Now depending on what part of the globe you’re in, Ni Hao either means a polite hello or is a colloquial w’sup. Either way it’s a greeting, but in this case it meant the former. Mandarin for Hello and about the extent of my language skills in China.
Beijing is a big city and I mean BIG, 11 million people strong. You start to understand this when you arrive at the airport and disembark with 400 other passengers, get to the immigration area and realize there’s another 600 folks in front of you and you are all processed within a half hour (Heathrow desperately needs to learn from these folks!). You’re whisked by high speed airport trains to the baggage station and that journey takes a few minutes, so yes, it starts to really dawn on you that this airport is HUGE.
Once on Beijing’s roads or rather superhighways, the sense of size again hits you. I’ve always known that China has the biggest population in the world, but seeing the infrastructure necessary to manage them is a whole other ball game. And then you learn about the car lottery where people have to wait to buy a car in Beijing because despite the superhighways the city is already congested and can only accommodate more vehicles under a very strict rationing system. Aha moment indeed.
My hotel was right near the Olympic Park with its veritable Birds Nest where we all watched from afar the Olympic opening ceremony that put China on the map in a whole new, BIG and beautiful way. On the first floor of my hotel I walked past the ballroom which had a HUGE picture of a baby outside. Picture Anne Geddes goes East. When I asked the staff what the photo was for it turned out that a party that was being held to celebrate the arrival of the l’il guy. It seemed a tad over the top until I remembered that people only get to have one child here so I guess their arrival is a major event that you will only experience once, so hosting 600 guests in a swanky hotel ballroom is how you celebrate.
The picture brought to mind a conversation I had with our tour guide on the way from the airport. She mentioned how her son was unique in his class because he had an uncle. Turns out her husband, who was somewhat older than her, was the second born child in his family. He was born just before the one child policy went into effect in 1980. So most Chinese kids only have 6 relatives. Their parents, and two sets of grandparents. No loving aunties, no siblings, no cousin brother, no kissin’ cousins, no weird uncle that we all hate to acknowledge but have to put up with. No obligations that come with extended family, but also no shared experience of hanging out with your cousins during school holidays and learning about the latest exploits of the black sheep of the family. Coming from a culture where family and relatives are paramount, that absolutely blew my mind. It turns out that the only thing small in China is family.