I continue to soul-search in my second year in China. I tried to be honest with myself, go beyond the surface, and figure out my areas of improvements. The conclusion includes: understanding the state politics of the country, knowing the critical industry terms in Mandarin Chinese, and get my head around economics and business.
It’s easy to be distracted in an information-overloaded world with endless social media, email and messaging notifications. After learning about Prof. Carl Newport’s argument on the importance of deep focus yields better productivity, I decided to cut down my social media posting and consumption to focus on my goals.
Here’s a look back at 2017:
Lunar New Year Celebrations
I stayed in Beijing to experience China’s most important holiday of the year: Lunar New Year, also known as the Spring Festival in China. The majority of the country comes to a halt as Chinese take breaks from work up to seven consecutive days.
Immigrants in Beijing, which the city reports 8 million of them, return to their home province for family reunions during this period. Many residents also take advantage of the extended holiday to travel. Some locals who drive regularly notice a drastic difference on the road with tolerable traffic.
I visited holiday fairs at the city’s parks and temples.
Safety issues aside, I was fascinated by the Chinese light up small-scale fireworks individually anywhere on the streets. I was more familiar with large-scale and orchestrated fireworks performance in Hong Kong and the States. Therefore, all these uncoordinated fireworks pop up everywhere were new to me. I cycled past a few spots with fireworks residuals fell on me. I narrated this video below to illustrate the scene.
My maiden Chinese dumpling-making party
People showed me the ropes how to fold Chinese dumplings at a social gathering. I had never made one before. My friends recognized the ones I wrapped because they tend to have fewer fillings than others. Making homemade dumplings around Lunar New Year is more of a northern Chinese family ritual. As a southern Chinese residing in the north, I was glad I finally learned how to make them.
I recalled my first year in China, I experience dried cough, runny nose and even fell ill during bad pollution days. I noticed every time I returned from an overseas trip; I would be sick. I puzzled over an explanation why the frequent illness as I’m relatively healthy. A health industry contact said falling ill is a process of my body adjusting to a new (more polluted) environment.
I overcame this problem in my second year. I think three reasons may contribute to why:
- My body is acclimatized.
- The air pollution has improved. I experienced many clear skies and even saw beautiful sunsets.
- As I pointed out in my first Chinaversary post, I cycle regularly. My commute to the office is 10 km one way. I love cycling to exercise, do my part to reduce CO2 emission, and avoid overcrowded subway cars.
Fun adventures with my bike
Speaking of my fondness for biking everywhere, I once snugged my folding bike in a nightclub’s cloakroom. Like my friends, I was equally amazed by this possibility as they store their backpacks with laptops and reporter’s notebooks. It was an ad-hoc decision to the nightclub after a hotpot dinner with a few European journalists. They wanted to decompress from covering a major political event, China’s parliamentary session.
I regret I didn’t record the moment with a photo.
The club’s WeChat service account cataloged my belongings after I scan their QR code. My WeChat chatbox displayed an autogenerated text with a number belongs to the section where my belongings placed.
See how WeChat has integrated into the life of young and tech-savvied consumers in China? WeChat Pay is also accepted as payment for the binoculars on a section of the Great Wall in Tianjin, a port city southwest of Beijing. I saw it in September 2017.
Warning: The next encounter is slightly gross
As spitting is a familiar scene in China, it’s wise to be aware of the surrounding to avoid the spits. I tried my best to dodge them, even when I’m cycling! One time, a man in a motorbike two feet in front of me spat sideways. Not spitting to the ground could reach my face. I saw it, disgusted, and braked as fast as I could to minimize the impact. It was a dangerous move if cars were behind me as I stopped the bike abruptly, but luckily there weren’t. Oh, and the spit didn’t land on my face. I cleaned my bike that evening.
Food delivery is a norm in China’s first-tier cities. I notice more recruitment ads for delivery workers in March. Some explained the recruitment uptick is due to many Chinese switch jobs or move after the Chinese New Year holiday.
The delivery personnel zigzags around town is a part of the modern China landscape. They always hurry to deliver food on time. If they were late in fulfilling the order, their employer would deduct a fine from their paycheck. This New York Times article explains their lower-income salary. Knowing this fact, I often let them pass me (biking) when we are stuck in traffic, as they tried to get ahead.
