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Surprising China

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We have a new employee at work.  She hails from Guangzhou in the south of China and has been in Beijing for one and a half years.  She is a 30 something television producer and speaks excellent English.  During a lull in the action today we got to talking.  It was great to transcend the language barrier and have an in depth conversation with a local.  She said she thinks many people have misconceptions about China and asked me what I find surprising so far.  Wow!  There are so many things.


First of all, I feel much freer here than I expected to be.  I may be naïve but I doesn’t seem like anyone is looking over my shoulder or particularly cares what I say or write.  I also have access to almost all the things I want on the internet including newspapers from around the world.  Folks talk about the great firewall of China.  I haven’t really noticed it yet.      


There are many westerners living in Beijing.  Because of the explosive growth, people have come from all over the world to participate in the development.  There are parts of town like Shunyi and Gongti Beilu full of expatriates.  They live here with their families and send their kids to excellent schools.  They celebrate Canada Day and the 4th of July.  A friend of mine who has lived here for two years doesn’t want to leave. 


Young people here are hip and trendy.  They go out.  They enjoy clubs and western music like people their age around the world.  They dress like American or European youth.  Women wear funky, sparkly outfits and colorful shoes.  Men have longish hair.  They have style, money, cell phones, even cars.  What a difference a generation makes.


The food is great here.  You can eat Chinese food forever or you can go to outstanding restaurants in an evolving culinary environment that caters to more cosmopolitan palettes.  In our neighborhood alone we have Italian, Mexican, Korean, pizza, Cuban food, an Irish pub, Muslim food, etc.  The list goes on and on.  There are gourmet grocery stores, excellent wines and French bakeries with croissants and cappuccinos. 


It is inexpensive here.  You can ride a cab across town for $5 and get an hour massage at a really nice spa for $25.  A first class meal with drinks and wine costs less than $50.  You can have a good time at very little expense and you can shop till you drop.  There are bargains galore. 


It is safe.  I can walk on the street and no one bothers me.  People smile and greet you.  They let you take photos of their children.  The biggest hazards are traffic accidents (I heard there were 18,000 deaths in a three month period in 2007) and drinking too much at dinner.  The guide books warn that liquor flows freely at banquets.  One must watch out.   


I had many misconceptions before coming to China but being immersed in the culture gives me a different perspective.  It is an adventure living in a foreign land.  There are growing pains for sure in China, and they are being carefully chronicled by the press, but in my experience the truth is somewhere in between.  I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the things I discover every day in Beijing.  I’m sure my colleague would be pleased. 

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Author: Vicky Collins

Vicky Collins is a freelance television producer and journalist based in Denver, Colorado with a diverse portfolio of projects that including network news, cable programming, Olympic sports, corporate and non-profit videos. She is also an accomplished writer and photographer who is particularly interested in world travel and issues of global poverty. Some of her most satisfying assignments have been covering disasters, working in the slums of developing countries and telling stories of people who show great courage in the face of adversity. She has been in all 50 states and on six continents and many of her television stories and photos are posted on her website at To contact Vicky Collins directly email or tweet @vickycollins.

One thought on “Surprising China

  1. Vicky, you are already statrting to sound Chinese, In America we say a year and a half not “one and a half years”
    Keep up the good work it’s a pleasure reading your impressions from China.

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