October 28th, 2009
“Two noodle soups please, “ my new friend orders in mandarin. The TV in the background showcases the latest Chinese music videos. The walls are laden with old Chinese posters, and outside the smell of the street food is wafting in. We are the only two people in the tiny hole in the wall restaurant on the south side of town, by the Hutongs. It is about 11am Beijing time and the jetlag is starting to settle in. The urban metropolis seems so far away as I sipped my noodle soup, hoping my second wind would kick in. This is the China that I know and have grown to love. Gritty, rugged, and down right rude at times. But the familiar sound of the old man hawking a loogie or toddlers running around with buttless pants, (no need for diapers when you have easy access) seems to have been replaced with young trendy people on mobile phones in a sprawling capital city that I barely recognize.
Like an image obsessed Angeleno, Beijing has had a new facelift each time I return. This time, I arrived in the brand new terminal 3, so squeaky clean and new, even the squatty potties were sparkly white porcelain. One could easily get lost in the behemoth of an airport. I quickly maneuvered around the maze to the outside world and headed toward the shuttle buses, excited to use my rusty Chinese. This is where I met Wang Yao Duh.He was a scrawny Chinese local who suggested that we share a cab into the city since we were going in the same direction. “Sure”, I said. He didn’t seem too dodgy. We ended up at his car where he offered me a ride, (since I looked like a wide-eyed kid not knowing what to do next for my 5 hour transit). I wanted to see the Olympic stadiums, and he had the day off so we hopped in his car. Meanwhile, I was wrestling in my head with the notion that I am in a complete stranger’s car, in a foreign city, and I was completely trusting him with my life!
The traffic snarls up and it reminds me of the 405 fwy complete with extra thick layer of smog shrouding the cityscape. (Although LA has nothing on Beijing in terms of air pollution.) There are all but a few remnants of the ten million plus bicycles that used to dominate the streets. We end up in front of the Birds Nest and I stand in awe at how fast the city has transformed. The breakneck growth in the creation of a new China leaves a prominent and growing disparity between the rich and the poor evident in the massive architecture I stare up at. Created on the backs of thousands of migrant workers for the wealthy to enjoy, the growing Chinese middle class seems to have an insatiable hunger for all things western…including I guess, western women!
Little was I aware of how forward Chinese men have become! A big flirt, Yao Duh kept trying to put the moves on me as we walked and talked; me practicing my elementary Chinese, him listening and barraging me with questions about my life in the US.
I buffered the situation by suggesting we grab something to eat. Which is how we ended up in the tiny little noodle house. Perhaps it was when he noticed that I hold my chopsticks with my left hand (being left-handed is looked down upon in Chinese culture) or when he realized he was not going to get a kiss, (though he tried many times), that my little 21 year old crush and I decide to part ways. Yes!!! I feel liberated and decide to soak in the atmosphere around the world’s largest public square, Tianamen Square, reminiscing of past visits there.
And thus starts the Asian adventure!
Its amuses me that people in Asia, and especially China, always look at me funny. Is she Chinese? She looks it, sort of…but she doesn’t walk or dress like a local….I kind of like the ambiguity, because when they try to scam me and I bust out my Chinese, I never cease to get a surprised reaction. I decided to take the new subway back to the airport to catch my outbound flight. I love taking public transportation in other cities since I don’t get to in LA. It reminds me of the subways in Singapore and Hong Kong and I cant help but feel a little sad. As we move towards a global society I don’t want to find stores and fast food chains that I can get at home. I want to experience the special intricacies and culture that make each place in the world unique. It seems you have to travel farther, longer, and more remote to escape westernization.
say all this but then again, I just paid more for my Starbucks skinny vanilla latte than for our whole lunch, and my usual stops in Beijing include purveyors of western material goods…A visit to the knock off purse lady and to the markets to pick up some bootleg DVDs.