After my short stay in Hong Kong, I traveled to Beijing to see my old friend. It’s important to understand that I have been to Beijing in the past. In 2010, I traveled to Beijing during the summer on an exchange. It was not a pleasant experience. Not delving into too much information on the subject, I was not excited about returning. However, against all expectations, I was shocked at how much the city has developed in such a short amount of time.
It is quickly apparant to anyone that is familiar with China just how much the Beijing government has done to improve the city. The contrast from 5.5 years ago is absolutely staggering. Often, there are reports in the Western media about the obscene level of pollution in Beijing. After staying in the city for several days, I have a strong feeling that those reports are strongly “cherry picked” to make the situation seem much worse than it actually is. The people are courteous and helpful. Public transportation, although annoying, is no different than any of the world’s other enormous metropolitan cities. In all, it was a experience was pleasant, and it was enlightening to see the power of the Chinese government in accomplishing tasks once massive corruption has been controlled.
Being the fantastic host that he is, my friend invited my to dinner with some of his Chinese friends. In order to respect the privacy of my new Beijing friends, I will not upload their pictures. However, I do want to show some interesting aspects of Chinese food culture.
This is a traditional Chinese meal. Everyone eats from a communal set of dishes. One of the most integral things I would like to get across in this post is how important Chinese food culture is. One’s demeanor and poise at the dinner table is BEYOND important in China. This goes past simple “fine dining etiquette.” If you don’t understand these rules, you will get nowhere in Chinese culture. Unfortunately, if one does not speak a sufficient level of Chinese, there is no way to ever really understand the intricacies or importance. There many formalities and requirements, but one of the most important: if you don’t drink alcohol, don’t even bother showing up.
One of the shareholders of the restaurant decided to dine with us for a bit. I think because I was trying my best to adapt to Chinese dining etiquette (and drinking an insane amount of alcohol), he decided to share something extremely special with me: 黄酒 huang jiu. As he explained, this is THE traditional Chinese alcohol; it predates even 白酒 bai jiu. Suffice it to say, it’s not cheap….
As I was so impressed by Beijing, I have decided to split this post into two entries. Be on the lookout for my next post!