They say "it's the little things that make a big difference," and while it may be slightly paradoxical, since I've arrived in Beijing the things that remind me I'm in China are often quite small ones. Since this is my second time traveling to China, I was prepared for the "big" things--squat toliets, crowded streets, eating with chopsticks--but after two weeks, I was surprised by how many differences I hadn't noticed the first time around.
1. The escalators are huge. And fast. And, of course, crowded. Now, I've seen escalators before, but the escalators that lead you out of the subway here in Beijing are easily twice the length of any escalator I've seen at a mall, airport, or really anywhere back home. When they aren't crowded, you can sit for a couple minutes, stand back up, and still be waiting for the steps to flatten out. They also seem to move faster. I have no way to confirm that they indeed are set to a higher speed, but it sure does feel like it.
2. There are more umbrellas out when it's sunny. Unlike my friends and I back home, most people in China don't want to "soak up the sun", so they carry umbrellas around when they sky is clear and blue. It might be easier than wearing sunscreen, but I'll admit I was confused when I looked out the window and saw umbrellas and not a single cloud in the sky.
3. There are traffic jams on the sidewalk. I don't just mean pedestrian traffic (of which there is plenty), but I mean actual traffic jams among people, cars, bikes, and delivery trucks. I was walking back from lunch with some of my classmates and we ended up standing on the sidewalk while a mini-van and a truck tried going opposite directions and a few bikers weaved in and out. Traffic laws in China are "suggestions" more than laws.
4. People dry umbrellas inside. When I was a little kid I was told it was bad luck to open an umbrella indoors. Of course, I knew it was a silly superstition, but I still wait until I'm in the threshold of a door before I pop open my umbrella. I always figured it was a courtesy thing, since unfolded umbrellas take up so much space, but here that is not the case. I walked into one of the buildings for my class and saw an entire hallway filled with umbrellas open, resting on the floor to dry. And I have to say, drying umbrellas makes a lot of sense.
5. I saw a kitten curled up on the campus quad today. This isn't something I've seen a lot in China and I think that's why I noticed it. There doesn't seem to be a lot of pets in Beijing. A few of my classmates say their homestay familes have little dogs, but I hardly ever see people walking dogs the way I did back in Chicago. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw a this little kitten today on campus. I'm not a cat person, but it was pretty cute.
6. Guys have style. I know plenty of guys back home who don't always look like they just threw on the first pair of pants and shirt they could find, but for the most part, guys back home seem to stick with the if-it-doesn't-smell-it's-probably-fine rule. Here in China I've noticed that guys seem to put a little more effort into what they wear. Again, it isn't drastic, but it's the difference between wearing clothes and wearing an outfit.
7. There are different checkouts for different parts of the store. I had encountered this one my first time in China, but I thought it was just that specific store. It isn't. Most markets will have a different checkout counter for their stationary section, food section, etc. I've gotten in the habit of looking for a register before I leave a section.
8. There's fruit everywhere. Within two blocks of our campus there are at least seven or eight fruit stands. Not to mention two stores that have a section for fruit within them. They have a pretty wide selection of fruit as well and it's all relatively cheap too. I'm a big fan of fruit, and whether it's true or not, getting it from an open stand just makes it feel fresher for some reason.
9. The umbrellas and backpacks here are really cute. (I promise it's the last one about umbrellas) I've seen everything from cartoon characters to watermelons, and elegant to borderline ridiculous patterns. Of course there are plain umbrellas and backpacks as well, but most people seem to take the unique option. The stylish-but-practical accessories are probably one of my favorite things about modern Chinese fashion.
10. Grandparents are really involved in their grandchildren's lives. I've seen grandparents running around with toddlers on the soccer field, eating lunch with older kids, and carrying babies around as they shop all over the place. It isn't unheard of in the United States, but it is more prevelant in Beijing than in any American city--big or small--I've seen. The lifestyle of retired people in China is something I've learned about before and always admired, but seeing the way it allows for a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship is truly heartwarming. How could you not smile when an old man rolls a ball to his giggling granddaughter?
So whether its cats, grandparents, or even, yes, umbrellas, living in a different country has a way of revealing those little things that I never expected to be any different.
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<p>My name is Kelly Cunningham and I am a Chinese Studies and English major at DePaul University. I love everything about languages-reading them, writing with them, speaking them, etc. I'm studying abroad to improve my Chinese and learn more about the culture.</p>