Let me catch you up on the story so far. I’m a 20 year old student of Chinese Studies and I’ve just moved to Beijing. I’m studying Mandarin, the official Chinese language, at Peking University (which has been described to me as the Oxbridge of China).
I’m living in the north of Beijing with a Chinese family consisting of father (in his 80s, henceforth to be known as Grandpa) and son (in his 50s. Probably.).
After a month in Beijing flew by in a haze of trying to figure things out: What exactly is this that am I eating? How do I cross this road? Why, oh, why have I filled this form out in the wrong shade of black? Where is this crowd of people going? Should I be following them?
I still can’t answer most of these questions and after filling several notebooks with my fevered daily scribblings, I finally realised I needed a better outlet to describe what I’m seeing on a daily basis in Beijing, a city which I can’t quite get my head around.
In this city whose lifeblood is migrant workers, even the language is different to what I’ve studied in the peaceful environs of a UK university. The variety of accents and dialects you hear everyday in Beijing mean that often, even with my intermediate Mandarin, I have difficulty understanding the simple question, ‘Where are you from?’
It may be a cliche to say this city is full of contradictions but it’s also true. Where else can you see a fruit seller with a mule-driven cart parked outside a software development park which employs over 200 000 people and is on the cutting edge of technology? Or next-day delivery parcels heaped Dr Seuss-style on souped-up mobility scooters?
More on all of the above to come.