Currently I live together in an apartment with a 40-something year old bachelor who sleeps about 20 hours a day; the rest he spends in front of the computer doing “stock market” things. Whatever that means.
As a foreigner, you need to register your address in order to change your visa to a residence permit. My roommate never lived with a foreigner before; he didn’t understand the situation and got scared because he rented out my room without being a landlord or something, so he got really nervous and decided to ask a friend for help. He gave a suspicious amount of details about his friend: Born and raised in Beijing, likes to go out, good sense of style, actually a landlord, very intelligent etc. 30-something year old, so we should get along fine… Didn’t know that was relevant information for registering, but okay..
Yesterday I was finally introduced to the friend. Mr. Wang ( of course). He was in a wheelchair and had some kind of muscular dystrophy. My roommate needed to make a copy of my passport, so I ended up alone with his friend for 30 minutes. I tried making some small talk, but he had no control over his voice, so it was super hard to follow (he was really nice btw, not to sound rude or anything, he was just hard to follow). He offered me his gloves about 8 times. I kept telling him I wasn’t cold. That was about the extent of the conversation.
Anyway, we registered, all fine, then the lady behind the counter goes: “We talked on the phone didn’t we? I told you you didn’t have to bring a local, anyone in the same apartment would have been fine.” I look at my roommate who turns red and goes “oh..really?.. I must have forgotten”..
Then after registering my roommate goes: “Yating (my Chinese name), my friend is really into ‘western’ movies and music, and you like Chinese culture, so he would really like to add your WeChat and talk about …’your culture’. If you guys get along, maybe we can all go to dinner sometime soon. ”
I dunno, but I think I was part of a very odd elaborate matchmaking scheme…🤔🤔
“I am in such a hurry,” my roommate says to me one morning, cigarette in her left hand, head literally hanging in the sink trying to get off the cleanser.
She had a rough day at work the day before, and even after coming home immediately started working on another article she needed to finish before twelve that night. But not before her one hour lasting skin care routine. She finally sat herself down in front of her laptop at almost midnight. At least she wore a face mask. “It’s to keep my skin fresh while I’m working.”
Last month she went on a trip to Korea and literally deprived the country of every face mask it owns. They have different functions too; less visible pores, prevent deeper wrinkles, hydrate, brighten, whiten… “Why?” I ask, while holding up 10 packets in front of her face. “The quality in Korea is better, it’s best to buy in bulk” she says while rubbing in her face with a toner, or maybe a moisturizer, or maybe wrinkle cream. She goes to Korea regularly to buy beauty products.
Unrelated: It’s not uncommon. Many Chinese are skeptical about anything “made in China,” and who wants to go abroad to travel anyway? You go abroad to buy. I find it interesting, by the way, how uninterested a lot of people in Beijing are in travel. They want to go abroad for work or study or just for buying plain.. stuff, but exploring the world? Nah.
Despite being in such a hurry, she has the time to put on layers of skincare products. Occasionally, in the evening, after cleansing and moisturizing, there’s also this soft electrical brush to make your skin more elastic. Or at least that’s what I think it does. Four layers of whatever is in those bottles for the night, a face mask every other day, the brush every other 3 or 4 days, and some anti-wrinkle cream. For who knows what. And of course layers and layers of make-up in the morning, while already having flawless skin. Her sister is exactly the same, despite having a completely different background. Her facial routine takes one hour. Her make-up routine takes another hour. It includes colored lenses and fake eyelashes. I applaud her patience.
“I’m so scared of getting old” my roommate says.
In a society where nearly everyone is materialistic and extremely focused on the physical; it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this includes female appearance.But it goes beyond simply materialism.
It’s applauded. The sole reason my roommate takes care of her skin is to hear other people say she looks young for her age, that she looks 22 instead of 30. To have men pursue her for her looks. To hear on a daily basis how pretty she is. To hear she looks prettier than other women. It’s ingrained in their way of thinking, there’s peer pressure and fear involved, and it’s encouraged by men. Don’t get me wrong; women from all parts of the world deal with this, but the pressure is much higher here. I get criticized too.
The other day a man asked me how I take care of my skin before I go to sleep, because I have fine lines near my eyes and it worried him because ‘I’m only 26’. “I keep it hydrated because the air in Beijing is really dry” I said.
His reaction: “But then how do you stay young forever?”
“I don’t know, how do YOU stay young forever?”
“I don’t have to,” he says, “I’m a man.”
A shiver went down my spine realizing the deeper implications of that answer.
