Beijing Backpacking, Day 25: Being Yourself, Not Caring, and Fitting In

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IT’S A GIVEN in any country that there will be everyday practices you’re not used to. The particularly interesting thing about China, however, is that there is this paradox of a culture where individuals are all expected to continue to this overarching social cohesion; while at the same time, their more superficial public behaviours show some sense of indifference or nonchalance for the way they are perceived in public. Take the disregard towards traffic regulations, or public spitting. Or, among the men, something I haven’t seen anywhere else: on a hour summer day, they have no shame in flipping up their shirts and hanging out their bellies for the world to see.

If this indifference is tolerated in even the most public locations, such as the subway or in upscale districts, then it is not difficult to imagine the nonchalance towards public face in a more casual setting. Out here, the (relatively) suburban areas are where the everyday Beijingers cool off over beers and skewers. Yes, they spot on the street, burp and talk loudly. But don’t be daunted; of anyone in this city, they’re the most glad to see you in public and the most easy to approach.

If you’re game, it’s the perfect combination: the food is cheap, the beer is cold, and the people friendly, the best glimpse of the ‘real’ Beijing. If culture shock is affecting you, cooling off is also a great way to chill out and relax. Just don’t become too nonchalant yourself!

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