Every Day in China Holds a Surprise

Guest Post: Marlon Gonzalez

I have been in China for over four months now, and I can honestly say that every day I find myself asking, “Did that really just happen?” because so many odd things happen in China. At a certain point I started anticipating surprises, and right one cue China delivers. Some of the people who have been in China for years have told me that there are just some things that you can’t explain. As much as they might hurt your brain it is best to let them be, and in the four short months that I’ve been here I have a few examples which have made me scratch my head.

The first time that I was completely baffled by China was probably a week or two after arriving in Beijing. In my time of being in the People’s Republic an entirely new restaurant had opened up in my neighborhood. One day there were people soldering on a makeshift ladder without eye protection and another day I was having noodles at the recently opened Muslim-Chinese restaurant. This was highlighted again when I was in class late at night and I could see the sparks of people welding blocks away. China is always moving. It is always working. To cap off this experience, one day in my Chinese class there were four or five men that entered the room without knocking, and they started fixing something at one of the ends of the room. The moment they left I realized that nothing close to that would happen in the US while class was in session.

In addition to the construction making me question the reality of my experiences the pollution has also makes me question the reality I exist in. In mid-December, the AQI (air quality index) reading was well over 500 for a couple of days. For those who have not experienced this phenomenon before, an AQI reading of over 500 is terribly hazardous to breathe in and cuts your visibility. Being outside honestly felt like being part of a post-apocalyptic society where people could still grab coffee from the nearby French styled bakery. Slowly the wind was taking some of the pollution with it, however, in an unexpected turn of events, within 12 hours the wind took most of the pollution with it and there was a sharp drop from approximately 480 to less than 20 (a healthy amount of particulates in the air) in. Lost for words, I looked outside my window at 2 am, and I could clearly see the cars driving on the 3rd Ring Road.

On a higher note, China has definitely surprised me in positive ways. For example, after a couple of months in China, my friends and I went to a Tex-Mex restaurant in Sanlitun (the international hub within Beijing) to celebrate a friend’s birthday. After weeks of not having any Latin food I was quite ecstatic to see an authentic burrito on my plate! In addition, I ended up meeting the owner, a fellow Angelino who moved to Beijing years ago, by singing “Las Mañanitas” (a Spanish Birthday Song) with my friend. Honestly, the best surprises that I’ve experienced so far have been the people I have come in contact with. Everyone from the street vendor outside my college who befriended me, to the amazing HelloChinese staff, and to the energetic foreigners I play pick-up soccer with. All-in-all, I have experienced surprises on a daily basis, and I now look forward to what else will come my way!