I suspect this is because the disparities are so glaring … the high tech modern cities vs. the villages lacking electricity and running water; Rolls Royces parked beside rickshaws, pricy designer handbags sell out while the (almost) indistinguishable knockoffs are available everywhere. There are pristine parks where a candy wrapper is picked up within seconds of being dropped yet air pollution is so bad you can grind it with your teeth. People are painfully practical but incredibly superstitious. Fortunetellers do very well here. Education is highly valued and schools are unbearably competitive but getting term papers off the Internet is no big deal. People are extremely proud to be Chinese and of all things Chinese yet rich people want to live in gated communities that mimic a non-existent American ideal and the most popular plastic surgery is making eyes rounder with a folded lid.
Another big contrast is the difference between being a teenager here compared to Vancouver. Both boys say they have way more freedom in Beijing. No one stops you from ordering a drink, riding a moped, going anywhere or doing anything.
Hunter says the freedom is because there are no rules. The rules that do exist are rarely enforced particularly if you are a foreigner. Money is the only limitation. But because most things are so cheap, even this isn’t a big factor. Taxis cost very little, you can eat for almost nothing if you go local and clubs have low cover charges with inexpensive drinks (which are pretty watered down!)
Jack’s freedom comes because he doesn’t have to worry about transportation. We live close to school and to most of his friends. He can walk or ride his bike almost everywhere he wants to go. No more nagging me to drive him everywhere.
For me the biggest irony is that my children enjoy this freedom while living in a totalitarian state. People are afraid of officials, corruption is rampant and censorship wide spread. There is a significant security presence. On a daily basis I feel safer here than anywhere else I have lived. We never lock the doors to our house. (I do, however, worry occasionally about things blowing up as they have in the Middle East)
We rarely hear about foreigners being hurt by locals. I am quite happy walking anywhere and often roam the hutongs alone. I assume this is because the consequences are severe if you are caught harming a westerner. The bad publicity would be embarrassing to the government and the government does not like to be embarrassed.
The boys are very good at keeping me posted as to where they are and what they are doing (perhaps because I threaten to tear them limb from limb if they do not) but I do find it a little disconcerting that I don’t always know exactly where they are. They regularly come home late and I hate waiting up for them (so cranky with out my 8 hours!), yet can’t go to sleep until they are in bed. And, although I loathe driving, I do miss our time together in the car. It was a great chance to chat and find out what was happening in their lives. Creating this opportunity takes a bit more work now.
They both feel the downside to all this freedom is an increase in responsibility. They are required to make more decisions and need to exercise judgment. This is not the fun part of growing up. Hate to say this, as I am sure to jinx myself, but so far, I have been delighted by the maturity they have shown. Fingers crossed all this experience will help them when they head out, on their own, into the real world!