could grow to like it (at least some of it), but it certainly wasn’t what I was hoping for. I am not sure what I am going to do with all of it; it is currently stinking up my frig. From now on, I will stick with cheese from the Western markets. Oh, and by the way, a package of American cheese slices costs $4.50 here.
Safety is an interesting topic in Beijing. On the one hand, the city is very safe. There is very little crime and most of it is petty thievery. The subways and buses are crowded, but clean and safe. But… no one uses seat belts or bike helmets which, given the crazy traffic, is amazingly unsafe. There are seat belts in the cabs, but they are usually inaccessible due to the seat covers all the cabbies use. Ironicly, the children are required to wear seat belts on the school bus, exactly the opposite of the situation in the States where it’s the one vehicle in which they don’t use a seatbelt.
The experience so far has never been boring. We are enjoying the differences and the similarities of our lives in these two very different places. It is an amazing opportunity, and we are trying to make the most of it every single day.