Here’s what someone told me about gender roles in China’s urban society:
“It’s what we, men and women, have been thought from birth. How we view men and women is part of our education system. But it’s been getting better. No, actually, it’s been getting more complicated. Urban women are getting more and more independent, and men are lagging behind because they refuse to acknowledge that things are changing. They appreciate a woman’s ability to take care of herself, but at the same time they can’t accept it. The problem with the so-called leftover women is not the women, it’s the men. It’s our fault for not recognizing and accepting change. If Chinese men don’t want to be alone forever, they’ll have to adapt too. But well, forget about that. We still have our parents to worry about first.”
“Is Bingbing related to you?” I ask my roommate, Bree, about the guy that sort of lives in our house but then sometimes just isn’t there. He’s been living in our apartment ever since I got here, but I’ve never seen Bree touch him or smile at him; so I just assumed maybe they were cousins or something.
“Bingbing is my pursuer,” she says while looking at her computer, pretending like that’s not weird at all.
“I’m sorry, what?”
She turns around. “Yes, you see, he is in love with me.”
“And you’re not in love with him?”
“I don’t follow; he lives here.”
“Bingbing has some issues to work out first.”
“And then you will love him?”
“Then he can officially pursue me.”
Bingbing was married before, has a kid and some problems to work out with his ex-wife. Meanwhile he lives in our apartment trying to get Bree to love him back. I asked if it was related to her age perhaps; Bree’s 35 and unmarried, and traditional views on love and marriage are still standing strong, even with current changes in society. Believe it or not, the versatile city of Beijing, with its QR codes, online shopping and payment through apps is still pretty “old-fashioned.” “No, I am just very individual” she says. She comes from a family where, at the dinner table, she had to sit up straight, talking was not allowed and she had to wait until her grandparents picked up their chopsticks before she was able to start eating. “My family had big expectations, but I’m lucky with my mother, she understands that the world is not the same anymore. I think 90 percent of Chinese families don’t think this way. You know, after the door opened to the outside world, the younger generation started to think about breaking free from traditional societal structures. The problem is that the door opened in the midst of tradition. No matter how much you want to escape, your first and foremost priority is the obligation you have to your parents.” She went on explaining that if your partner of choice is not to your parents’ liking, you’re most likely to break up even though you may really love someone. “But Bingbing is a really good guy. He is not like most Chinese men. Chinese men love to control women. We haven’t reached that stage of equality like in the west, we still adhere to the patriarch. Not many women have the opportunity to live a completely free life like I do. But then most women also just don’t know any better.”
Later I see Bree ordering Bingbing to do this, do that, get this, get that and literally disagreeing with all of his opinions.“You go girl,” I think to myself. #relationshipgoals
We have dinner together later that day, together with Bree’s sister and another mutual friend. The topic of beauty standards comes up. I name a few Chinese actors I think are handsome. “Ewwww no, they’re so ugly”both women yell at the same time. Turns out small eyes are not to their liking. The ideal man has big eyes and a longer nose, for starters. “What’s your ideal woman, Bingbing?” I ask him. He thinks for a while, says it’s different for everyone, but then still gives a very detailed answer: white skin, big eyes, long nose, tall, big boobs, skinny waist. “So basically what all of you want is a Chinese person that looks very western,” I say. It turns quiet for a few seconds. “Yes, I guess so, but almost nobody looks like that here” Bree says. “That’s a bit fucked up isn’t it?” I state. Everybody nods. I find out Anne Hathaway is the perfect woman. “She looks a bit Asian, bit “western”, tall, great body..”I also fall into the right category, the men state. I’m just not white enough. I move on to a different topic.
Later that week, 6 pm; I’m doing my make-up.
“You’re going out?” Bree asks.
“I’m going on a date” I reply.
Bree starts giggling. “Dearest… do you know what that word means in Chinese? It means you’re going out with someone on like a romantic level.”
“I know, I am doing that, sort of”
“Woowwwww, honey! You’ve found love!! I’m so happy for you! Congratulations!!”
“No no no, it’s not like that. I don’t know this person. We’re just going to have a drink and talk.”
This time it’s Bree who doesn’t understand what’s going on.
“Do you know how dating works where I’m from usually?” I ask.
She doesn’t know.
“Basically, you meet someone somewhere; maybe on the internet, maybe at a party or a café or something; then someone asks the other person to “go on a date” and you meet up to see if you like that person enough to go on a second date. If you do, you meet again; if you don’t, you just stop talking to each other altogether. You can have 5 dates and still decide to stop seeing each other, you can also decide to be in a relationship after 2 dates; it depends on the person.”
“Ohhhh. I had no idea it works like that.”
“What? How do you guys date then?”
“We don’t. We sort of meet and decide to be in a relationship the same day. Most people get to know each other through work or school, it’s easier to get familiar with a person faster.”
“But you guys have Tantan (Chinese Tinder) right? How does that work?”
“The same way. You meet and then you’re boyfriend and girlfriend”
“How do you know if you like each other?”
