YESTERDAY I GOT a glimpse of how architectural contrasts provide unique insight into a city’s history. Today, I was blessed for the opportunity to have local friends take me to their Beijing. There’s a certain exoticism you’d think of, considering the cultural differences between you and the locals you meet. But as fellow young people, there are certain things common among all of us in terms of hobbies: meet up, eat out.
This part of town is Zhongguancun, at the centre of at least two major universities (Peking University and Renmin University) as well as many smaller ones. So there’s little surprise that businesses targeting young people cluster here. Nor is it any surprise that being some distance from the city centre, much of the development is fairly new. Consequently the lifestyle many students, including our new friends, showcased to us in this part of town is not very different from that back home: a meeting over dinner, with the odd alcohol too.
Interestingly, the restaurant we went to has a completely traditional mock-up: a large gate at the front, two storeys with private rooms upstairs, and the prominence of bamboo. My friends tell me that this cuisine is actually from Nanjing – it’s not quite ‘local’. But it certainly is nothing like the Chinese food outside China, with its series of house specialities.
Could we say that tradition lives on in the setting of this restaurant? Perhaps. But there is also a sense that the ‘meet up, eat out’ routine has become part of the globalised lifestyle. Or, of course, that’s just the universal human social thing – we even played a game that was native to China, but has a direct equivalent in the English vernacular. But it’s the subtle things within that culture that make us unique. The table manners – who pours for whom; who offers the food. The way we play the games; how each social group has its own set of rules (or invents it!). What we talk about – the cultural sharing is always fun. It takes some experience and observation – but it only makes it the more fun.