Tag Archives: beijing

Expats in Beijing

It was around 3am on a Friday in Beijing and the six of us were sitting in a circle just outside of the club Fifth Floor, where we had free drink tickets and cocktails were heavy. The club was in an open air mall complex with stores on both sides parted by a wide lighted area inbetween that stretched perpendicularly from one road to the next. We were sitting cross-legged in this area in this centre area, with the starless Beijing night sky above us and the comfortable brand names of the developed world around us. This was a special area in Beijing as the floor beneath me was clean enough to sit on and there was none of the chaos of the rest of China.

“I’m going to get some beer, who wants some?” I asked.

“Yea sure, thanks.” There were also thirsty people so I collected money and went to the dirty corner store just outside the area of the mall to buy some Qingdao.

Beers were opened and cigarettes lit up as there was a sense of happiness being expats from the developed world in China.

“Hey so I was talking about camping under the Great Wall,” said the Canadian,

“Yeah sounds awesome.”

“Think about it, we can all go sleeping in tents and bring whisky and drink and sing songs on the guitar.”

“Is it expensive?”

“Probably a couple hundred kuai, but it’s the Great Wall, it’s something you have to do while you’re here.”

“That’s true”

“So you are Korean?” asked one of the two Chinese girls.

“Yeah, I am,”

“Ahnyounghasaeyo!” said the second Chinese girl.

“Oh boy.”

“I was teaching English in Korea before,” said the American girl.

“Yeah a lot of people do that, did you like drinking soju?”

“Oh yeah, but it makes it hard to work the next day.”

“Yeah terrible hangovers.”

“Yeah and Koreans drink it like fish.”

“There are some crazy parties in Seoul man.”

“Whats soju?”

“Its like Korean vodka.”

“Vodka,” said the Canadian to his friend, the Russian.

“You’re Russian?” I asked him.


“What are you doing in Beijing?”

“I’ve lived here for over 8 years.”

“Wow that’s a long time, what are you doing here?”

“I just party full time, some clubs hire me to drink because it looks impressive when there are foreigners in clubs.”

“Hey kid! How old are you?” the Canadian discovered a Chinese kid squatting outside our circle.

He looked in curiously at our group, and was squatting opposite to where I was sitting, where I got a good look at him. He was short and dirty and sun tanned to the skin tone of the average Chinese labourer. He wore a buzz cut which showed the roundness of his chubby face and matched this with ragged plain clothes. There was a typical Chinese look to him and it was a look that you would see several times a day in a dirty crowded area in Beijing. He clashed with his present surroundings.

“He says he’s only 14.” One of the Chinese girls was translating.

“What are you doing out here? Where are your parents?”

“He says he doesn’t know.”

He remained squatting on his stubby short legs with his hands in front of him.

“What? Then what are you doing here? Why aren’t you home?”

“He says his home is in Inner Mongolia but he’s in Beijing to work.”


He answered placidly and did not seem upset that he was 14 and living hundreds of kilometers away from his parents and in the large impersonal city of Beijing to work.

“Do you want to join us? Come join us!”

“Yeah we should finish these beers and then get back inside the club.”

“Then let’s ganbei them, and finish it.”


After drinking I realized that the kid had disappeared. He had left to go back to his Beijing, which was the Beijing outside the lighted clean outdoor mall we sat in with its brand name stores, and towards the 3am darkness of Beijing’s streets, where he came to find work.

All of us finished our remaining beers and smoked our cigarettes, and we finally stood up to go back into the nightclub. We left the trash there because we knew someone would come and clean. Some dirty Chinese labourer would come and pick out the beers cans and beer bottles to exchange for some money. This made it convenient for us and we were content. Inside the nightclub we drank some more and danced funny dance moves.

Stars in Beijing


During one of my last nights in Beijing, I saw a familiar sight, one not oft seen when moving through the concrete jungles of Asia. All around me were the walls of the dusty hutongs, and as the group walked through a narrow alleyway, I just happened to look up. It was a rare night when the original lights in the dark sky made their appearance and shone their way into the vision of man past its successors which man built before it. It was a sight familiar but foreign, as I had grown accustomed to a life without them. Far above and beyond the touch of my outstretched hands, Orion and his belt reminded me of his flickering existence and told me not to forget his story, as it would not be visible to me for another many days to come. Three weeks have passed without me seeing this constellation.

I remember seeing the full splendour of a star-filled night during a middle school field trip to a distant camp site hours away from the promising lights of the city of Toronto. A group of classmates and I followed a camp counsellor outside, where there was organic life around and the clear night sky above. It was magical, observing the eternity of stars which blew up the heavens, and the vertical white streak of the Milky Way brushed right in the center.

Can you picture the skies as such? A cool midsummer midnight, in an open clearing, with grand trees surrounding cozily, being the edge of a forest whose depth is estimated with the profundity of darkness suggested between its members. All above, a boundlessness of stellar forms, created with chance and divine process, each patiently gliding through a blank black canvass as they head towards individual destiny. All below, man, small against the multitude, the grandeur, the truth. Time stops and so does thought, with only the infinity of the present. Man’s physical form is surpassed and the consciousness spreads whole.

Like many in the world, I am a city dweller who knows little about the awestriking entities sharing their natural illuminations with the world. Instead, I grew up with the lights of man, which are the lights of progress and promise; the lights that we incessantly follow as they blink close to us tantalizingly, blinding us and teasing us towards wishful manifestations of our desires. These reachable lights hang in the controlled environment of the city; the city whose physical representation is that of efficiency and logical conception. It is an environment safe and suffocating, precise and predictable, unnatural.