“If you don’t like each other you just break up. When you’re young that is. It becomes more difficult after thirty.”
“Isn’t my way of dating more convenient? Breaking up is always difficult and you may hurt the other person”
“You don’t think it’s a hassle to have to meet a new person over and over again until you find the right one?”
“Yes. I guess it is.”
“Different approach, same outcome” she concludes.
I go on my date. Turns out my date is some sort of an in denial anti-feminist, pro-gun American and Trump supporter, or at least supportive of some of his ideas.
Somehow I’m relieved I don’t follow the Chinese approach to dating.
He is one of my 4 new flatmates, and boy are they an interesting bunch. One of them is apparently really famous and Mr. Lim is his agent. This picture was taken on the day they arrived and when I didn’t know anything about them yet. I was doing my make-up in front of a mirror and Mr. Lim asked in his best English: ” Are you done makeupping? I wanna take picture.” He said he takes pictures of women to get into the Guinness book of records to be the first man to photograph a certain amount of women. He had thousands he said. I asked if he only photographed beautiful women, as a joke, and he said: “Nooo no no. Ugly Ugly.” My other flatmate; apparently a famous actor, assured me he was not a pervert. Then he quickly went in his room and put on a coat over his pj’s and this picture was taken. You can tell how comfortable I am from the look on my face.
Later I asked Mr. Lim what he was doing in China, you know, to be nice. His response: “Ohhh I escape from the North Korea. I run. Very very fast. I here for two weeks. My friend help me escape!” At first I was caught off guard a little by that response and I can be pretty naive and stupid, plus I didn’t know anyone..But then I turned to famous actor man and said: “He’s joking right? Tell me he’s joking.” To which his response was: “Have you ever seen such a fat North Korean?”
The other two flatmates are a mysterious Korean doctor experienced in Chinese medicine and a Jewish lady; Mr. Lim’s assistant. Mr. Korean Chinese medicine doctor did an acupuncture session on me today. It hurt and didn’t help. I’m not making assumptions. But I am. The lady is looking for synagogue life in Beijing. Is there such a thing?
First of all; don’t be an idiot like me and do a workout in a park in Beijing when the smog levels are high. How self-defeating can you be ?! I don’t know wat astma is like, but I think it felt pretty similar. I also have a throat infection. It’s great.
Also: After 10 minutes of push-ups and pull-ups people started applauding and surrounding me while taking pictures. Then one guy was brave enough to stop staring and/or filming and engage in conversation.
“Is it ok if I take a picture?”
– You’ve been taking pictures before you asked this question
“You speak Chinese!!!”
“You have a really good body”
– Thank you
“Really strong and balanced”
“You did pull-ups!”
– Yes I did
“Where are you from?”
– The Netherlands”
“Your Chinese is good!”
– Thank you (He based that on the many thank you’s I’m sure)
“They speak Chinese in the Netherlands?!”
– No, I studied Chinese
“In the Netherlands?”
– In the Netherlands
“Can I take some more pictures?”
– … sure
* I did some split-squats; like a squat on one leg*
– uhm….thank you
“You must need a lot of “Qi” for that”
– Excuse me?
“The balance in your body, I’m sure it requires a lot of Qi.”
– Oh.. yes. Yes it does. Lot’s of.. Qi…
“You have a Chinese tattoo?!”
– That’s what it says
“Can I take a picture of that as well?”
– yeah sure….
“A foreigner who loves Chinese culture, wonderful!”
I passed by a heavily meowing car on my way back from a birthday party.
I went back and got on my knees to check underneath the car, inside the wheels, put my ear near the hood, tapped on the windows. The meowing got worse and I was super worried. It looked like this cat really needed help.
It sparked some attention. Within 5 minutes there were three other people looking for the meow. “It’s stuck in the engine”, a man said. “Can we get it out?” I asked. “You need to call the police.”
I tried the animal rescue service first, but their 24hour service apparently didn’t count anymore after 11. Then I had someone else call the police: “Yeah hi, we’re looking for the owner of this license plate (… )..yeah there’s a cat stuck underneath the hood. No I’m not joking. Ok thanks.”
“They’ll call you back when they find the owner and the police will come crack open the hood”
“Crack it open?! Can’t the owner just .. open it?”
“They’ll call you back.”
After that he walked off!! The other men also left in the meantime. Thanks for all the help buddies….
Then the meowing disappeared… I was afraid something may have happened, so I started tapping on the car again. Suddenly there was a faint meow in the distance, like at the other side of the street; THE SAME MEOW!
At the same time the police called back; wanted to know the street name and said they’ll be right over.
THEN the man who helped me call the police came back..He had woken up his wife for this event and wanted her to help look as well!!
And then.. a sneaky little bastard asshole cat crossed the street….
