So I literally spent one night in Beijing, as the famous song goes:
On a complete, random, spur of the moment instinct I hopped on the high speed train and took a five hour (no, you did not misread, five hour) train. The first three hours were relaxing, a book in hand and some good tunes on my smartphone, but when I got the 4th hour on the train I was starting to go crazy.
Anyway, I made it to Beijing and it was amazing. Beijing, I love you.
I haven’t been back to Beijing for almost two years. Beijing. My home in China.
Beijing is the place where I first fell in love with this crazy country. Everything about the place drew me in. The hutongs, the street vendors, the food, the forbidden palace, the music scene, the people, even the baijiu. Even seeing the yellow Beijing taxis again almost had me in tears of nostalgia.
I was home.
I don’t want to say about the place, really. The pollution is awful. It will probably kill you if you live there for two years–that, or turn your lungs black and give you lung cancer. The air is tainted and will ruin your skin. The traffic is god awful, you’ll probably be stuck in a taxi on a highway for at least 2 hours. No doubt.
But despite all the bad, there’s so much good.
I don’t know how to put Beijing into words. It’s a mystical, magical place. It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. It’s full of life and charisma, yet it’s character suffocates under the oppressive reign of the government. Although the party rules the city, the people are vigorous, full of life, bursting with energy, and most importantly–cultured.
The music and art scene in Beijing are simply unparalleled to Shanghai. Shanghai looks like a high school art show compared to the masterpieces that are created in Beijing. And to accompany all that good art is also some damn good artists. The artists in Beijing are, to put simply, interesting and vivid. My friend is no exception–he’s a photographer, and a damn good one at that.
There he is, on the left, smiling. His brother is there starring right at me, not sure where to look or what to do. So cute!
Shu is probably the most talented photographer I know. And not only is he a talented photographer, but he’s a wonderful person inside and out. I’ve never met anyone with such a kind soul–his eyes glow with an inner beauty of sympathy and emotion that I rarely see in not only Chinese people, but just plain anyone. His personality blossoms in all sorts of colors, and his voice is soothing.
He is, to put simply, a joy.
Look at his works: www.liushuwei.com
Since I literally stayed in Beijing for only one night, it was a packed schedule. I won’t go into details. I went to a live concert, a house party, some party, and walked around god knows where. All I know is I woke up in some hostel in a hutong and thought: Hey, this isn’t Shanghai.
Learn Chinese in Beijing. No ands, ifs, or buts.
I said earlier that I went to Beijing for the first time in two years. Overall, the city saw little change. Even my friends looked the same and lived in the same places. I was home.
But what shocked me more than anything was not the pollution, the food, the traffic—
–it was their Mandarin.
I know I complain about Shanghai dialect more than you’d like to hear, but for the most part everyone in the south (at least the young people) can speak half decent Mandarin. To be perfectly honest, I learned Mandarin in Beijing but I perfected it in Shanghai. I mean, 差不多 right?
The Mandarin of Beijing is beautiful. It sounds like a melody. It’s so proper, so correct, so standard–it’s honestly why I wanted to study Chinese in the first place.
In Shanghai, you kind of forget sometimes that you’re surrounded by Shanghai dialect. Even if people are speaking it all around you, you tend to subconsciously shut it out. I just got used to not understanding what the people around me were saying.
But in Beijing, I could understand EVERYONE. It was like finally being enlightened after meditating for 50 years. I forgot just how good it feels to actually understand what the people in your nearby vicinity are actually saying.
What threw me off the most was hearing old people speak Mandarin.
Oh. My. Lord.
I can understand old people! I can even TALK to them!
This is an impossible task in Shanghai. You may as well just give up now, because they’re never going to speak to you in Mandarin.
So if you’re a foreigner aspiring to learn Chinese, for god’s sake GO TO BEIJING. Heaven forbid if I went to Shanghai to learn Chinese–my Mandarin would be god awful. No doubt about it. Beijing has the environment for you to learn proper Mandarin, and not only that, but..
Beijing People are Cool as Hell
I won’t get into the specific of this, but they’re more fun and they actually drink alcohol.
I was blown away when all my Chinese friends started taking shots. I have to tie my Chinese friends to a chair and shove a bottle of vodka down their throat to get anyone drunk in Shanghai.
That, or no one drinks at all. Period. All dinner gatherings and meetings in Shanghai are completely absent of beer and wine. Everyone drinks juice. And it’s lame.
On top of that, Beijing people talk about interesting tops and say funny stuff. I know, funny stuff isn’t very specific, but they’re just more interesting.
Shanghai people just talk about money and property all the time, and it gets old. Stop it.
I could write a whole book about how awesome Beijing is, but I won’t. As I was going on and on about Beijing this past weekend, my friend said to me:
“No offense Mary, but when you decided to move to Shanghai two years ago we were all super pissed. What were you thinking? You love Beijing so much and went to Shanghai–we were all dumbstruck. We miss you.”
I’m dumbstruck as well. All weekend I kept thinking, “what if?” but we all know that question goes nowhere.
I went to Shanghai to try something new, and although I complain a lot I don’t regret the decision. I met some of the best friends I could ever hope to encounter here, and the experiences I’ve endured here have not only made me into a stronger person, but have made my life more interesting and worthwhile overall.
But who’s the winner?
Of course Beijing, man. Shanghai is cool and convenient and all that, but Beijing has culture and history and locals that don’t put you to sleep sitting up.
There’s a reason there’s 10 billion songs about Beijing and, like, 2 about Shanghai. It’s because Beijing is the most awesome city in China, and I aint gonna say otherwise. I mean, look at this guy in the video below. If you don’t understand Chinese, he’s basicaly saying he’s gonna live and die in Beijing. Cause it’s the shit.
Anyway, that’s all, I go sleep!