Every expat experiences it: the barrage of questions you get when you visit your home country. On your first trips back, the questions will come from friends, family, and work colleagues. Understandably, they all want to know what life is like living in that big, crazy capital called Beijing. So you answer their questions and balk at their stereotypes and assumptions (which you probably once had yourself).
The longer you’re away, the less interested friends and family become about China, focusing instead on how you and your family are doing. But the questions about China don’t stop completely; they just come from a different source. I’m back in the UK for the summer; a trip to the hairdresser, a meeting with a bank manager, and a ferry trip next to a bunch of elderly day trippers once again led to those same questions. Here’s what I answered (if not always factually).
Does everyone in China know kung fu?
Kung fu is a martial art that originated in China, but this does not mean that all Chinese people know how to perform it, much like not all Scots know how to play bagpipes or all Americans know how to play baseball. Both Hollywood films and Chinese films have fueled this stereotype, but there is no requirement for Chinese people to learn kung fu.
Do they have cutlery in Chinese restaurants?
Consuming soup, if you don’t want to drink directly from the bowl, is inherently difficult with a pair of chopsticks. And no, there are no chopsticks that double as straws. Therefore, restaurants are able to provide you with a spoon and other cutlery items upon request.
Are you fluent in Chinese yet?
Chinese is one of the most difficult languages in the world. The Chinese writing system is non-alphabetic and comprises of thousands of characters, which need to be studied and memorized and read constantly for many years.
Add to the fact it’s a tonal language, the most famous example being ma, which depending how it’s pronounced might mean “mother,” “hemp,” “horse,” or the verb “to scold.”
OK, there are some positives. The grammar is relatively simple with the construction “subject + verb + object,” there’s no gender, and no plural nouns. But still, the tonal thing means no, I’m not yet fluent and probably never will be.
Why did Peking change its name to Beijing?
Beijing is Beijing; it has never changed its name. All that’s changed is how foreigners call it in English, shifting from Cantonese phonetics to official Chinese pinyin.
Why is it still called Peking duck then?
No idea. The restaurants didn’t get the memo?
And why is Beijing Capital International Airport code PEK not BEI or BJG?
Have you eaten dog?
Nope. Neither have I eaten snake, shark fin, or bird’s nest. There are plenty of other meat and fish options available in Beijing.
How do you know you haven’t eaten dog?
A fair point, but then you’re living in Europe and you had no idea if you were being fed horse meat in your burgers.
How do the Chinese cope without having access to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube?
RenRen, Weibo, and Youku.
It must be so cheap to live out there.
You can get cheap food and inexpensive clothing and goods, but if you stick to imported brands and western shops and restaurants, prices can be the same and higher. Some things, like computers and phones, can be between 20 percent and two to three times more expensive than what you’d pay elsewhere in the world.
But isn’t everything made in China?
Yep, that’s why it sucks.
Is the air quality really as bad as we see on BBC News?
beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent Sally Wilson moved to Beijing in 2010 from the UK with her husband and son. Her daughter was born here in 2011 and both her kids keep her happily busy. In her spare time, Sally loves to stroll through Beijing’s hutongs and parks. She is a (most of the time) keen runner and loves reading: books, magazines, news, and celeb websites – anything really. Sally is also a bit of a foodie and loves trying out new restaurants.
Photos courtesy of Lohb, Travel IndoChine, Yoycoy, Sofia Osman (Flickr)