Beijing Day 2

Today I spent doing a lot of the standard tourist things in Beijing: The Forbidden City, Beihai Park, Hutongs, and Jianshan Park; and the most interesting thing I noticed while doing this is that Beijing is not a tourist city.

Even in the Forbidden City, Caucasians were greatly outnumbered by Asians (all Chinese as near as I could tell). After I left the Forbidden City, it was over an hour before I saw another Caucasian and that infrequency repeated until I got to the Jade Islet late in the day. There were several tour groups wandering around the Hutongs, but they were all Chinese.

This did mean I stuck out more than I’m accustomed to, and was a target for every single person making their living off tourists: waitresses trying to lure me into tea shops, vendors hawking water bottles, “Rolex” salesmen, and rickshaw drivers looking for a fare. These were the most persistent. They’d follow me down the street, and just as one would give up, the next would jump in. You think they might have realized that I could not have possibly gotten halfway down the block without already refusing half a dozen of their competitors. I’m not sure why they thought I’d be different, but maybe they were desperate. There were hundreds of them, and not many potential customers (though most of the people I’ve seen actually riding in rickshaws are Chinese.)

What really pointed out just how much I stood out was the number of people who made a point of taking my picture. (Either that, or all big noses look alike and they mistook me for Jon Bon Jovi.) At the intersection of Di’anmen Xidajie and Di’anmen Waidajie, a girl working at a corner food stand snapped me on her cell phone. In Behai Park, I thought I was being asked in broken English to take a picture of a young woman and her boyfriend (which made about zero sense now that I think about it, since there we hundreds of Mandarin speakers around she could have asked instead) but what she really wanted, it turned out, was to have her boyfriend take her picture with me. And on the boat across the lake, a middle-aged gentleman started shouting “Hello Hello” (Possibly the only English word he knew) until I turned around so he could take my picture. Then he and his friends chattered away at me in Mandarin and laughed a lot. I had absolutely no idea what they were saying, so I just smiled and nodded.

English is quite uncommon here. Even at obvious tourist locations like ticket booths, you often have to hold up your hand with the right number of fingers to indicate how many tickets you want. I think what’s going on is that English is not universal here (unlike most of Western Europe these days) and is in fact relatively uncommon anyone who does speak it can get a much better job than working in a ticket booth or as a taxi driver.

To go anywhere in a taxi, you need to have someone write out the destination for you in Chinese characters so you can show it to your driver. It’s a good idea to carry a card for your hotel. However, if you’re really stuck the driver may call someone on his cell phone who can speak enough English to get the address. This contrasts with, for example, Denmark, where in my experience even the hotel maids speak flawless English and the taxi drivers actually adjust their idioms according to whether the passenger is British or American.

I’m told it’s fairly easy for foreigners to find work here, teaching English if nothing else. However there’s actually quite a demand for native English speakers. There’s a job fair going on tomorrow specifically to recruit English-speaking foreigners. The U.S. is busy kicking aliens out, and China’s trying to get more of them. It’s a funny world we live in.

One Response to “Beijing Day 2”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    I think that Beijing probably is a tourist city, but mostly so for other Chinese people.

Leave a Reply