There was a 高考 (Chinese high school entrance exams) essay question that I read on the Internet one day. It was the following:

A grandfather and a grandson look out of a window in the evening. Lights twinkle here and there, and look like a rainbow. The little boy says, “How beautiful it is; without electricity, modern technology or high buildings, there would not be such beautiful sights.” The grandfather waved the head, fell into reflection, and said, “It’s a pity the sky with studded stars cannot be seen anymore. The ancient people who had bonfires beside the mountain cave, watched the moon and the stars, and could enjoy a more beautiful sight.”

There cannot be a co-existence between the lights of man and the lights of the stars. Although stellar illumination may dance in the background, quietly and steadily, with the same unchanging form of wisdom that intrigued our ancestors through the millennia, the obtrusive lights of man drown out the truth that they have continued to share, in loud, attractive bursts of excitement, competing with each other to call us in with their unique assortment of poisons. They get louder and louder as time goes by, trying to overcome one another, as the greatest and fanciest of lights seduce the greatest number of heedless fruit flies. The stars in the background continue to fade as the lights that are artificial and temporal outshine the lights that are eternal and true.






Picture is of the Hong Kong “the Symphony of Lights.” No stars were visible

China and Gross Overgeneralizations


It has already been over a month in Beijing. I cannot believe that time has passed so fast. It seems like last week when I first arrived, registered for the Chinese academy that I currently study at and spent a week and a half searching for a place to live. Already autumn is well underway and the cold approaches.

I have wanted to come to China for a very long time. Ever since the Shanghai Expo in the summer of 2010 I have wanted to come but could not. Even in the long four month university summer vacations afterwards I remember trying to find opportunities to come. Taiwan and a short stay in Korea, help from my parents with the Chinese visa and some luck (as applicants are required to go back to their country of citizenship to apply) has led to this stay.

Before coming here, I have heard from many non-Chinese sources about some “special” characteristics of the Chinese. In 2010, my parents used to scare me away from my desire to come to China by telling me a story about a Chinese taxi driver and a Korean couple. Apparently, a certain Korean couple snuck away from their package tour group to explore China on their own on a particular evening, taking a cab to start their adventure. The cab suddenly experienced problems and the driver asked the husband to push the cab from the back in order to provide momentum, leaving the wife in the cab by her lonesome. When the husband got out, the cab driver drove off into the night and the wife’s dead body was discovered the next morning with her organs missing. Apart from this story, I have heard other comments laced with misunderstandings. There were many times where I heard acquaintances that the Chinese were “the most pitiful people on the planet,” and other such unfair statements in different variations.

However, so far I am still healthy and with my organs intact. I have not been robbed or mistreated or beaten up. The most major things have been mild food poisoning after eating some street food in the middle of the night and a fever for a day for sleeping with my windows open. Contrary to what people say, the sun often shines very brightly in Beijing as it did today. Everything that I was told did not happen, except for my inability to use Facebook without a VPN.

I think that people often hear one or two things about the Chinese that creates this image in their heads. It is often not known to them how large a place China actually is. China has an area of 9,596,961km2 , which makes it slightly bigger than or smaller than the United States of America, depending on the source you consult. It is only slightly smaller than all of Europe (not just the European Union), which has an area of 10,180,000 km2. In terms of population, China is bigger than the USA (318,793,000) and all of Europe (742,452,000) combined with a population of 1,350,695,000 people. Certain Chinese cities are more populous than certain European countries. Shanghai is the most populous city in China and has a population of 22,315,426 people, which means that the Shanghainese outnumber all but nine of the fifty European countries. With bad news often being the best news for media companies, the one or two bad things that escape to the North American public are unfairly reflected onto the countless Chinese masses.

Unconsciously, this is unavoidable as our brains are hardwired to think this way. Our cognitive biases project individual characteristics onto the tribe, and are drawn to qualitative individual stories instead of quantitative data and numbers. Because of this, the Chinese are not the only one affected. We might hold certain unjustified feelings towards particular nationalities, subcultures or any distinct groups of people. Without our conscious awareness, the individual fades away and disappears into the crowd. Ultimately, it is us that prevent ourselves from obtaining the truth about people.









But there is one accurate bias. All Korean men smoke cigarettes, drink soju and have small eyes if they did not have plastic surgery.

Beijing Creature

IMG_20140913_211312[1]It was Saturday evening and I was walking along the 工人体育场北路. It was a broad road with traffic leading to 三里屯, which is an expat area. I was heading there to meet a friend. On both sides of the road were tall, modern structures which contrasted with simple street peddlers and the occasional dirty beggar. This was already a common sight for me and did not register as anything extraordinary.

In front of a luxury mall, I saw a sight that did catch my attention. It was the first time I saw anything like it. There was an implike creature sitting in front of a small speaker which was its equivalent in size. It seemed to be female with swarthy skin, wearing ragged, overworn clothing. With the size of a three year old, it looked to be less than human, with an appearance resembling a rat with a few loose strands for hair. Its age was indistinguishable. It held a microphone but was not moving its lips while the speaker played an upbeat Chinese pop song with the background music and the vocals. It could have been mistaken to be a badly made doll, as it emanated no force of life. Only its petite feet were moving, going up and down to the beat of the song.

It seemed that I was not the only one surprised by its figure, as other walkers, who were mostly middleclass Chinese young adults that would not even glance at other forms of destitution, involuntarily took a look at the creature, which was sitting on a short stool a few metres in front of stores that sold luxury brands. Then they continued to walk forwards towards shiny lights.

Afterwards I saw the creature again being moved to another location in a small trolley by nameless Chinese men who were indistinguishable with the masses. I had five mojitos that night.