Well I successfully made through my two months in Beijing. Woo hoo! And now, as I sit on a 24-hour train to Hong Kong, I’m given the perfect opportunity to look back at my time spent in the huge, smoggy city of 22 million people.
Coming into this internship, I really had no expectations. I knew it would be busy, I knew it would be polluted, and I knew I would have absolutely no idea what anything or anyone says. I really had no idea what to expect from the Beijing people. I didn’t know the culture and I didn’t know social protocols.
Other than that, I was a sponge waiting to soak in the experience. I remember first getting off the plane and thinking, “Okay Ashton, you can do this…”
I quickly learned that the Chinese people can be some of the kindest, most generous, and welcoming people I’d ever met. (Sure you’ve got your Grumpy Cats but you’ll find those everywhere.) People were often very helpful, very accommodating and very keen on sharing their culture with us.
And the longer I lived in Beijing, the more I began appreciating some of their customs over ours. I loved how people just did what they needed to do when they needed to do it and how day-to-day no one really cared about looking, doing, or saying the “right” thing.
I began to think of Canada as the land of over-polite, hyper sensitive people constantly apologizing for things that really don’t require an apology, whereas Beijing is more like the land of “Move it or lose it” – a system I honestly much preferred!
At home we’re always so worried about hurting someone’s feelings, looking appropriate and appearing like some high-class citizen when really all I want to do is barge passed you, burp after eating, and wear sweat pants to the office. Is that really so much to ask? It seemed like in Beijing all of those were perfectly acceptable options.
So I continued to wonder: Why are we, as Canadians, so self-conscious about everything we do? Wouldn’t it be nice to, for once, feel no shame, no guilt, and no worries about your appearance and your behaviour in public?
Although I do admit sometimes life in Beijing was a little aggressive and sometimes borderline rude (aka peeing in the street and spitting all over the place), I can’t help but wonder, is there a happy medium somewhere between the over-polite and the over-rude?
Ashton Says: What I learned living in Beijing: never forget that your culture is not always right. People have been growing and learning from others for thousands of years. Don’t be rude, don’t be hurtful, but learn to accept that no one really cares what you look like, you can never please everyone, and always be happy with who you are.