So many people, so little time

By Bryna Sim ( China Daily ) Updated: 2008-07-15 15:26:33

"Zai jian" (bye bye) Beijing, and "ni hao" (hello) Singapore. I have lived in Beijing for a year, spending most of my time studying history at Peking University - and what a roller-coaster ride this experience has been. I'll start with the small, albeit necessary to-dos of everyday life in terms of the food, the language, the places and the people.

Crunching on fried silkworms, stuffing down hairy ants, and having "mantou" (steamed bread) instead of rice as my main lunchtime carbohydrate: Memorable.

Debating whether Quan Ju De or Da Dong is the correct Peking duck powerhouse: Deliciously superficial.

Attempting to speak Chinese with the right Beijing twang, using deliberate drawls when saying "dui" (right) as "dweai" and addressing people as "nin": Unforgettable.

Spotting roadside signs and notices with Chinglish errors: Hilarious.

Strolling down hutong lanes like Nanluoguxiang, navigating the alleys of Liulichang and purchasing Mao memorabilia: Charming.

But ultimately, it's the people who take the cake.

I am Chinese, and Singapore is full of Chinese people. Yet while here, it never ceases to amaze me how many Chinese people there really are.

The massive human jam at Xizhimen transfer subway station during rush hour gives the phrase "packed like sardines" a whole new level of meaning. The throngs of young people on the streets at Wudaokou's noisy night market are also a sight to behold.

Yet I think that to find the most vivid and heartwarming memories, you often need to view Beijing residents from a micro, not macro, perspective.

The newspaper vendor, the photocopy shop lady and the fruit stallholder that I regularly frequent - these are everyday faces that I will recall clearly when I leave.

And how about the security guards at my dorm, who stand stiffly at attention before midnight but are found snoring away happily a few hours later? They too have shaped my impression of Beijing, in their own quirky way.

Each of these individuals that I've met in Beijing never fails to engage me with their life stories. They have such zest for life and a very strong sense of community, the latter of which I sense is fading away among my people back home. In the increasingly cosmopolitan, success-driven culture of Singapore, I fear that kinship and family ties are fast losing importance, as self becomes the order of the day.

Perhaps this might become the case in Beijing too, as time goes by.

But for now, I'm listening to the strains of happy-clappy music filtering through the train station (another pre-Olympic initiative, I'm sure) and I'm determined to let these lovely memories linger.

Oh yes, I must remember to get one of those "I Heart Beijing" T-shirts before I leave at the end of July.

(China Daily 07/15/2008 page20)

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