Our time in Beijing has drawn to a close, and as we embark towards Shanghai, I sit here on the train reflecting on my first truly international experience. From cultural visits to traveling through the city as a typical American tourist, I gained a deeper understanding of Beijing and the culture that drives it. Visits to the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City revealed the magnificence and scope of Chinese history, and I can only marvel at these architectural achievements that not only rival but surpass many buildings and monuments of today, both in sheer size and grandeur.
Playing the role of tourist is always a fun time, but by doing so I opened myself up to the countless vendors and shopkeepers strewn along these tourist traps, appearing as someone who would actually be interested in the useless tchotchkes and souvenirs that they were offering. The local businesses are very aggressive when it comes to sales, approaching you immediately as you enter the store and constantly pandering products regardless of your interest or willingness, and the street vendors are even worse, hounding you as you walk down the street, sometimes following us for several blocks using the age old technique of “if I bother them enough maybe they will give me money to go away”. However, when it comes to international firms, such as Burger King and Starbucks, and the more established businesses in China, we see a much more Western influence to their business practices, emphasizing consumer choice and respect and allowing customers to choose products without pushing their own views.
While these institutions were a welcome and familiar sight in the alien environment of China, they were not quite the same as their American counterparts. At Burger King, there were additional toppings on the burgers, such as pepperoni and ham, and different spices were used on the chicken and other breaded items. The additional meats on the burgers could be an attempt to make the burgers more of a Western novelty, or simply to appeal to the Chinese palate, as the spices were used to do so. They also had a wider range of drinks, offering various teas and milk based drinks in addition to the soft drinks that are a common sight in American fast food restaurants. This was true for Starbucks as well, with offerings of boba and distinct teas and flavors unique to Asia and China. Starbucks also offered additional food choices, with traditional dumplings and red bean cakes next to the scones and muffins that were so familiar a sight.
Traveling through Beijing was an eye-opening experience, and from their aggressive sales tactics, intimidating architecture, and intense and flavorful food I truly saw the power of Beijing. This is definitely a destination to which I would like to return, and I only hope that Shanghai can match Beijing and continue to impress me on this incredible journey.