China Series: Disenchantment

Boy am I homesick as the holiday season rolls around yet once again.

Where is “home?” Right now, it’s somewhere with continuous sunshine under a blue sky, and brunch. Preferably I’d have both, simultaneously. Maybe a view of the beach thrown in here and there. Definitely not what I see out my window every morning when I open my eyes. I want to prepare for the “cold” season by surrounding myself with autumn-themed decor, ordering hot cups of sugar water from Starbucks, and listening to that never-ending loop of preemptive Christmas music.

But alas, it is but a wish, even with Santa in the picture.

Welcome to Beijing, China, where instead of pretending to fight off the cold, it is actually getting very noticeably cold. Here, you can’t survive without one of those “down jackets” that simultaneously keeps you warm and breaks the wind. I think my childhood memories failed to convey the temperature changes, making me ill prepared for the hibernation season ahead.

But of the things I do remember, I am saddened to find them stripped away of its former glory in my mind. It is no news that China has modernized at an astounding pace over the past few decades. At the heart of this change is, of course, the Beijing capital.

But modernization means, in part, the disintegration of the old, and integration of the new. When one walks the streets of Beijing today, one will no longer find street vendors running about selling various treats, from traditional 糖葫芦(hardened syrup-coated hawthornes on a stick optionally wrapped in rice-paper) on bikes, to chestnuts roasting in the open air, attracting customers wherever it went with its nutty scent.

Gone are the goods sellers in the subway tunnels, with clothes and knick knacks from other provinces for prices cheaper than any physical shop. Gone, also, are the indoor sellers who provide leftover factory pieces at a bargain. To the best of my knowledge, these business practices are no longer allowed. In this visit of Beijing, I have not found any place where the price is negotiable, save the overpriced “bargaining markets” which act as tourist attractions for foreigners.

Inside this city today, one can only go inside malls and chain or private stores with set prices for goods. I only go inside malls here to eat food provided by chain restaurants, because an article of clothing from a chain store will run from a few hundred yuan to thousands of yuan. It’s a blessing I have a down jacket on hand, because one of those will run from 1,000 rmb and up. That’s actually a modest estimate, because it’s realistically more so around 5,000 rmb if you still want to be warm in the death of winter.

I can only imagine the hardships of those on the lower-income side of the population in this increasingly pricey city. But I guess that’s the catch of development — not everyone can match its pace. How can a country realistically rectify such disparities? I wish I could tell you, really.

Kat Dai is an International Security and Conflict Resolution major and Chinese minor. She is studying at the University of Peking for an academic year.

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