This article is part of China Insight, a series of articles by NBR writers in China and Evanston examining the many issues that make China what it is today in the world economy.
My name is Matthew Rosen, and I am a junior at Northwestern with a major in Economics and a minor in both Chinese and Business Institutions. Currently, I am taking my fall quarter abroad in Beijing to study Mandarin in a semester language intensive program at Beijing Foreign Studies University (colloquially known as Bei Wai Da Xue). Leaving the Peking International Airport on my way to Bei Wai’s campus in Beijing’s Haidian District, Beijing’s incredible population was immediately apparent. People are literally everywhere. As a result, many byproducts of such a densely populated area affect daily life, such as pollution and constant traffic, just to name a few.
Nonetheless, Beijing is a very inviting city with much to offer. Coming from New York, I know that city people are not necessarily the most friendly and might not go out of their way to help a stranger in need – let alone a foreigner. Not the case in Beijing. On numerous occasions I have had people lead me to the closest subway stop when I ask them in my Chinglish where it is – sometimes the subway stop is even out of their way. Such hospitality is not what I expected coming to a city with a population of roughly 20 million.
Probably my favorite part of Beijing has been the Hutongs. If you are not familiar with them, Hutongs are small, self-sufficient communities that decorate the alleyways of Beijing. They have clothing stores, small food shops, religious shops, food stands, and tea houses, among other things. Behind the shops are smaller alleyways that lead to different homes in which the people that operate in the Hutong live in. I find them very interesting because they are communities that are almost separate from the greater Beijing area and in a way have their own economy.
Going along that point, the food places I frequent are all mom and pop stores that are run by a single family; I rarely go to a restaurant where there is formal seating unless in a big group. If you want to eat cheap in this city, the best way to do so is to stick to the street vendors that line the streets in most communities. This is a very local thing to do and most foreigners stick to the bigger commercial areas because they fear the cleanliness. In fact, I don’t think that I have eaten at one place that would pass a health inspectors test. Its part of living in Beijing: if you get over the sanitary factors, you will live a true local life style and be smart economically. Moreover, the type of person that eats at these vendors ranges from business men all the way to the visibly poor.
China and the way that its economy operates are more different than anything I have ever experienced. While you might read about China in the newspapers everyday, actually experiencing it is another thing. In my future posts, I hope to provide a perspective from within this superpower and give some insight into how it could possibly affect the United States and our global economy.