We all looked at each other in silence. “You uh..better call the police and say you’ve found the cat…” I did. I could hear the police was very pleased with this news by the swearing in the background.
I got lost in the Beijing suburbs/construction area for a good 2.5 hours and was brought home by a complete stranger
So, Beijing is this massive city with too many people. In my district alone, it takes like a few hours by bicycle to get from north to south. Bicycle you say? Yes; because there are so many people, you’d basically be stuck in traffic 24/7. I live 10 or so km from work and it takes me over 2 hours to get there if I take the bus.
What do you do when there’s no subway station near your house? You get a bicycle. So today, I went to the gym after work on my brand new free bike (thank you work). The gym however, is 10 km extra in the opposite direction of where I live, meaning it would take 1.5 hours to get back home. But make that 2, because Beijing traffic is insane.
I used this app that replaces Google maps in China which worked great the first 5 km to the gym. However, it’s not always as accurate as you want it to be and of course, it kills your battery. My battery was half empty already before taking off because I was too busy taking pictures of myself in the gym (… yes).
The first 30 minutes or so went great. Then it got really dark. Then at some point the app sent me on the highway with 1% battery left, which is when I realized I looked up the route by car (also stupid). I went on my own little adventure and just kept going straight hoping there’d be a crossroad or something where I could turn right. The app literally said I just needed to turn right somewhere and then It’d just be straight ahead for another 9 km.
I turned right into a smaller street. Then suddenly I realized the fact that I could still see the road was because there were other cars driving back and forth. When the last car passed by it was pitch black. Then of course my phone died. So there was no light, utter darkness, and I didn’t know where I was. Slight panicky moment here. No crying, but a little shaky. Started talking to myself mostly to reassure myself that everything was going to be absolutely fine.
Instead of going back, like any normal person would do, I just kept going into the darkness hoping I’d end up somewhere familiar. No houses either, just construction site (where some light came from, occasionally) and slums. Then a taxi drove by. I waved at it like a crazy person. “Your bike is too big,” the driver said while driving off. ”I’ll leave it on the side of the road!!” I yelled. That didn’t help.
Then some strange man (with a car) resting on the hood sort of appeared out of nowhere. “Where are you heading?”
“I’m lost, I need to go to the art district.” I said. “No worries, I’ll take you there.”
See, this sounds ideal right? He seemed genuine, helping out a lost foreigner. But I just.. couldn’t. I was too scared. “Never get into a car with a stranger.” So I walked off. ”Hey! The art district is in the other direction! Hey! Come back!! You’re going the wrong way!” I said sorry a couple of times. I guess I did feel guilty.
Then a car stopped. I ran towards it. “Could you maybe please call a taxi? I’m lost and my phone ran out of battery.” The driver didn’t have time to help, but pointed at a store I completely missed (store as in like.. this.. vendor-thing built into the construction site wall).
3 men were standing outside, then this conversation happened:
” = me
– = sales person
$ = another dude
% = another dude
“Could you please help me call a taxi?”
– For what?
– Where do you need to go?
“The art district”
-Oh that’s easy, I’ll show you the way
“No don’t show me the way, I just arrived in Beijing, I know absolutely nothing and my phone has no battery. Please call a taxi”
– Hahahah no more battery. You foreigner. You need to buy a power bank.
% They’ll never take your bike with you
“That’s fine, I’ll leave it here”
-Here? Better put if over there then
“Whatever, call me a taxi, please”
% Why don’t you take her?!
– I can’t
% Where did you come from just now?
” Far away
% (said something I didn’t understand)
” I’m sorry I didn’t understand that”
– She doesn’t speak Chinese
$. She speaks Chinese just fine
“Can you call me a taxi or not?”
– See, the problem is, it costs money
“I have money, I’ll give you money, I’ll give the driver money, I don’t want to bike, I want a taxi”
– Let’s see (looks at phone).. don’t know the number, what’s the number?
% I don’t have a number
$. I don’t have a phone
– Seriously, I’ll show you the way
“No really, I don’t want to bike, it’s too dark, I can’t see anything
– It’s dark everywhere. Why did you decide to bike?
“I’ve been biking for hours, because, you know, I GOT LOST”
% Where do you work?
“The Sanlitun area”
– That’s extremely far from here
“I know, I just said I needed to go to the art district”
-That’s not very far from here
“YES, I KNOW”
% Have you been biking before?
“This is my second time biking in Beijing”
– HAHAHA foreigner getting lost in Beijing.. (stops laughing and puts on a serious face).. then again I would also get lost in a foreign country. I get it.
% There are some cars that have room for a bike, that’s a better option
“YES, yes, call them.
– I don’t have a number, do you have a number?
% *checks phone* No, no number
$ Just take her there!
% Yeah, take her! We can use some rope for the bike.