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Living in Beijing

Living in a residential home

guarded-residential-homeThe housing situation is most difficult in Beijing and all the apartments for foreigners are strictly controlled. The residential accommodation for foreign students was as easy to enter as fort knox. At 24.00 o clock the doors would be locked, which meant that I would have to be home at 23.45. Coming home late would mean I had to wake the second guard. These guys are heavily armed, so it is not the most enjoyable thing to talk to them and indeed these guys can get really angry.

Staying home is although not to enjoyable since at 23.00 o clock the power is switched off. I think the reason is that many chinese students love to play video games at night. The legend goes that at one time to many students did not appear to the early lectures, which is why the university decided to turn off the power at night. The funny thing about this is that the hardcore gamers have a kind of battery in their room, which charges during the day.

daily life at the campus

students-taking-a-breakThe daily life in the university is humble but very comfortable. The campus provides the students with everything they need. You can eat in the canteen, buy pens and books in the local shops and dozens of restaurants offer all kind of food. In the "european restaurant" they even have a "German" meal, which is a slice of toasted bread with mayo and a tomato. I do not know, why they think this would be a german meal, but I am delighted that they do not think that "Bratwurst with Sauerkraut" would be a typical german dish. At the university you can also do sports, play tennis or basketball, go to the gym or go running. Sometime it feels a little bit like the university at home in Bochum except that everybody is speaking chinese.


visiting friends

slippers and socks

When you visit friends at their home or when they visit you at your place. Be prepared that Chinese people do not walk in (street) shoes in their house. Walking arround in your bare feet is not accepted either, since many Chinese people strongly believe that you become ill, when your feet get cold. (In former times Chinese people believed that all the organs of somebody are represented at the feet.) So be prepared to to put on some slippers and when guest are visiting you have some slippers available.

What to give? What not to give?

As in every culture giving certain things as a present has certain meanings, but the meanings can be very different from western culture to asian culture. In China you can certainly give someone flowers, but it would be even nicer, when you give an even number of flowers (two, six, eight...). While in China it is nice that everything comes in pairs in western culture a symmetric look is more important. Therefore, you would give an uneven number (three, five, seven...) to someone living for example in Germany.

However, you should not give someone four flowers. In general the number four (si) is avoided at all costs, since it sounds like the word for death (si). In China people do not want to live on the fourth floor, they do not want to sit on a seat with the number four and they pay good money to have a phone or license number, which does not include a four.

In contrast to the (bad) number four the number eight is the luckiest one. While nobody wants to have any number four in his telephone, license, birthday, wedding, room, floor, seat... number, everybody wants to have a (telephone...) number, which includes the number eight. The reason is that the number eight (ba) sounds like the word "fa", which means to get rich. So when you want to give someone flowers eight flowers could be good choice (see also remark). Finally the number 18 is the most desirable number in China, since it is pronounced "yao ba", which sounds similar to "yao fa", which means "want to become rich". So when you have to reserve a room for a Chinese guest, you could ask for a room with the number 18 or 81 or 118 or...

Since you are probably a guest from another country you could give something you brought from there. I found that people are always very happy to receive something which is typical for my home country (and are a little bit disappointed when you give something which comes from China.) So when you come from Germany bring chocolate, pyramid cake or German lebkuchen. Do not bring tea or chopsticks. Finally when giving chocolate you should know that giving expensive chocolate is also something lovers do to each other sometimes.

Remark: One reader sent me an email and wrote that eight flowers might not be every time a good choice, since in some regions of China the number of flowers you give to your girlfriend has a further (special) meaning. The number eight would mean "I am sorry". This is probably something you should keep an eye on. However, most Chinese people I talked to did not know this meaning.