Written by Megan, High School/Pre-College Student Correspondent for CET Beijing: International Career Pathways, Summer 2019
While I have been to Beijing before, living in Beijing has given me a completely different perspective. During the previous years I’ve visited, I’ve always viewed Beijing as a dull city; I saw no vibrancy in the landscape or the people. My impression was based off a few days of sightseeing and no honest cultural experiences, which made for a 2D view of the city. I also rarely interacted with inhabitants of the city, since my grandfather would do all the talking. In one of our classes, my professor talked about the “Danger of a Single Story.”
A single story is the stereotypes one is constantly fed, and in my case, visiting Beijing reinforced the story of China being extraordinarily work-oriented. Every person I saw on the street seemed to have a purpose. However, I was so wrapped up in the negative aspects of Beijing that I failed to see the positive aspects. That’s why I’m so grateful to be able to live here, and dive deeper into Beijing and Chinese culture.
The first thing I noticed was familiarity. I’ve been living in the dorm for about two weeks now, and I can recognize the different security guards by face (and nickname), as well as navigate easily to the 7/11 and campus market. I’ve begun to know Beijing like I know Atlanta, which is my hometown, and it’s much more comforting than leapfrogging from place to place. I have local friends and my favorite boba tea place. It also helps that people at places I frequent know my order, so I no longer struggle through the menu with my mediocre Mandarin.
To be honest, living in Beijing has also forced me to confront my Chinese skills. I could fumble my way through Chinese class back home and somehow makes A’s, but in the real environment I often find myself turning to my friends for help, despite wanting to practice. I feel even more pressure as a Chinese American; I don’t want to fulfill the stereotype of an ABC disconnected with their culture. I can get along conversationally, but I hope to eventually reach a point where I no longer need to lob random English words into the conversation because I don’t know them in Chinese.
However, one of the nice things about being Chinese is that I blend in. I don’t deal with people randomly taking my picture or automatically speaking English or slow Chinese to me (although sometimes I need them to slow down了猫). I can walk around without getting stared at and enjoy the anonymity of being surrounded by people who look like me. I enjoy it, in fact!
There are very few Asians in the area of Atlanta that I live in, so I always felt like I stuck out, which meant it took me awhile to be proud of my Chinese heritage. Living in Beijing has given me the opportunity to revel in being Chinese and celebrate the culture (as well as the food, food is amazing here!).
A year ago, if you asked me what I thought of Beijing, I would answer a gray city with no personality.
Now? I would say my second home.