For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by the people and cultures of the Far East. As a child growing up in 1980’s America, it was nearly impossible to ignore the news stories concerning Japan’s economic rise. Time and time again I would spot magazine covers referencing to America’s imminent economic decline. It was only a matter of time, these articles argued, that American workers would be bowing to their Japanese employers. Now, some thirty years later, many Americans are concerned about another growing East Asian power. The country I am referencing to of course is the People’s Republic of China. In order to find out whether or not these fears are well founded, I feel it is necessary for me to experience the country up close. This will allow me to get beyond the current news headlines and see if China has what it takes to become the world’s most dominant economic power.
As I arrive at Beijing Capital International Airport, I am greeted by my friendly tour guide who efficiently escorts me to my hotel. As I drop my bags off at my room, I experience the feeling of intense hunger. This fierce appetite of mine is the result of skipping all meals on the sixteen hour flight. Having successfully avoided jet leg on a flight to Japan two years ago by employing this method, I have attempted this trick again. There are not a whole lot of food options being that it’s ten o’clock in the evening and my hotel is located on the outskirts of the city. As a result, I grab some fast food at the shopping center across the street and return to my room to pig out in private. One of the nice things about this trip is that all of my lodgings are at four and five star hotels. I assume this is due to the fact that the average American earns so much more money than the average Chinese person. As a result, staying at four and five star hotels in China is a fairly affordable endeavor. As nice as it is to experience such luxury, I remind myself that the reason I am here is to absorb the local culture and get a sense of the country.
I am filled with much anticipation on my first full day in Beijing. After getting breakfast, I hang outside the hotel and wait to meet up with our tour group and guide. It has only been forty-five minutes and already my contact lenses are beginning to bother me. From where I am currently standing, the air quality in Beijing doesn’t appear to be too bad. The unexpected presence of trees all over the city only reinforces this initial impression. Yet as my throat starts bothering me and I let out a sneeze or two, I begin to realize just how wrong this initial belief is. It is at this moment that the decision is made to leave my contact lenses back at the hotel and instead wear my glasses for the rest of the trip.