New Yorker friends visit
It was fun hosting a few New Yorkers friends in Beijing. I was delighted listening to the heavy New Yawk (York) (Italian-Americans in Brooklyn specifically) accented conversations and appreciated their directness. Put me right back in the Big Apple. I attempted to shout my favorite question, “Oi, where’s my caaufee (coffee)?”I look forward to a similar observation with the Beijing accent one day after capturing the essence.
Localizing my Mandarin
I realized my Mandarin vocabulary is insufficient and lacking colloquialism. It’s common among non-native language learners, who didn’t grow up or live in the environment, using the language on a daily basis. So, I rolled up my sleeves to memorize relevant industry vocabulary with a private Mandarin teacher, listening to Chinese radio programs, have causal social conversations with language partners. I also asked native Beijingers to teach me their dialect and terms only used by them. My reading skill is more comprehensive than my speaking and listening skills.
When mainland Chinese asked me where I’m from, I often make them guess first to see how my accent in Mandarin gives away.
I pointed out in my first Chinaversary post that I’m sometimes mistaken as Korean because of the Asian face and I speak Mandarin occasionally with wrong tones and odd sentence structures.
In my second year, the guesses of my origin have expanded to Singapore and overseas in the West, besides Hong Kong.
One Didi (a ride-hailing giant in China, Uber’s rival) driver pierced my veil while conversing in the car. He noticed I form my Mandarin Chinese sentence structure from English. He said I learned Mandarin Chinese later in life, which is accurate.
The temperature swells in the Chinese capital. A few weeks in June, my apartment’s air conditioner broke. But I maintained my optimism to find solutions and even joked with friends about a free sauna and hot yoga room at my place. A married couple who lives about 2 kilometers away donated their fan to me. A neighbor across the street was kind enough to lend me his tricycle to transport it. He is a retiree whom I always say hello and make small talks.
I joined several foreign correspondents and friends to hike and stay at their countryside cabin near that Great Wall over a weekend.
I began to take self-defense lessons. I’m hooked after a trial session with Krav Maga. It’s a hand-to-hand combat system of the Israeli Defense Forces. Not only it’s practical to protect me against unwanted sexual advances, common chokes, and armed robberies, but I also find it fun and an excellent workout to relieve stress.
I tried moxibustion (艾灸). It’s an ancient Chinese fire acupuncture therapy. A friend who is a Ph.D. candidate of Chinese medicine practiced her skills on me.
Life is short
I went to a fellow female journalist’s memorial service in Beijing. I haven’t known Kim Wall for very long but was shocked to learn about her death from the journalists’ community.
Beijing municipal government began to renovate the hutongs (Beijing’s ancient alleyway) in the beginning of 2017 to clean up illegal infrastructures, which included bricking up businesses’ front door facing the main alley. Patrons can only enter through a side door (if any), or through an entrance in a courtyard house. Otherwise, the businesses would be folded.
I witness some demolitions in my neighborhood. The workers knocked down the glass door of a restaurant at 3 pm, and by 11 pm, they piled bricks to fill the hole in the wall (literally).
I reluctantly dined at a North Korean restaurant in Beijing with associates who picked the place. I was fascinated by the decor and food. But I also hesitated about supporting the business because some North Korean restaurants outside the country send money back to the regime. More on this from a New York Times story. I shot and edited a quick video with a live performance at dinner. The dining room was empty except our table and a few private rooms were occupied on a weeknight.
The Chinese capital held its 19th party congress, which happens once every five years, in October. I heard many large-scale conferences in town were canceled leading up to the political season. It is to ensure the city is secure. With the tight security measures, courier services were affected, and consumers took longer to receive their packages.
The last week of October is the time to view Gingko trees turning from green to yellow. Here is what I saw at Ditan Park, north of Second Ring Road near Lama Temple in the Dongcheng district of Beijing.
Like any worldwide metropolitan city, Beijing is transient. I bid six fond farewells in 2017. I look forward to hearing their future endeavors. We feel anxious sometimes when we compare ourselves to others who seem to be ahead of us. But I came across this motivational speech to curb that thinking as we work on our own timeline.
I was awarded the Dinah Eng Fellowship to attend a leadership training in New York. Thank you, Asian American Journalists Association for granting. I’m now a 2017 AAJA Executive Leadership Program (ELP) fellow.
I moderated a panel at a journalism conference about media entrepreneurship in Asia. Here’s my promo video.
Thank you for reading this post. I look forward to discussing my experiences with you. Keep pushing and happy holidays!